Amman. Welcome to the white capital of Jordan
Amman architecture lacks the wealth of forms and colours that are characteristic features of the Orient. It is often called the white city, as its houses are made from limestone, and residential districts look like white Lego blocks scattered on the hills.
Located at the very heart of the Middle East, Jordan has a reputation of a modern state with good infrastructure, thriving economy and a rich cultural scene. Its capital, Amman, is an intriguing city where ancient Roman ruins, shisha bars, labyrinths of souks (Arabian markets) and vibrant nightlife form a coherent whole.
Most famous for:
safety; the capital of Jordan is considered the safest city in the Middle East.
Most interesting architectural styles:
Roman, Byzantine and Arab influences, as well as modernism.
A breakthrough moment in history:
Jordan became an independent state in 1946.
Most famous historical monuments:
the ruins of the Umayyad palace from the 7th or 8th century, the King Abdullah I Mosque with a characteristic blue dome.
One definitely needs to:
enjoy the sunset on one of the hills while listening to an evening call to prayer.
Something for gourmets:
Galayet Bandora – stewed tomatoes that are made into a paste with onion, spicy peppers, olive oil and salt.
A place for a walk:
Off the beaten track:
street art and murals created under the Baladk project.
City on a hill
Located between a desert and a fertile Jordan valley, Amman, in the past situated on 7 hills, today spreads across 19 “jabal”. It is an ancient settlement with a very long history, which was first mentioned in the Old Testament under the name Rabbat Ammon (Rabba). In 1946, the city became the capital of independent Jordan. It started rapidly developing around 1948 – the time when the state of Israel was created and Palestinian refugees began arriving in Amman.
They strongly contributed to its dynamic economic and cultural development, and today represent almost half of the capital’s population. The commercial centre of the city is filled with modern buildings, hotels, elegant restaurants, art galleries and shops, which stand close to traditional cafes and small craft workshops producing and selling various products.
The city’s flagship: amphitheatre
You should definitely see Roman Theatre that was built during the reign of Antonius Pius in the 2nd century AD, when the city was known as Philadelphia (from the name of the ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus). The theatre was restored in 1957, albeit without the use of original materials, thus causing the reconstruction to be partially incorrect.
Nevertheless, it can seat 6 thousand people and is one of the main city monuments. Built into the hillside, it was oriented north to keep the sun off the spectators. Up to this day, it has been used during festivals and concerts. Next to the theatre, you can find folklore and ethnographic museums.
Bent fingers and the elbow of Hercules
You do not want to leave without climbing the Roman citadel, towering over the city of Jabal Al-Qal’a, from which you can admire the amazing panorama. You can find there the remains of Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad cultures. The main places to go to are Temple of Hercules, the Byzantine church and the Umayyad Palace. Also worth seeing is the nearby Archaeological museum that houses monuments from Jordan.
Built during the rule of Marcus Aurelius, Temple of Hercules was unmatched in size by any other in Rome. It was 30 meters long and 24 meters wide. The entrance faced east and was surrounded by massive 10 m high columns. Next to the temple, there was a statue (approx. 12m) presumably depicting Hercules. Only the bent fingers and elbow have been preserved to this day, with the rest having vanished without a trace. The temple may have been destroyed in an earthquake.
Crafts, ceramics and gold markets
One of the attractions of the city is undoubtedly a visit to the local markets in Al Balad, where a colourful, shouting crowd bargains prices. Located in the city centre, Souk Al-Sukkar is a place where the locals buy fresh vegetables and fruits. Every Friday, from April to October, at JARA flea market you can find everything staring from silver jewellery, through embroidered handicrafts to ceramics.
On the other hand, the gold market offers goldsmiths’ wares for prices cheaper than in Europe. The best souvenirs from Amman include local oil soaps, various oils or other cosmetics made of Dead Sea minerals, aromatic spices and blends of amazingly fragrant herbs, artistic handicrafts (tapestries and Bedouin rugs), ceramics, coffee brews, and water pipes. However, you should keep in mind that bargaining at markets in Amman is obligatory.
Amman is not only an administrative, but also a culinary capital of the state. Jordan cuisine amalgamates Arabic and Turkish influences and includes dishes with an aromatic, expressive taste. The national dish is Mansaf, a Bedouin dish of lamb and rice, topped with jameed sauce, i.e. dried, thick goat yogurt, which gives it a salty-sour taste.
Mansaf is considered a dish that unites people, and you can try it at Tawa Al Hawa restaurant (Wasfi al-Tal Road, Jubilee Gardens). Other interesting dish is Maqluba, which is meat placed on the bottom of a pot, cooked together with rice and spices. When ready, the pot is flipped upside down when served on a plate, so that rice is on the bottom, and meat on the top. The name translates literally to “upside-down”.
Cardamom flavoured hospitality
The capital of Jordan is, above all, filled with nice and friendly people, who are very open to tourists. It is a multicultural, multi-denominational, well-educated and extremely hospitable society. The Jordanians welcome newcomers by proudly showing them their fascinating and bustling capital, where Ahlan wa Sahlan (Hello!) is heard at every corner.
For the Jordanians, hospitality is a part of life, with food playing an important role in the culture, especially family meals. They very often dine with other people. After the meal, it is a common tradition to drink mint tea (usually black tea with a few leaves of fresh mint) or Turkish coffee spiced with cardamom. Drinking coffee and tea is not only a ritual, but also a sign of hospitality and respect. That is why it is worth accepting the invitation from the locals for a meal eaten together.
An evening on a terrace
The Wild Jordan Center, owned by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, is definitely a place that should not be missed. From its terrace, you can see an astonishing view of the old city of Amman, the Citadel and the huge Jordanian flag. The restaurant offers ecological dishes served with various original and seasonal vegetables and local fruit, also in vegan and gluten-free varieties. Another must-see café in Jabal is Books@cafe (Omar Bin Al Khattab Street).
Opened in 1997, it was the first Internet café in the Middle East. Over the time, it has become a meeting place for people from all walks of life, where it is possible to drink freshly roasted coffee, eat international cuisine and have access to bilingual literature. It houses a bookstore and store on the ground floor, a café and pizzeria on the first floor, which in the evening changes into one of the best clubs in the city, and above all, it gives you the chance to enjoy the view of eastern Amman with the Circassian mosque towering over the city.
Although you can spend your entire holiday in Amman, most tourists treat the capital as a base camp from which they can go to the most popular places in Jordan – which this small country has no shortage of. From there, you can go to Jerash, one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities in the world, or Madaba located at the beginning of the Royal Road, which was once a stopover for caravans carrying goods. The most characteristic feature of this city is a mosaic map of Palestine and Lower Egypt from the 6th century presented on the floor of the Orthodox St George’s Church.
One of the greatest attractions in the Middle East is the Dead Sea, located just a two hour drive from Amman. It is considered the oldest and biggest natural spa in the world, due to the properties of its water. It will only take you 4 hours to get from Amman to Petra, the famous ancient Nabataean city that was cut out in a rock. It is the most valuable monument of Jordan, which was included on the list of Seven Wonders of the World. In its close vicinity, you can find Wadi Rum, the red desert. This fascinating lunar landscape is best enjoyed during the magical sunrises and sunsets. The desert can be traversed by jeep or camel, or, alternatively, you also have the option of trekking.
The Royal Automobile Museum
Built in honour of King Hussein, depicting his private collection of cars.
Darat Al Funun
An art gallery complex that houses works of contemporary Arab artists.
Amman Summer Festival
The 10-day summer festival is a combination of dance, music and art.