The seven hills of Amman are an enchanting mixture of ancient and modern. Honking horns give way to the beautiful call to prayer which echoes from the stately minarets which grace the city. Gleaming white houses, kabab stalls and cafes are interspersed with bustling markets "known in Arabic as souqs" and the remains of civilizations and ages long past.
Sunset is perhaps the best time to enjoy Amman, as the white buildings of the city seem to glow in the fading warmth of the day.
The greatest charm of Amman, however, is found in the hospitality of its residents. Visitors to Amman and the rest of Jordan, for "that matter" are continually surprised by the genuine warmth with which they are greeted. "Welcome in Jordan" is a phrase visitors will not soon forget.
Amman is built on seven hills, or jabals, each of which more or less defines a neighborhood. Most jabals once had a traffic circle, and although most of these have now been replaced by traffic lights, Amman's geography is often described in reference to the eight circles which form the spine of the city. First Circle is located near downtown, and the series extends westward through Eighth Circle.
Amman has served as the modern and ancient capital of Jordan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a 1994 excavation uncovering homes and towers believed to have been built during the Stone Age, circa 7000 BCE. There are many Biblical references to the city, which by about 1200 BCE had become the Ammonite capital of Rabbath-Ammon. The Ammonites fought numerous wars with Saul, David and others.
The history of Amman between the end of its Biblical references (around 585 BCE) and the time of the Ptolemies is unclear.
We do know that the city was renamed Philadelphia after the Ptolemaic ruler Philadelphus in the third century BCE.
After coming under Seleucid and Nabatean rule, Philadelphia was taken by the Roman vassal King Herod in 30 BCE.
The city became part of the Decapolis League, a loose alliance of ten Roman-ruled cities including Jerash, Gadara (present-day Umm Qais), Pella, Arbila (Irbid) and others.
Under Roman rule, Philadelphia was replanned and reconstructed in typically grand Roman style with a colonnaded street, baths, an amphitheater and impressive public buildings.
During the Byzantine period, Philadelphia was the seat of a Christian bishop, and several expansive churches were built. The city declined somewhat during the late Byzantine years, and was overrun by the Persian Sassanians in 614 CE. Their rule was short-lived, however, collapsing before the Arabian armies of Islam around the year 635.
The name of the city then returned to its Semitic origin of Ammon, or "Amman". It remained an important stop on the caravan routes for many years, but eventually trade patterns shifted and dried up the lifeblood of Amman. The city declined to little more than a provincial village for many centuries.
Amman's "modern" history began in the late 19th century, when the Ottomans resettled a colony of Circassian emigrants there in 1878. Many of their descendants still reside in Amman. During that time and the early decades of the 20th century, the neighboring city of Salt was more important as a regional administrative and political center.
However, after the Great Arab Revolt secured the state of Transjordan, Emir Abdullah bin al-Hussein made Amman his capital in 1921. Since then, the city has grown by leaps and bounds into a modern, thriving metropolis of well over a million people. Amman's growth has been driven largely by political events in the region, and especially by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
After the wars of 1948 and 1967, successive waves of Palestinian refugees ended up in Amman. Moreover, the city's population was further expanded by another wave of immigrants arriving from Iraq and Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf Crisis.
Sights of Interest
Most of Amman's noteworthy historical sites are clustered in the downtown area, which sits at the bottom of four of Amman's seven hills, or jabals.
The ancient Citadel, which towers above the city from atop Jabal al-Qala'a, is a good place to begin a tour of the city. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and excavations here have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr ("the Palace"), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. Its exact function is unclear, but it includes a monumental gateway, an audience hall and four vaulted chambers. A colonnaded street also runs through the complex. To the north and northeast are the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds.
Close to al-Qasr lie the remains of a small Byzantine basilica. Corinthian columns mark the site of the church, which is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century CE. About 100 meters south of the church is what is thought to have been a temple of Hercules, today also known as the Great Temple of Amman. The temple was built in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), and is currently under restoration.
Also on Citadel Hill, just northwest of the Temple of Hercules, is the Jordan Archeological Museum. This small museum houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th century. There is an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of the Mesha Stele (see Madaba section for explanation) and four rare Iron Age sarcophagi.
Museum hours are 08:30-17:00 daily. On fridays and official holidays the museum is open from 09:00-16:00.
Downhill from the Citadel and five minutes walk east from downtown, the Roman Theater is the most obvious and impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. The theater, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a "necropolis" or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the amphitheater at Jerash, and can accommodate 6000 spectators. The theater is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.
Two small museums are built into the foundations of the Roman theater.
The Jordan Folklore Museum is in the right wing of the theater and displays a collection of items showing the traditional life of local people. At the other end of the theater stage, the Museum of Popular Traditions displays traditional Jordanian costumes, including fine embroidery and beautiful antique jewelry. It also houses several sixth-century mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.
The Museum of Popular Traditions is open daily 09:00-17:00, and closed on tuesday.
The Jordan Folklore Museum is open every day from 09:00-17:00, except friday when its hours are 10:00-16:00.
To the northeast stands the small theater, or Odeon, which is still being restored. Built at about the same time as the Roman theater, this intimate 500-seat theater is used now as it was in Roman times, for musical concerts. Archaeologists think that the building was originally covered with a wooden or temporary tent roof to shield performers and audiences from the elements.
Heading southwest from the theater complex, Philadelphia's chief fountain, or Nymphaeum, stands with its back to Quraysh Street. Much of the fountain, which was completed in 191 CE, is hidden from public view by private houses and shops.
The Nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meter pool, three meters deep, which was continuously refilled with fresh water. Jordan's Department of Antiquities is currently excavating the Nymphaeum, and ultimately hopes to restore the site to its original structure by 2010.
From the Nymphaeum, the short stroll to the King Hussein Mosque bustles with pedestrians, juice stands and vendors. The area around the King Hussein Mosque, also known as al-Husseini Mosque, is the heart of modern downtown Amman.
The Ottoman-style mosque was rebuilt in 1924 on the site of an ancient mosque, probably also the site of the cathedral of Philadelphia. Between the al-Husseini Mosque and the Citadel is Amman's famous gold souq, which features row after row of glittering gold treasures.
WHAT TO SEE
Information on Amman and its attractions are available from the Ministry of Tourism, 3rd Circle, tel. 4603360, hours 08:00-15:00, Sun. to Thurs. or the Jordan Tourism Board, tel. 5678294, which provide all kinds of information, maps and brochures, hours 08:00-16:00, Sat. to Thurs. This is also the place to contact in the unlikely event you have a complaint about a hotel, restaurant, etc.
Towering above Amman, the site of the earliest fortifications. Numerous excavations show Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic remains, and excavations are continuing. Important structures are the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace complex with its monumental audience hall, and a Byzantine church.
Jordan Archaeological Museum
Citadel Hill, tel. 4638795. Excellent collection of the antiquities of Jordan dating from prehistoric
times to the 15th century. Opening hours 08:00-19:00 April - Sept., and 08:00-16:00 Oct. - March. Fridays and on official holidays 10:00-16:00. Admission 2 JD.
Dating from 151 AD and built to seat 6,000 people, the theatre has been partially rebuilt and is again being used for performances.
Jordan Folklore Museum
Roman Theatre, tel. 4651742. A recreation of traditional Jordanian life, including costumes, home furnishings, musical instruments and handicrafts dating back to the 19th century. Opening hours 08:00-19:00 April - Sept., and 08:00-16:00 Oct. - March. daily except Fri. 10:00-16:00. Admission 1 JD, the ticket is valid for the Museum of Popular Traditions.
Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions
Roman Theatre, tel. 4651760. Costumes and jewellery from Jordan and the West Bank, many over 100 years old; mosaics from Jarash and Madaba. Hours 09:00-18:00. Entrance fee (see the Jordan Folklore Museum).
Built in the 2nd century AD and recently rebuilt, this intimate 600-seat theatre is now used for concerts.
Downtown Amman. A typical Middle Eastern market where you can buy almost anything - it is also an interesting cultural experience.
Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts
Jabal al-Weibdeh, tel. 4630128. Fine collection of paintings, sculptures and ceramics by contemporary Jordanian artists, as well as work by artists of other Muslim countries. Hours 09:00-17:00, closed Tues. and Fri.
Shmeisani, tel. 5665195. A heritage and science museum geared to children, with lots of "hands-on" exhibits to try. Hours 08:30-16:00. Closed Fri. Admission 0.750 JD.
Martyr's Memorial & Military Museum
Near Al-Hussein Youth (Sport) City, tel. 5664240. Chronological display of military memorabilia dating from the Arab Revolt of 1916 to the present, housed in a monumental building. Hours 07:30-16:00, closed Fri.
University of Jordan
The University has several small museums, including those for Biology and Medicine (which may be of interest to the specialist), as well as an Archaeological Museum, an Anthropology Museum and the National Folklore Museum, tel. 5355000. Hours Sun.-Thurs. 08:00-17:00. Academic holidays 08:00-15:00. Admission free.
CULTURE & ART
The English-language newspaper, The Jordan Times, is publishing a list of cultural, sport and entertainment events daily.
Jordan has a rapidly developing fine arts scene, including an increasing number of women artists. Today artists from various Arab countries find artistic freedom and inspiration in Jordan. The Jordan Association of Artists will help you co-ordinate a studio and gallery tour of Amman. The Royal Cultural Centre and various foreign cultural centres (listed below) often organise exhibitions for foreign and Jordanian artists.
Al-Mashreq Gallery, Shmeisani, tel. 5681303. Paintings and framing. Opens daily 10:00-14:00 and 15:30-19:00, closed Fri.
Baladna Gallery, Al-Shahid Wasfi al-Tall Street (Gardens), tel. 5537598. Paintings, contemporary Jordanian jewellery. Opens daily 10:00-19:00, closed Fri.
Orfali Art Gallery, Umm Uthaina, tel. 5526932. Paintings, sculpture and ceramics. Opens daily 10:00-14:00 and 16:00-20:00, closed Fri.
The Gallery, Jordan Inter-Continental Hotel, tel. 464136l. Paintings, sculpture and ceramics of Jordanian artists. Opens daily 07:30-19:00, closed Fri.
Zara Gallery, Grand Hyatt Hotel, tel. 4651433. Paintings, solo and collective exhibitions. Opens daily 11:00-19:00, Sat. 15:00-19:00, closed Fri.
4 Walls, Sheraton Amman Hotel, tel. 5920902. Art exhibitions, music concerts and plays for local and foreign artists. Opens daily 09:00-19:00, closed Fri.
Royal Culture Centre
Near Al-Hussein Youth (Sport) City, tel. 5669026, fax 5669081. This modern complex houses theatres, cinemas, conference and exhibition halls and is a regular site for numerous cultural activities. A monthly programme is available on request, and the English newspapers The Jordan Times and The Star carry details of events. The Jordan Film Festival is held here every year in May.
Jabal al-Weibdeh, tel.4643252, fax 4643253. Opens daily 10:00-19:00, closed Fri. An outstandingart centre for contemporary Arab art. Located in three old buildings placed around the ruins of a Byzantine church, with exhibition rooms, artist workshops, library for art books, poetry reading, outdoor theatre and music performance in summer.
Center Phone Fax
Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation 5602155 5672541
American Centre 5920101 5920121
British Council 4636147 4656413
French Cultural Centre 4612658 4630061
German Cultural Centre (Goethe-Institut) 4641993 4612383
Spanish Cultural Centre (Instituto Cervantes) 4610858 4624049
Turkish Cultural Centre 4629777 4629777
Library Phone Fax
Abdul Hameed Shoman 5679166 4610470
Municipality of Amman 4627718 4610542
THEATRES & CINEMAS
Foreign-language films are shown with the original soundtrack and Arabic subtitles. Times are listed almost daily in The Jordan Times. Film shows are also often organised by the various Cultural Centres. The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation organises a foreign film show every Tuesday evening at 18:30-21:00, free of charge
Al-Rozana Theatre 4612572
Ammon Theatre 4618274
Hisham Yanis Theatre 4640155
Century (Wadi Saqra) 4613260
Concord (Shmeisani) 5677420
Galleria (Abdoun) 5934793
Philadelphia (3rd Circle) 4634144
Plaza (Shmeisani) 5699238
SPORT CLUBS & FITNESS CENTRES
Amman has numerous sports clubs and fitness centres. In most cases, you can pay per visit or take a short-term member ship. Some facilities are segregated for men and women. The following are a selection:
Al-Ahli Club (8th Circle) 5823126
Al-Hussein Youth (Sport) City 5670182
Body Design (Abdoun) 5929669
Body Must (Amra Forum Hotel) 5510001
Club on Five (Sheraton Amman Hotel) 5934111
Dunes Club (Airport Highway) 4125290
Flex (7th Circle) 5811240
Marriott Centre (Marriott Hotel) 5607607
Orthodox Club (Abdoun) 5920491
Plaza Fitness Centre (Plaza Hotel) 5681702
Power Hut Gym (Shmeisani) 5686349
Royal Automobile Club (8th Circle) 5850626
World Class (Le Meridien Hotel) 5696511
Shopping is great fun in Jordan. There is a lot to choose from that is well crafted and unique. The following shops should not be missed:
Al-Aydi (The Hands)
Near the Inter-Continental Hotel, tel. 4644555. Follow signs with the blue hand. Established by the Jordan Craft Development Centre in the 1970s for Jordanian artisans to salvage traditional crafts and skills. The shop has a wonderful selection of Palestinian tapestries, Bedouin carpets, ceramics, antique silver jewellery, mother-of-pearl and olive wood items, and embroidered traditional products.
Al-Burgan for Handicrafts
Near the Inter-Continental Hotel, tel. 4652585. A family-owned boutique with an impressive assortment of bathrobes and accessories, slippers, tablemats, pillows, linens and cloths.
Branches in Jabal al-Weibdeh, Al-Hawuz Circle and Jabal al-Hussein, tel. 4635758. Antiques and other old items, handcrafted mother-of-pearl and olive wood items, silver jewellery and decorative daggers.
Al-Khayyam Oriental Bazaar
Jabal al-Weibdeh, tel. 4623927. Handcrafted copper items, mother-of-pearl and olivewood items.
Near the 2nd Circle, tel. 4647858. The finest and largest selection of crafts and arts with the best prices in town.
Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Street (Rainbow St.), tel. 4637424. Specialised in colourful oriental Saya fabrics.
Located in Abdoun, tel. 5930070. Operated by the Queen Alia Social Welfare Fund, offers an abundance of weavings and ceramics in traditional motifs.
King Abdullah II Street, tel. 5818425. Specialised in mother-of-pearl inlayed furniture from Syria.
Centre for Palestinian Culture
Al-Rabieh, tel. 5517487. Specialised in traditional Palestinian embroidery.
Hazem Zu'bi Ceramics
Near the Commodore Hotel, tel. 5680908. A source for large decorative pieces as well as functional dinnerware, takes its name from one of Jordan's premier ceramists. Designs reflect the ancient cultures of the region.
Hebron Glass Factory
Na'ur, on the road to the Dead Sea, tel. 5727565. Handcrafted Hebron glass.
Jordan Design & Trade Centre
Shmeisani, tel. 5699141. Offers a sumptuous selection of home furnishings of all kinds: woollen rugs, embroidered and woven pillows, furniture, pottery, glass, wall hangings, metal work and fashion.
Jordan River Foundation
1st Circle, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Street (Rainbow St.), Bani Hamida house, tel. 4613081/2. A self-help project of Save the Children, best known for handmade embroidered quilts and pillows. Also available: a wide variety of bags, wallets and purses (many in leather and suede), olive oil soap, traditional dolls and hand woven carpets.
Airport Highway, tel. 4128391/2/3. The walled village of Kan Zaman dates back to the turn of the century. It has since been transformed into a restaurant and handicraft complex, with small shops offering a wide variety of traditional hand-crafted products and workshops in which you can see glass blowing and carpet weaving. The popular restaurant, with its vaulted ceilings, specialises in authentic Arabic cuisine, and an additional treat is the nightly performance of Arabic music and dancing.
4th Circle, tel. 5931128. Ceramic designs inspired by museum pieces, featuring traditional stoneware fired from local clay and glazes; incised and painted as bas-relief.
Grand Hyatt Hotel, tel. 4651433. Embroidered, handcrafted glass and olive wood products, Dead Sea products.
SUPERMARKETS & DEPARTMENT STORES
There are many supermarkets and grocery stores in Amman, and they are generally well stocked with local and imported foods. The largest are the Safeway and Plaza Super Stores in Shmeisani, and C Town near the 7th Circle. The ground floor is a supermarket, while the second floor is a department store offering clothing, electrical and household goods, cosmetics, leather goods, toys etc.
WHERE TO STAY
Amman has several world-class hotels. Four and five-star hotels provide laundry and dry cleaning, currency exchange, secretarial services, fax and postal services, gift shops, beauty salons and babysitting, (for babysitting, advance notice is required). The Ministry of Tourism has established ratings.
Hotels are often the venue for Jordanian weddings, which are elaborately celebrated. In the summer especially, you may hear the music from around the hotel pools, and have a chance to watch the fun from your hotel room balcony.