During the Ottomon Empire, Abwein was a ruling seat (Throne Village) for twenty-four surrounding villages. It was also the center from which Sheikh Suhweil, who ruled the area of Bani Zaid al Sharqiyya, collected taxes for the Ottoman central government.
Famous for walnut and fig production, farmers in ‘Abwein sold their crops at the vegetable market in Nablus through the better half of the 20th century. A number of factors forced a shift upon the local economy however, as ‘Abweini’s living abroad began sending money home to their families, and the emergence of other non-agricultural sources of income caused the decline of agriculture in 'Abwein.
Today, the younger generation of 'Abweinis are either seeking higher education to attain employment in the governmental or private sector, or joining the construction industry that has been flourishing in the governorate of Ramallah and al Bireh. Many laborers and professionals have also found jobs in Rawabi City, which is partially built on the land of 'Abwein.
Invariably, ‘Abwein’s agricultural decline resulted in the depopulation of its historic center. The emergence of wage labor after 1967 further encouraged residents to build new concrete houses up the hill on the main road that connects the village to surrounding villages and towns. Today, there is a clear distinction between the new upper-hill town "ad Dhaher" and the old lower-hill town "al Qu'ur."
Beautifully located on a remote hill surrounded with olive and almond terraces and water springs, today the historic center of 'Abwein is home to just 45 families. Many of these families, who could not afford to relocate to the newer part of the town, are still farming their fields and raising animals. The village is still famous for hand-made traditional bread.
The historic center, comprised of 230 historic buildings, has many archeologically and architecturally significant sites, one of which is the Suhweil Castle. This urban castle— in both scale and style— is a typical Throne Village castle with an almost square plan, standing two stories high, with vaults surrounding the main courtyard.
When RIWAQ approached ‘Abwein in 2011, many of the town’s abandoned buildings were in complete ruin and the boundaries between structure and landscape had become blurred. There were only three families living in the abandoned area of Old Town. At that time, the concept of "bringing back life" to the deteriorated abandoned fabric seemed unachievable. Despite these circumstances however, there remained three things that kept 'Abweinis connected to the village’s historic center: the water springs where residents visit for picnics and leisure, the historic Old Town Mosque, especially for Friday prayers, and the cemetery where 'Abweinis are buried.
In 'Abwein, the ruins of houses, the doorsteps, the surrounding courtyards, the plaza, the alleys, the olive groves, and the springs, were all incubators of a peasant culture that was once highly collective and productive. During RIWAQ’s restorative work over three years, this abundance of open space around historic buildings was used as a medium for bringing back life to the historic center, upgrading the living conditions of current residents, saving the abandoned historic section from further deterioration, and creating a legible link between the Old Town and the newer more developed area of town.
RIWAQ began working on the realization of an “archeological park” in order to stabilize the deteriorated fabric of the historic center. Ruins would be transformed into a network of small open spaces connected to surrounding courtyards, plazas and alleys, and would open to the landscape that ‘residents could visit for picnics and family activities. This way, historic open spaces would become a destination for families, and would have a key role in the revitalization of the surrounding historic buildings. With a pronounced sense of community—through festivities and outdoor social activities in historic 'Abwein—rehabilitated outdoor spaces would be the common thread to connect historic and abandoned “al Qu'ur” to its respective residential upper-hill town of “ad Dhaher.”
The idea was to convert ruins into porous spaces, allowing multi- functions, meanings, and borders. The relationship between public and private space would merge, as well as the relationship between indoor and outdoor space.