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Jordan, Hashemite Kingdom of

The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Jordan, Hashemite Kingdom of

[Arab. Al-Mamlaka al-Urdunniyya al-Hāshimiyya].

Independent constitutional monarchy in the Middle East with its capital at Amman. Jordan has an area of 88,946 sq. km, bordered on the north by Syria, on the northeast by Iraq, on the southeast and south by Saudi Arabia and on the west by the West Bank of the Jordan River (under Israeli occupation since 1967; see Geography and trade, fig. 2). Founded as an independent country in 1924, Jordan was under Ottoman rule from the mid-15th century to World War I, forming part of the Ottoman province of Syria with Damascus as the capital. In 2007 the population passed 7 million, of which 92% are Sunni Muslims and 6% Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox. Since 2003 many Iraqis fleeing the Iraq War have settled in Jordan. The economy is based on agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism and remittance from Jordanian professionals working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. This article covers the art produced in Jordan in the 20th century.

Jordan was founded in 1924 by ῾Abdallah, the son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, who led the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in 1917. After Ottoman rule was terminated, the British and French divided the Arab lands under their mandate according to the Sykes–Picot agreement. The new State, the Emirate of Transjordan to the east of the Jordan River, was under British mandate until 1946, when it became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and ῾Abdallah (r. 1924–51) was proclaimed king. After the first Arab–Israeli war in 1948 and the creation of Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River was annexed to Jordan. In 1951 ῾Abdallah was shot during Friday prayers at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his son Talal, but in 1952 Talal abdicated in favor of his son Hussein (r. 1952–1999), who was in turn succeeded by his son ῾Abdullah (r. 1999–).

The major cities in Jordan, including Amman, have undergone considerable development since the 1960s, multiplying in size as a result of migration from rural to urban centers. The first architect to be assigned to the Amman Municipality was Fawaz Muhanna (1900–1967), who studied in Istanbul and came to Transjordan in the early 1930s. The buildings he designed include the Turkish embassy (1950), the Royal Court (1951), the old Municipality Building (1952) in central Amman, Basman Palace (1957), and several private houses. Among the buildings in Amman constructed since the 1970s, those of architectural interest include the Haya Center (1977), the Martyr’s Memorial (1977), the new Parliament Building (1980), the Royal Cultural Center (1982), the Housing Bank Complex (1983) and the King ῾Abdallah Mosque (1989).

Most existing vernacular architecture in Jordan dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In Salt, which was the administrative center for the area during Ottoman rule, examples exist of urban stone houses (c.1890–1920) with Turkish features. Stone was the traditional building material in mountain areas, while mud-brick was used in the desert and the Jordan Valley. Most rural architecture is now made of concrete and old village houses are rare. Traditional forms of artistic expression include rug and textile weaving, embroidery, niello work on silver (introduced by Circassian émigrés), goldsmithing, pottery, painting on glass, wood-carving and calligraphy.

The origins of modern art in Jordan can be traced to the 1920s and 1930s when several artists settled in Amman. The first was Omar Onsi (1901–69), a Lebanese painter who visited Amman between 1922 and 1926. He was followed in 1930 by the Turkish painter Ziauddin Suleiman (1880–1945), who held the first solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Hotel (1938). In 1948 the Russian painter George Alief (1887–1970) arrived from Palestine with the first wave of Palestinian refugees. All three artists enjoyed royal patronage, were instrumental in introducing easel painting to Jordan and contributed to the development of art appreciation among the public.

After 1948 the art movements in Jordan and Palestine were closely connected. Artists numbered among the refugees who crossed the Jordan River, and others were born in Jordan of Palestinian parents. Palestinian artists were employed as instructors by the Jordanian Ministry of Education to teach art at government schools and develop art education within the government’s teaching programs. As in other Arab countries, artists in Jordan were concerned with finding a distinctive style by which they could assert their Arab cultural identity. This was often achieved through the depiction of local subject matter and the inclusion of folk motifs and Arab calligraphy in their compositions.

In 1951 the artistic committee of the Arab Club, founded by the scholar Shaykh Ibrahim al-Kattan (1916–84), held the first group exhibition in the country, in which eight painters participated. In 1952 the first artistic group, Nadwa al-fann al-urdunniyya (“Jordanian art club”), was established; its goal was to spread an awareness of art among the public and encourage amateur artists in their pursuits. Meanwhile, foreign cultural centers such as the British Council, the Goethe Institute and the French Cultural Center in Amman and Jerusalem held regular exhibitions for local artists and arranged exhibitions from abroad. In the late 1950s the Jordanian government, in need of trained artists to teach at its schools, began to send students on scholarships to Italy. Further scholarships followed for artists to train at other centers, in Arab and Western countries.

The first attempt at formal art training in Jordan took place when the Institute of Music and Painting in Amman was opened in 1952 by John Kayaleh, an ophthalmologist, musician and art lover. The Italian Armando Bruno (1930–63), who was in charge of the Institute, taught drawing and painting, and the center became a meeting-place for young artists and intellectuals. The Institute closed in 1962 when Bruno left for the United States. From the early 1960s students who had been sent abroad on art scholarships began to return to Amman and were employed as art teachers. Around the same time the Ministry of Tourism sent works by Jordanian artists for display at international exhibitions, beginning with the New York International Fair in 1965, followed by others in Baghdad, Damascus, Bari, Rome, Copenhagen and Berlin.

In 1966 the Department of Culture and Arts was founded to support and promote cultural activities relating to the fine arts, theater, music and literature, including exhibitions by local and foreign artists. By the early 1970s there was a considerable increase in artistic activities. In 1972 the Institute of Fine Arts was founded within the Department of Culture and Arts on the initiative of the painter muhanna Durra. At the Institute, where many artists received their initial training, a two-year foundation course in painting, sculpture and graphic art was organized. Art scholarships provided by the Ministry of Education enabled artists to study in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Europe, the USA and the Soviet Union. In 1977 the Artists Association was established in Amman, where artists could meet and exhibitions and lectures were occasionally held.

In 1979 the Royal Society of Fine Arts was founded to promote the visual arts in Jordan and other Islamic countries, and in 1980 the Society established the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman. The first gallery of art to open in Jordan, it has a large permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, installations and tapestry by contemporary artists from Islamic lands and the developing world, including the Middle East, central and North Africa, and Southeast Asia. In 1980 a Fine Arts Department was established at Yarmouk University in Irbid, the first institution in Jordan for higher education in the arts.

Among the painters active in Jordan in the late 20th century have been fahrelnissa Zeid, Hafiz Kassis (b. 1932), Rafik Lahham (b. 1932), Ahmad Nawash (b. 1934), Tawfik al-Sayid (b. 1939), Wijdan Ali, Ali Jabri (b. 1943), Aziz Amoura (b. 1944), Suha Shoman (b. 1944), Mahmoud Sadiq (b. 1945), Fuad Mimi (b. 1949), Khaled Khreis (b. 1955), Jamal Ashour (b. 1958) and Ammar Khammash (b. 1960). Contemporary sculptors include Samer Tabbaa (b. 1945), Kuram Nimri (b. 1944) and Muna Saudi (b. 1945), while Mahmoud Taha (b. 1942) and Hazim al-Zu῾bi (b. 1957) are notable ceramicists.

Archaeological enquiry in Jordan began in the early 19th century: in 1812, for example, the traveler Jean-Louis Burckhardt (1784–1817) discovered Petra, the ruined capital of Nabataea. In 1868 the inscribed Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone; Paris, Louvre), dating from 840 BCE, was discovered in Dhiban. In general, however, Palestine received far more attention from archaeologists in the late 19th century than the area east of the Jordan River because of the Western preoccupation with biblical sites. In 1923 a Department of Antiquities was established in Amman. Since then excavations have been conducted at Amman, Pella, the Greco-Roman city of Gadara in Um Qais, Petra, Jerash, the crusader castle at Kerak and the Ayyubid castle of al-Rabad in Ajlun. In 1983 Neolithic statuettes were discovered at the prehistoric village of Ain Ghazal, on the northeastern outskirts of Amman. Mosaics of the second half of the 4th century were discovered in the church at the Monument of Moses at Mt. Nebo, and Byzantine mosaics have been found in various other churches in Nebo and Madaba. There are also scattered throughout the Jordanian desert a number of residences dating to the Umayyad dynasty (r. 661–750), such as Qasr al-Hallabat, Hammam al-Sarakh, Qusayr ῾amra, Qasr Kharana, Mshatta and Qasr al-Tuba. In 1951 the Jordanian Archaeological Museum was founded in Amman and there are also museums at such locations as Petra, Jerash, Madaba and Kerak.


  • Enc. Islam/2: “al-Urdunn”
  • G. L. Harding: The Antiquities of Jordan (London, 1959)
  • H. al-Amad: Cultural Policy in Jordan (Paris, 1981)
  • L’Oeil, 306–7 (1981) [issue on the arts in Jordan]
  • A. & Islam. World, ii/1 (1984) [issue on the arts in Jordan]
  • A. Khammash: Notes on Village Architecture in Jordan (Lafayette, LA, 1986)
  • W. Ali, ed.: Contemporary Art from the Islamic World (London, 1989), pp. 175–95
  • The Right to Write: Calligraphic Works from the Collection of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (exh. cat., Decatur, GA, Scott Coll., Dalton Gal., 1996)
  • W. Ali: Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity (Gainesville, FL, 1997), pp. 95–104
  • B. Lyons and M. al-Asad: Old Houses of Jordan: Amman, 1920–1950 (Amman, 1997)
  • U. Kultermann: Contemporary Architecture in the Arab States: Renaissance of a Region (New York, 1999)
  • B. MacDonald, R. Adams and P. Bienkowski: The Archaeology of Jordan, [Levantine Archaeology, 1 (Sheffield, 2001)
  • W. Ali: Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World (Amman, Rhodes, 2002)
  • 10000 Jahre Kunst und Kultur aus Jordanien (exh. cat. by A. von Gladiss and H. Berkert; Berlin, Altes Mus., 2004)
  • R. Adams, ed.: Jordan: An Archaeological Reader (Oakville, CT, 2005)
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