The modern state of Jordan was only established in 1921, when Britain, having received a mandate to govern in the Middle East, created a semi-autonomous region of Transjordan from Palestine. The area gained its full independence in 1946 and took on the name of Jordan in 1950, making it a relative newcomer on the world stage, the land has of course been there for millennia.
The region has never been at the center of things but was always on the fringes rather than the centre of the various empires, but its strategic position as a trade crossroads meant that Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks and Crusaders have all traded, built citadels, temples and other religious buildings and even fought their wars within the country’s borders, leaving behind a rich mixture of cultural influences form Europe, Asia and Africa.. For most of its modern history it has been ruled by one man, King Hussein, who took the throne in 1953 and died in 1999.
How then does the modern kingdom use its past history? Royal Family The Hashemites, otherwise referred to as the Bani Hashem, the county’s ruling family, claim descent from Ismail, eldest son of Abraham, ( Genesis 16 ,v 11) through a chieftain known as Quraysh according to the web page, the Hashemites. Quraysh is said to have arrived in Mecca in the 2nd century C. E. and by 480 C. E. his descendant Qusayy was ruling the city. Hashem was his grandson and it is he, Hashem, who was the great grandfather of the prophet Mohammed.
Through Mohammed’s daughter Fatima and her husband Ali bin Ali Talib, a paternal cousin of the prophet the Hashemites are descended. Fatima and her husband had two sons and it is from the eldest, Al Hassan, that the royal family are descended. This double line of descent gives the ruler of Jordan great authority in the Middle East, perhaps more than the size or importance of his country would otherwise justify. By far the majority of the people in those lands are either Jewish or Muslim, so both look back to Abraham as a common ancestor. It naturally follows that the word of the king of Jordan is listened to on topics relevant to the region.
The CIA World Fact Book, Jordan page describes the late king as a pragmatic leader who was able to successfully navigate between the competing pressures from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), the various Arab states which surround him or are in close proximity as well as Israel and a large internal Palestinian population. This was obviously based in part upon the king’s personal qualities, but these must have been enhanced by his ancestral authority. The same page describe show the new king, Abdullah, has been able to consolidate his father’s efforts.
There have also been new ventures such as the municipal elections held in July 2007 under a system in which 20% of seats were reserved by quota for female candidates. In 2007 parliamentary elections were held in which independent pro-government candidates won by far majority of seats. At the same time, King Abdullah gave instructions to his new prime minister to concentrate upon socioeconomic reform and also to develop healthcare and housing for both civilians and military personnel and to improve educational facilities.
Jordan, despite its ancient history is a young country with an average age of 24. , 78% of them living in cities, this proportion gradually increasing year by year. Economically Jordan is quite a small country with a lack of certain vital commodities such as both water and oil. The CIA reports that, despite the new kings efforts, inflation, poverty and unemployment continue to be problematic. However, despite these difficulties exports increase, despite temporary problems because of the Gulf Wars, and so does productivity, which makes the country an ever increasingly attraction for foreign investment.
Geographical Situation Since earliest times Jordan has been a place where trade routes crossed, whether coming or going to Africa, Asia and Europe. Because of its trading importance it has perhaps been seen as a prize to be grasped by various civilizations over time. Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Mesopotamians Empires and from the west, Egypt extended its influence. From the south of the Arabian Peninsula nomadic Nabateans came and then the Macedonians, Greeks and Persians, all of whom had influence for a time according to the Jordan web page Keys to the Kingdom. For a very short period it was part of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Then from about the mid 7th century C. E. it was Arabians of various sorts who held sway apart from a brief period when Britain was in charge under an international mandate. Although the Jordan valley is narrow and routes to the Mediterranean and beyond are generally open, wars not being forgotten, these old trading routes are perhaps to some extent superseded in the 21st century by large cargo vessels which travel via the Suez Canal, opened in 1869, or by airliners, which of course travel far quicker than any old camel train, so in this aspect Jordan is unable to make use of its past as well as it might.
However each of the civilizations which held power for a time had an impact and where this has lasted, as for instance in the ruins of the city of Petra new trade abounds in the form of tourists. Geographically the country has two distinct parts – the north where, in the highlands and along the rugged Jordan valley, there is rain enough to support crops in a limited area and a large settled population.
The opposite is true in the southern part of Jordan where there is not sufficient water, either in the form of rain or rivers, to support a large population, and where the people tend to be nomadic and live a live similar to their ancestors long ago. There are borders with Syria to the North, Iraq lies north east, Israel on its west , Saudi Arabia to the south and east and, Egypt is not far away to the south west , below Israel nor is the Mediterranean and there is a tiny area which links to the Red Sea. The Arab Revolt It is upon the outcome of this traumatic event that the modern kingdom was born.
During the First World War the Turkish based Ottoman Empire, on its last legs, sided with Germany and the Central Powers against the allies. The Emir of Mecca, Sheikh Sharif Hussein Ben Ali, saw the opportunity to unify Arab lands while at the same time freeing them from Turkish rule. This was done with lots of promises and a backing from British officials, promises they later reneged on. Despite the failure of support the Hashemites secured rule over Iraq, Transjordan and Arabia. The sheikh was the great, great grandfather of the present king, so in this sense the country is building upon its history.
Tourism The Visit Jordan web site promises fun, adventure, culture, history, ecology, nature, faith and religion, health and wellness. It reminds people that Jordan is about more than a visit to Petra, mention is made of the Dead Sea with crystals built up over hundreds of years , the Red Sea for divers, the wildlife reserve and above all the legacy of hospitality. Abraham entertained angels unawares according to the scriptures and his legacy of being welcoming to strangers is something that has persisted throughout the Near and Middle East, Jordan included.
This is epitomized in the custom of the “dakheel”. The word meant originally one who enters in, but also means any person appealing for help. Any Arab, Jordanian or otherwise to whom such an appeal is made, even by someone completely unknown, will cease whatever he is doing and go on to provide for and defend his protege, which in part explains why there are thousands of Palestinian refugees sheltering in Jordan, despite the fact that the country has a natural shortage of resources with only less than 5% arable land and restricted water supplies.
Attractions include the capital city of Amman. Once known as Rammath Ammon and later as Philadelphia, when it was part of the Decapolis (10 towns) Alliance, a region known to have been visited by Jesus as recorded by Mark (Mark 5). There are remains from the Stone Age as well as from Hellenic and Roman occupations as well as the later Arabic times. The Citadel contains a Temple of Hercules, the Ommayad Palace and a Byzantine church. At the foot of the Citadel hill is a 6000 seat Roman theatre still in use. Another smaller theatre has recently been restored.
So again Jordan is making something positive out of its historic past. Three museums are dedicated to Archeology, Folklore and Popular Tradition. South from Amman is the city of Mosaics, Madaba. The mosaics date from the Byzantines and the Umayyad. Although a map of the Holy Land is perhaps the most famous there are said to be hundreds of other mosaics in various buildings throughout the town. Petra is some 3 hours south of Amman. The final part of the journey is made on foot through a 200 foot deep chasm to reach this UNESCO World Heritage site at the crossroads of ancient trade routes.
Although the Treasury is perhaps the view usually seen there are some hundreds of other buildings remaining, tombs, baths, temples, a monastery and rock drawings among others. There is also a modern museum where many treasures can be seen. In the same area there is a shrine to Aaron, brother of Moses ( Exodus 5), dating from the 13th century. Jeresh has been occupied for 6,500 years, although its peak was under the Romans and much of their architecture remains. The Visit Jordan web site hails it as a mixture of east and west in language, religion and in architecture.
Aquba is a Red Sea Port where the coral reefs of the sea can be explored. In ancient time sit was the main port from the Red Sea to the Far East. In the 16th century the Marmaluks of Egypt built a fort here which can still be visited. There was an early Islamic town of Ayla which had two intersecting main streets dating back to the 7th century with a mosque, walls and gatehouse. There is also the earliest known church in the region, made of mud brick, which may even be the oldest purpose built church, as the earliest Christians would met in homes or out doors.
All these sites, together with desert castles, which also served as trade centers and as outposts allowing the ruling elite to keep in touch with the roaming Bedouin, are examples of places that visitors are welcome to explore, often for free or at minimal cost, though this doesn’t apply to exceptional sites such as Petra. The country’s very varied climate has a huge impact upon tourism and restricts to some extent the way in which the Board of Tourism is able to exploit the ancient riches of their complex country.
The Lonely Planet Guide to Jordan speaks of climatic extremes suggesting that visitors come only March to May and from September to November, but although at first sight this seems a little restrictive it is actually a longer or as long as that total in other places, but they do say that April is the best month because that is when the flowers are in bloom and March can be both cold and wet. It is in the south that the worst of the weather in the form of summer heat and humidity is to be experienced, but even in northern Amman temperatures can range from 12. C in January, though even snow is not that rare, to a high of an uncomfortable 32. 5 C in August.
This is part of the country that just must be accepted, although of course there are always air conditioned hotels and cars for those who can afford them, but even such modern advantages won’t enable tourists to reach Petra, for the final part of that journey is on foot or donkey, though of course such desert regions can get quite cold in the hours of darkness. Despite April being cited as the best month the Lonely Planet reports that the Tourist Authority often organizes special events in high summer.
There is also comment upon the month of Ramadan, a movable period known all about by Muslims, but hard to understand by other visitors perhaps. During this period no eating or smoking or even drinking is allowed in public during daylight hours – hard on tourists unused to the heat or the custom and staying in hotels with public dining rooms, so best perhaps avoided by non-Muslims even though there is supposed to be provision for travelers to avoid the restrictions.
The site also notes that the majority of the eco –tourism activities that take place in such areas as the Nature Reserve only take place for a limited period each year i. e between April and October. Why aren’t November and March included if these are being promoted as good tourist months? Religion Although 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims, according to the CIA Jordan web page the country is keen to ensure that the religious diversity does exist is both tolerated and appreciated. The Lonely Planet puts the figure rather lower at 80% but they are still the majority group in a religiously diverse population.
This includes as well as Shi’a and Druze groups, Christians from the Greek Orthodox Church, but also Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and a few representatives of various Protestant denominations. Jordan is officially a Muslim state but believes that it is part a long tradition going back through Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe that, through Islam, the message of God to mankind is completed. Islam, the Arabic word for ‘Submission’ and its followers assert that though the prophet Mohammed the final message from God (Allah) was revealed.
Islam believes in the equality of all people before God, and therefore, it can be considered as a return to the monotheism of early Judaism, so in asserting itself as an Islamic state Jordan is once again resting on its historic past. That past is not purely Muslim as the site of John the Baptist’s place of baptism rites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan shows. ( Bible , John 1 v 28 and 10 v 40) and so a place where Christ himself once stood. Christians from across the border in Israel still come there for baptisms.
According to the web site Visit Jordan the exact site has long been known and is recorded in Byzantine and Medieval texts. Although quite close to Amman the site is actually part of a pilgrimage route from Jerusalem, through Bethany and to Mount Nebo. This route can be said to join together the three faiths – Mohammed was said to have miraculously visited Jerusalem, now site of a large mosque on the Dome of the rock , site of the ancient Jewish temple and Mount Nebo is the wind swept summit form which Moses was given sight of the Promised Land towards which he had been leading the Israelites for 40 years( Deuteronomy 34).
In the 4th century C. E. Christians built a church there to commemorate the life of Moses. Also traditionally Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant, its tent and the Altar of Incense in the Mount Nebo area. This original church was expanded over time into the present large basilica.