The Duke’s Diwan, Al-Malek Faisal St, Downtown Amman
Habibah Sweets, Al-Malek Faisal St, Downtown Amman (below the Duke’s Diwan)
Refurbished as a project funded by the Duke of Mukhaybeh – a long-time friend of Jordan’s King Hussein – this 1924-built townhouse sits with open doors on the central street downtown among restaurants, coffee shops, trinket stores and an assortment of other enterprises. The beige cement building is easy to miss among the many beige buildings lining the street, despite the banner out front reading “The Duke’s House.” However, once up the entryway staircase, one is stricken by the charming rooms filled with antique furniture, paintings by local artists, vintage photographs and countless books of all genres.
The Duke’s Diwan is meant to be an open space for artists, intellectuals, community leaders, travellers and locals alike to use however they wish: to collaborate, study, discuss, work, or take a step away from the simmering September heat of the streets below.
I visited the Duke’s Diwan on three occasions.
On my first visit I was alone with my pen and sketchbook. After timidly stepping inside, I was warmly welcomed by the caretaker of the property, a small elderly man who spends his days in the Duke’s House maintaining the property, brewing mint tea and ensuring that all who step foot in the house sign the leather-bound guest book on the entryway table. I spent this first brief visit chatting with the caretaker and sketching the surrounding room, promising to return as I eventually exited the building.
On the next visit I brought my good friend Amr, a journalist from Palestine. This time when we reached the top of the stairs, along with the caretaker we saw several groups of people visiting, including a local government official, a family of four Arab tourists, and an old man with a violin. Amr – who can always be relied on to make friends no matter where he is – quickly began speaking animatedly with the government official, and was soon exchanging phone numbers with the man. After a while, it was decidedly time for kunafa (the sugary crumble-topped cheese dessert which is regularly craved by Jordanians). Amr and I brought several plates of kunafa upstairs to be shared with the other two men. We were soon joined by none-other-than the Duke himself, accompanied by one of Jordan’s most beloved soprano opera singers – Zaina – and her parents. After chatting with the Duke and Zaina’s family, we were invited to join them for lunch. Sandwiches were delivered to the house, mint tea was brewed, and the violinist began to play softly in the background. For several hours we remained in the Duke’s parlor, eating, then eating more, and finally finishing with a second round of kunafa – this time delivered via a tray lowered with rope from the balcony to the sweets shop on the street below.
My last afternoon spent at the Duke’s Diwan was with my Arabic tutor and friend Abby, and my Airbnb roommate Amanda – a journalism student from Denmark. With our cameras in hand, we began our little photoshoot (after a round of kunafa, of course). We were soon joined by two friendly Iraqi photographers, who I ended up modeling for as well.
Aside from being a charming old building that gives visitors a glimpse of authentic Jordanian art and culture, this quaint townhouse has a way of bringing together unlikely people while creating joyful memories. Never would I have imagined that I – an English-speaking American teenager – would be dining in Downtown Amman with a Duke, an opera singer, and a journalist from my favorite news outlet, who were mere strangers to me before entering the open doors of the Duke’s Diwan.
Photo by Nasser Abualteen, one of the photographers we met at the Duke’s house