A few weeks ago, I created this illustrated map of Jordan to celebrate the unique flavours of this small and beautiful country, nestling peacefully east of the Mediterranean Sea.
Jordan is unlike any Middle Eastern country I have ever been to. It is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including the red-rose city of Petra, and the newly-admitted Baptism Site), Roman archaeological ruins like Jerash in the north, several biodiversity and nature reserves sprinkled across the country, and a nation that gives the word “hospitality” a truly exceptional dimension.
But blame it on poor graphic design choices, the country is dotted with mediocre-to-ugly visual symbols that are supposed to be reflecting the country’s national identity in a much more interesting manner!
Although there is no shortage whatsoever in terms of cultural and environmental inspiration, most of the Jordan map designs commonly found in posters, tourism pamphlets, and on TV, are either extremely corporate looking, or are plain unappetising. Add to that this weird infatuation with “modernism” when it comes to dominating design aesthetics, a kind of modernism that suffers from a deep disconnect with local heritage.
So I decided to challenge the corporate-style maps and create an illustrated map that celebrated the Jordan I know and culturally adore, in my own pen-and-ink illustration style.
Illustrated Map of Jordan: A Personal Interpretation
In this map, I was conscious enough to steer away from visual symbols that are overly used in the media and the local advertising scenes. These include Al-Khazneh, aka the Treasury in Petra (declared as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007), the Jordanian chequered Shemagh or Shmagh (men’s red-and-white head cover), and the red-black-green-and-white colours of the Jordanian flag.
In terms of colour, my main inspiration for the floral pattern in the map’s body comes from locally made blue-and-white ceramics with their floral motifs. These are handmade in a small factory on the way to Madaba, a Biblical town a few miles away from Amman and home to some of the world’s most exciting historical mosaics. Some say the blue floral ceramics originate from Khalil in Palestine, and I found out that now-a-days can also be found in Lebanon.
In this illustrated map of Jordan, I want to draw the eye towards other elements that do not usually make it to common “national identity” visual choices. These include, the beautiful handcrafted soaps in Ajloun in the north, the old doors of Jerash that mingle beautifully with the rich Roman heritage, and the run-down old-stone villages that were once inhabited by locals who have deserted them for cement settlements, like Um Qais, also in the north.
What about the Kingdom’s Azraq Wetland Reserve, a migratory stopover for birds from three continents, and its birdwatching recreational activities that attracts tourists from around the world? You can see three of these beautiful birds in the map above.
There is also the elegant Arabian Oryx, a local deer protected within Jordan’s natural reserve of Wadi Rum in the south. We see these beautiful deer on the pamphlets and the visual merchandise of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), the NGO that helped shape the Ministry of Environment, launched in 2003. However, beyond RSCN publications, we do not often see these symbols when visual language relates to national sentiment and identity!
Jordan is also home to the tribal Mihbash, a mortar-and-pestle style coffee grinder with its beautifully etched wooden exterior; the Rababa, a Bedouin single-string musical instrument; and the Jordan Hejaz Railway, a train service closely connected to the modern history of Jordan. All of which are included in the map.
And of course, I had to include the most distinctive traditional Jordanian dish, the delicious Mansaf, made of lamb, cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed and served on a bed of rice. In this illustration you can also see “Jordanian tomatoes” that make the most delicious local recipe for Galayet Bandora, in addition to an ancient urn from Petra, handmade sand bottles from Aqaba, as well as this coastal city’s beautiful and unique coral reeves.
And let’s not forget the Jordanian Bedouin woman at the top central part of the illustration, wearing her layered tribal headscarves, adorned with colourful hand-strewn beads and dotted with handmade silver amulets.
Illustrated map of Jordan and Middle Eastern travel illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon