AMMAN, Jordan – On a hilltop of the Jordanian capital, a museum with some of the world's most unique cars and motorbikes recounts a century of the ruling Hashemite dynasty's elegant lifestyle.
The Royal Automobile Museum was built in 2003 under instructions from King Abdullah II, specifically to pay tribute to the eventful life of his late father, Hussein, who died of cancer in 1999 after a 46-year reign.
Like Abdullah, Hussein was a local trophy-winning car racer, who also had a passion for motorbikes. He was often seen in public riding top-notch motorcycles that drew crowds amazed by the powerful machines.
One of his special moments captured in a photo that made it to the cover of Conde Nast Travelers' Magazine in 1994, showed him in a leather jacket, sporting a white beard and a beaming smile as he rode a red motorbike with his American wife, Lisa Halaby, sitting behind him in the southern desert of Wadi Rum.
"It's unique and invaluable," said museum director Raja Gargour of the collection of more than 70 cars, with models dating back to 1916, and 50 motorbikes, with models from 1907 through today. He said all were operational and underwent maintenance since they were brought in from a royal palace storehouse.
Historically, Jordan's location at a crossroads for East-West caravan routes helped it become one of the first nations in the region to acquire automobiles in 1924, when one of the great grandfathers of King Abdullah, known as Sharif Hussein, brought one to Amman, according to the museum's website.
Also on display is a replica of the world's first cars, manufactured by Karl Benz, founder of Mercedes-Benz, in 1886. Others include Rolls Royces, Aston Martins and Ferraris.
The museum has drawn more than 1 million visitors, including foreigners, in the last decade. It stands opposite Abdullah's office.