Meet ‘Duke’ Mamdouh Bisharat The Gatekeeper of Jordan’s Heritage

Meet 'Duke' Mamdouh Bisharat The Gatekeeper of Jordan's Heritage

An heir to one of the richest landowning families in Jordan, Mamdouh Bisharat is a worldly-wise man dedicating his life to protect architectural and cultural heritage.

A man of wealth, Bisharat rented the oldest building in Amman downtown in 2001. However, what is behind the story that it was a monetary investment for him.

Esteeming the intangible heritage, maybe beyond the material value, he paid more than its material value to prevent the building embellished with history and culture to close down.

Taking a tour in Amman, you are strongly recommended to visit the Duke’s Diwan. Lucky enough, you can enjoy Bisharat’s chat in accompany of tea or coffee.

With its sky-blue wooden door opening to narrow steps carrying the visitors a world of history, literature and culture, the Duke’s Diwan was established as the first post office of Amman in 1924.

The building later served as the Finance Ministry and a hotel, as well.

After rented by the distinguished Jordanian businessman almost 20 years ago, the building was turned into a Diwan, which traditionally stands for a “council chamber” where people, thinkers, poets and artists gather.

Bisharat, who is locally known as the duke of the village of Mukhaybeh, realized the place’s eccentric characteristic at a time when Amman went through a rapid growth process.

When the flow of petrodollars from the neighboring Gulf in the 1980s and 90s, he campaigned bravely in preserving historic buildings from unplanned urbanization.

When he rented the old building, his aim was to guard it against the notable calamities for Jordan’s progress in economic development.

At the heart of Amman’s downtown, the old commercial area, this historic townhouse has been welcoming its visitors across the globe, without requesting entrance fee.

Its doors open to host enthusiast of art, culture, history, painting as well as human stories.

Either call it a locally decorated house or a boutique hotel with period furniture, the Duke’s Diwan is a time machine ready to take you to a travel into the past.

The floral covers of the armchairs in the sofa, the ancient show case in dark wood displaying porcelain and silver works of past meets meet the visitor of the Diwan.

A chunky bookshelf standing up the green wall with its split painting of a small room might remind you tales of woe, but when you step in the adjacent room with a round table in the middle of it, you can refresh yourself with the bright day light of the room allowed by the long blue windows.

Accompanied by Bisharat for tour inside the Diwan, we listened to the stories of some pieces.

Pointing at a vase adorned with Ottoman-era motifs, Bisharat underlined the Ottoman influence on the building.

Every antique piece in the building has been preserved in their original form in the 1920s, Bisharat said.

“We should not underestimate our past and heritage, today’s youth tends to enjoy modernity, missing what they can learn from the values of the past.”

Visitors will enjoy having a closer look at period pictures of 1930’s Amman hung alongside sketches featuring Roman ruins and Ottoman homes, as well as Jordan’s late King Hussein’s mosaic portrait, a very close friend of Bisharat.

While watching the chaotic texture of the old Amman street from Diwan’s spacious balcony, he said: “This is the best point where you can feel the magical atmosphere of Jordan.”

Indeed, you feel the sentiment not only through the eyes of him but also of people who spend a fraction of time there.

While pointing at his portrait painted by a very famous Turkish painter Fahrelnissa Zeid, he said: “From Istanbul to Paris, London to Amman, an art life that transcends cities and countries.”

Zeid is considered one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century, with her large-scale body_abstract paintings blended elements of Islamic and Byzantine art with body_abstraction and other influences from the West.

Reflecting the painter’s great influence on him, Bisharat kept saying: “These Turks, I love them.”

The 89-year-old man might have been called an archaeologist, environmentalist, host, farmer, but the very only one suiting him really well is a promoter of Jordan’s heritage.

“Action!” he said every 2-3 minutes when his photographs were shot, obviously the word that fits a man who has been on the move throughout his life.

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