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Spotlight on Mamdouh Bisharat: the Duke’s legacy of preserving Jordan’s artistic, historic heritage

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Mar 25,2024 - Last updated at Mar 25,2024

Mamdouh Bisharat

AMMAN — Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Jordan was in its initial stages of statehood: Educated people from the region would come to the country to work as doctors, teachers and engineers. 

The life of Mamdouh Bisharat, who was born in Amman in 1938, goes parallel with the development of the Jordanian society and institutions. According to him, at that time, Jordan was a semi-desert, “People were still filling wells to drink water,” Bisharat remembered.

“King Abdullah I was a wise man who set up the education system. At that time we didn’t have enough schoolmasters, so they hired people from Syria and Lebanon to teach in the local schools,” Bisharat remembered.

For decades, the main goal of Bisharat was to preserve the Jordanian cultural heritage and to save the often neglected artefacts and damaged monuments. His initiatives to open a design centre, galleries, Diwan and a House of Poetry, are going to the direction of promoting local and international artists.

The exhibition space that he has been patronising for years had the aim of revamping declining and neglected area of the old downtown as well as to open its doors for aspiring artists and everyone with enough creativity, enthusiasm and positive energy.

Bisharat, better known as the Duke of Mukhaibeha, named after his farm on the border between Jordan and Syria, epitomises the ideal of the Arab hospitality. 

His home has been a place where diplomats, scholars and artists exchange ideas in a relaxed atmosphere of mutual respect and cohabitation.

At his artistic galleries and Diwan, Bisharat welcomes people to use the space for artistic endeavours and he is very happy to see both well — known artists and beginners working together. 

“We don’t have strict artistic and academic criteria like other private and public galleries for people who express a wish to exhibit,” he explained, “so whoever thinks he can exhibit is more than welcome.”

“Before I opened diwan, the area of the downtown near King Faisal Street was overlooked and my aim was to raise awareness to the importance of the historical city centre,” Bisharat noted, adding that when HRH Prince Hassan inaugurated Diwan in 2001, more and more people came to visit it.

“Now we have students from the German-Jordanian University who regularly come to study at Diwan,” said Bisharat.

These days it is very easy to reflect negativity due to ongoing political and economic crisis in the region, Bisharat continued, however, “The idea has been to connect the downtown with Jabal Luweibdeh because of its proximity to one of main artistic hubs [Luweibdeh]”.

“Now we are trying to revive the area near old court and luckily, the government also plans to reuse King Hussein Street,” he said, adding the Central Bank of Jordan, the Ministry of Finance, Customs Department and offices of many air companies are all there.

In order to emphasise the positive vibes of Amman, Bisharat thinks that outdoor exhibitions would contribute.

Furthermore, Bisharat plans to connect some of his major venues in Amman into one coherent entity: “I’m going to launch a Duke’s tour from Jabal Jofe [where the family house is located, built by his father in 1930’s], Diwan with Umm Qundum on the Airport Road,” he explained.

“Stone houses in Umm Qundum date back to the 1860’s and they are characterised by the use of mud, stones and vaulted arches,” Bisharat stressed.

Bisharat was aware of the importance to salvage the ancient artefacts so the items of his rich collection are meticulously registered at the Department of Antiquities.

According to Bisharat, Jordan owns its stability and prosperity to the late king Hussein who “balanced the country”.

“We should look after our country now before it’s too late, “warned Bisharat, because “it’s not important what one says, but what will be the final message, effect and long-term outcome of his actions,” he highlighted.

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