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The Ottoman Empire

The four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1918 CE) were a period of general stagnation in Jordan. The Ottomans were primarily interested in Jordan in terms of its importance to the pilgrimage route to Mecca al-Mukarrama. They built a series of square fortresses—at Qasr al-Dab’a, Qasr Qatraneh, and Qal’at Hasa—to protect pilgrims from the desert tribes and to provide them with sources of food and water. However, the Ottoman administration was weak and could not effectively control the Bedouin tribes. Over the course of Ottoman rule, many towns and villages were abandoned, agriculture declined, and families and tribes moved frequently from one village to another. The Bedouins, however, remained masters of the desert, continuing to live much as they had for hundreds of years.

Population continued to dwindle until the late 19th century, when Jordan received several waves of immigrants. Syrians and Palestinians migrated to Jordan to escape over-taxation and feuds, while Muslim Circassians and Chechens fled Russian persecution to settle in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

The Ottoman period saw a general neglect of infrastructural development in Jordan, and what was constructed was usually with some specific religious orientation. For instance, castles such as Qatraneh were built to protect pilgrimage routes, while most schools, hospitals, baths, wells, orphanages and, of course, mosques, were built with a particular religious function in mind. The most significant infrastructural development of the Ottoman period was the Hijaz Railway from Damascus to al-Madina al-Munawarra in 1908. Designed originally to transport pilgrims to Mecca al-Mukarrama—the extension from al-Madina al-Munawwara was never completed—the railway was also a useful tool for ferrying Ottoman armies and supplies into the Arabian heartland. Because of this, it was attacked frequently during the Great Arab Revolt of World War I.