In 1933, Transjordan (now Jordan) issued an attractive 14-stamp pictorial set which included images of some of the country’s most famous architectural treasures. Christer Brunström takes us on a guided tour of this issue and gives a brief history of its subject matter.
Many worldwide collectors enjoy adding the long pictorial British colonial definitive sets to their stamp albums, and this writer is no exception. While most are easily obtainable at reasonable prices, others are decidedly scarce – the Transjordan 1933 set is one example of the latter category. It has frequently been referred to as the ‘tourist issue’ as the designs feature sites in the country which are all high on the list of must-see destinations for foreign tourists.
A country ‘created’
For centuries Jordan was part and parcel of the Ottoman Empire. It was only in 1918, at the end of the Great War, that today’s Jordan saw major changes. At first it was part of the kingdom of Syria, but in 1920 it became a separate state under British control. The Hejaz royal family provided a suitable prince for the new country. Transjordan (later Jordan) was very much a European creation with little regard for the wishes of the local people.
At first, postage stamps released for Palestine were used in a limited number of post offices in Transjordan. In 1920 various overprints in Arabic were added. These can usually be translated as ‘East of the Jordan’. In 1923 stamps of the Hejaz were similarly overprinted and used.
Stamps depicting the Emir and the country name of Transjordan in English were first issued in 1927.
A splendid issue
The 1933 issue was a rather splendid set of 14 pictorial engraved stamps printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson. The frames were the design work of Yacoub Sukker while the central designs were based on photographs.
Let’s now take a closer look at the ten different designs which have so much to tell us about the ancient history of Transjordan.
The 1 millième (frequently abbreviated as mil or mils) denomination shows Mushetta (Qasr Al-Mushatta), the ruins of the Umayyad ‘Winter Palace’ from the mid-8th century AD (Fig 1). The palace was never completed. The façade of the complex has been removed and can now be inspected in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, where this writer had a good look at it a few years ago.
The Greco-Roman city of Gerasa (today’s Jerash) is believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Following the Roman conquest in 63 BC, the city was included in the province of Arabia. Emperor Hadrian visited Gerasa in 129–130 AD and an arch was built to commemorate his visit.
Today, Jerash (located some 45kms north of Amman, Jordan’s capital) is the country’s second most popular tourist destination and is home to an annual three-week Festival of Culture and Arts, the first of which took place in 1981.
The Greco-Roman ruins were first documented in 1806. Not having suffered the destructive earthquakes which have affected other sites in Jordan, the ruins of Jerash are still well preserved.
The 2m. value depicts the Nymphaeum in Jerash (Fig 2). This ornamental fountain, completed in 191 AD, was dedicated to the nymphs of the springs. The Romans built an aqueduct to provide the Nymphaeum with water, which cascaded down the elaborately decorated face of the fountain into a large pool, with the overflow pouring out through seven carved lions’ heads.
The Kasr (Qasr) Kharana dates back to the beginning of the 8th century and is depicted on the 3m. and 90m. stamps (Fig 3). This 60-room building, located close to the border with Saudi Arabia, is one of many desert castles in the Middle East and is a fine example of Islamic architecture. Strangely enough, the purpose of the castle is unclear; very possibly, it was a resting place for passing caravans, although it lacks a reliable water resource.
After having been abandoned for centuries, the building has been restored, and thanks to its proximity to Amman is now a popular tourist destination.
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