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19th and Early 20th Century Photography

Here are some great pictures of Azraq and its people, made almost a hundred years ago, around 1926. They are part of the G. Eric & Edith Matson Photograph Collection, with its 22,000 glass and film photographic negatives and transparencies a very rich source of historical images from the Middle East between 1898 and 1946. The originals are now in the US Library of Congress but freely available on the internet: see .


The photos show the imposing castle of Azraq in great isolation, with extensive (and now dried-up) water pools in front of it. The water attracted rich game and camel herds were brought from far for watering.



Original title for the picture left: El-Azrak & Wadi Sirhan in the Arabian Desert. Druse political refugees from Jebel Druse (the Hauran). A Druse chief at El-Azrak. Typical Bedouin garb

Original title for the picture right: El-Azrak & Wadi Sirhan in the Arabian Desert. Druse political refugees from Jebel Druse (the Hauran). Bedouin youth at El-Azrak. With long hair in style of Absalom


Original title: El-Azrak & Wadi Sirhan in the Arabian desert. El-Azrak. A general view of castle and lake


Original title: El-Azrak & Wadi Sirhan in the Arabian desert. The castle of El-Azrak. Showing palms and Bedouin with camel


Original title: El-Azrak & Wadi Sirhan in the Arabian Desert. Camels at el-Azrak. Great droves brought from far for watering


Original title: Camels at el-Azraq. Great droves brought from far for watering.


The Jebel Qurma region is about 30 km east of the small oasis town of Azraq. These two photos show the castle at Azraq in 1913, by Gertrude Bell. From the Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.



Isn’t this a great picture? It is a postcard, sent some 75 years ago, on March 13, 1937. It shows a camel caravan near Palmyra in the midst of the Syrian desert. But similar scenes must have been common in our Jebel Qurma study region. Long-distance travelling through the centuries….


A lantern slide from the 1910s, showing armed, bare-footed horsemen somewhere in the desert.


A stereo photo from the late 1890s, showing the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. It is interesting to see all those people, tents, animals and commodities outside the city's gate. The tribesmen from the countryside meet the urban communities....

A photo made by the great Alois Musil in the 1910s. It shows Ruwala bedouins in the Wadi Sirhan, close to the border of Jordan and Saudi Arabia (and very close to our study area in the Jebel Qurma region). In the centre there is the famous Nuri ibn Sha'alan, chief of the Ruwala.


A picture taken by Gertrude Bell in 1914, showing the fortress at Qasr Kharana, some 40 km west of Azraq in Northeastern Jordan. See the Gertrude Bell Archive online:

The building itself is a square 35 metres on each side, with small projecting corner towers and a projecting rounded entrance on the south side. There are dozens of rooms inside, on two levels arranged around a central courtyard, with a rainwater pool in the middle. The castle was built in the early Umayyad period, at about 710 AD, by the caliph Walid. It might have served a variety of defensive and commercial purposes similar to other Umayyad palaces in Jordan.

Below: Qasr Kharana as we see it today (after its restoration in the 1970s).






To the left: Auda Abu Tayeh, chief of the Howeitat tribe, on a hand-coloured photo made by Eric Matson in 1921. To the right: a photo made around 1917, depicting T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Auda Abu Tayeh. Both men must have been present in the Jebel Qurma region during the years of the Arab Revolt in 1917-1918. In those years they travelled, together with their men at arms, through the Wadi Sirhan to the castle at Azraq, where the spent a very cold and wet winter. Auda died in 1924, Lawrence in 1935.


A photo made around 1900, in the region between Madaba and Karak.


An albumen photo of the Dead Sea in the late 1880s. By the French but Beirut-based photographer Felix Bonfils.


A 100-years-old photo, showing a bedouin camp site somewhere in Eastern Jordan in 1913.


A postcard from 1905, made in Baghdad. Although the picture was made for touristic purposes and hence wholly posed, it shows an interesting scene: Bedouin warriors with long spears. We often see this kind of spears on the rock carvings in the Black Desert, also in association with horsemen.


A great photo made almost 100 years ago! This 1917 photo shows Faisal ibn Hussein al-Hashimi (in white), leading his army towards Al-Wajh on the coast of the Red Sea in present-day northwestern Saudi Arabia.


A photo made in the Levant in the late 1890s.



A great stereo photo from the late 1890s, showing Jerusalem