Discovering Amman, Jordan, is a bit like slowly peeling a delicious artichoke — leaf upon leaf of history, interlinked to create a unique mosaic of ancient civilizations each of which has left its indelible mark on us. This is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath-Ammon, capital of the Ammonites; called Philadelphia after the Ptolemaic ruler Philadelphus; ruled by the Seleucids and Nabateans before becoming part of the Roman Decapolis League (a loose alliance of ten Roman-ruled cities); succumbing to the Byzantines before finally falling to the Islamic armies. As you walk through this enchanting city, keep your eyes open for the treasures that abound.
As you gaze across Amman on a sun-lit morning, your eyes are drawn to a hill rising high above the city. This is The Citadel (Jebel Al Qala’a), where Rabbath-Ammon once stood and where the ruins of past civilizations stand stone to stone. Two pillars of the Roman temple of Hercules (also known as the Great Temple of Amman) are silhouetted next to the Umayyad Palace (Al-Qasr) with its massive dome and unique carvings. As you stroll through the arches and vaulted rooms, imagine ancient visitors wandering across the gateway and down the colonnaded street to be received in the great Audience Hall. Nearby are the ruins of a tiny Byzantine basilica.
Until the new Jordan National Museum opens sometime in the future, don’t miss the National Archeological Museum next to the Temple of Hercules where there are some fascinating exhibits, including several Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as enigmatic statues with frightened, deep sunken eyes which stare back at you. What did they see that scared them so much?
As you peer down at the city over the parapet, the Roman amphitheater opens up before you, completely surrounded by the buildings of downtown Amman. Cut into the hillside, under what was once a Roman necropolis, three tiers of 33 rows of seats once held up to 6,000 spectators. Climb to the top for a breathtaking, vertiginous view of this city of contrasts, but beware as the steps are incredibly steep and slippery, something that will hit you when you turn to climb back down.
Outside, a row of Roman columns, the remains of the Forum, cut through a tree-lined park where children play. It is easy to imagine toga-clad citizens strolling under the columns, much like we do today.
This is just a glimpse of this fascinating city. As the sun sets over the citadel, pause to contemplate the heart of ancient Amman and almost 6,000 years of history, witness to the rise and fall of civilizations. What have we learned from those thousands who came before us? What legacy will we leave those who follow?
IF YOU GO
For the most up-to-date information about attractions in Amman, see www.visitjordan.com.