Handicrafts in Jordan, not surprisingly, are a reflection of the rich history and cultural diversity of the Jordanian people. Traditional Bedouin crafts represent the most basic living requirements – weaving for the tents and rugs, silver jewelry and embroidery to display tribal affiliations and status, herbal preparations for medical needs. The decorative arts which you can admire in mosaics, frescoes and stone carvings still adorning the country’s famous archaeological sites have been handed on and enhanced by craftsmen trained to restore the ancient monuments and to create contemporary artistic statements.
Participation in a handicraft workshop is a unique way to acquire new skills, let loose your creative urges and interact in a very personal way with your mentors. Touring a selection of handicraft centers can be equally enriching, whether your interest is in the production itself or simply in acquiring a unique hand-crafted momento of your visit to Jordan
Here are some examples of the most noteworthy handicraft traditions in Jordan:
Bedouin weaving has traditionally been an essential survival skill. Long narrow strips of hand-woven goat hair make up the “Bait Shar” (literally ‘house of hair’) black tents that Bedouins live in, and rugs are woven from the family’s sheep’s wool, using organic dyes to create elemental stripes or simple geometric designs.
Jewelry since prehistoric days has been a symbol of status and culture. Traditional Bedouin silver jewelry also provided a convenient way to ‘store’ wealth – very useful in a nomadic life! Typical Bedouin designs are still used today, but you’ll discover an exciting variety of modern designs drawing inspiration from themes of nature, rock art, historical and religious motifs. Creative new designs are using the country’s resources of silver, copper and semi precious stones in uniquely Jordanian pieces.
Embroidery, like jewelry, has traditionally been used to signify status. Regional and tribal affiliations are also conveyed by characteristic patterns and designs. Today many of these traditional designs are available to buy in shops but many women still choose to have them handmade or make them themselves. The traditional dress (“Madraga”) is black with embroidery down the front that is bright, beautiful and intricate. You can also now find bags, pillow cases, wall hangings and a wide range of other items decorated with embroidery.
Mosaics are an especially suitable branch of Jordan’s handicraft heritage. The country’s intriguing geology gave early artisans access to stone colors ranging from black basalt to white granite, with a dazzling variety of color in between. Madaba, home to the world’s largest collection of ancient mosaics, is the modern leader in this revived art. The study of restoring ancient mosaics has encouraged a new generation of creative artisans.
One of man’s earliest and most enduring handicrafts is pottery. With its rich cultural heritage Jordan has examples of all major pottery periods including the eggshell thin Nabatean ware. Traditional styles and new designs can be found in local workshops throughout Jordan
Food is an important symbol of hospitality in the Bedouin tradition. As you travel the county you will find small orchards, farms and grazing herds as families still prefer to be self-sufficient in food production. Throughout Jordan you will see olives, apples, wheat, barley, pomegranates, grapes, apricots, corn, figs, oranges, almonds and herbs such as mint, thyme and sage (which are added to the traditional Jordanian tea). Households still grow, harvest and grind their own grains for bread making. Stone fruits, tomatoes and grapes are hand-picked and dried for use throughout the year. The famous Jordanian ‘Mansaf’ feast dish relies on preparation of goats-milk yogurt dried into hard balls which can be kept for many months, sensible food storage for nomadic herdsmen. The gathering and drying of herbs and spices is a skill which serves medicinal as well as culinary needs.
If you would like to arrange a workshop in any of these fields, just let us know. We work closely with community-based craft projects throughout Jordan, and can organize a ‘hands-on” holiday you’ll never forget!