You can´t visit Amman without seeing the Citadel, the historic heart of the city and one of the reasons you should be persuaded to visit Jordan´s capital.
The Citadel is raised on top of Jebel el Qala´a, one of the seven hills that originally formed Amman. Here you will find remnants of different civilisations of the past and the most beautiful views of the Jordanian capital. You can reach it by taxi or by a 20-minute walk up the steep Salmah Ben Al-Akwaa and Al Qalaah streets, along which there is also a viewing platform with the best views of Amman´s Roman theatre.
The citadel houses an extensive complex of ruins containing numerous remains of temples, buildings and walls from different civilisations; it is said to be one of the oldest populated areas in existence, with evidence that it was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age.
The name Amman comes from "Rabbath Ammon", or "great city of the Ammonites", a people who settled here around 1200 b.C. The Bible tells us that King David took the city in the early X century b.C.. The hill was of great military and religious importance for many centuries. In 331 b.C. the city was conquered by the Greeks and renamed Philadelphia, then Romans, Byzantines and Muslims left their mark on the site.
Most of the walls of the citadel date back to the II century a.D., when Amman was part of the Roman Empire, and the Roman governor lived here, with incredible views of the town. The most important building from that period is the Temple of Hercules, built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and its massive ruins give you an idea of the greatness of that period.
If you follow the signed route you come to the Umayyad Palace, a huge complex built by the Arabs that included a mosque, watchtowers, rooms for dignitaries, a cistern and a street full of columns. It was probably used as an administrative centre or residence of the caliph of that time. The huge entrance hall with its impressive dome in which visitors were expected to be welcomed is still in good condition. From here there are exceptional views of the white and beige houses of different Amman´s neighbourhoods that deserve your attention.
Inside the complex is also the small National Archaeological Museum, which exhibits artefacts up to 8,000 years old - take the time to visit.
MANSAF, A BEDOUIN TRADITION
Every country has a national dish for which it is famous, Jordan´s Mansaf is extremely delicious and well worth a try, a traditional dish made with lamb in a jameed sauce, served with rice. Very popular among the Bedouins.
Jameed is a yoghurt that is prepared by boiling sheep´s or goat´s milk which is then left to dry and ferment. It is kept in a thin gauze and salt is added daily to thicken it, until becomes very thick. To prepare Mansaf, you need jameed broth and pieces of lamb simmered. It is served on a large platter with a layer of bread (markook) covered with rice. Then the meat with almonds and pine nuts is added and over it creamy jameed sauce is poured. The name of the dish comes from the term ´large tray´ or ´large dish´ in Arabic.
There are also other variations that adjust to regional tastes and characteristics, such as fish Mansaf, typical of the region around the coastal city of Aqaba. In northern Jordan it is sometimes cooked with poultry instead of lamb.
Mansaf is related to traditional Bedouin culture based on herding and farming, a way of life in which meat and yoghurt were easily available. Jordanians are well known for their hospitality, and this dish still plays an important role in entertaining guests. It is served on special occasions, such as weddings, births, graduations, as well as on important holidays such as Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr and Christmas.
Since it was originally very popular among the Bedouin, many of the traditions associated with it survive today. The tray containing the Mansaf is placed on a table with the diners gathered around it, usually standing. It is eaten according to the traditional method, Bedouin style, using the right hand directly instead of cutlery, with the fingers shaping the portions that are placed in the mouth. While the right hand is used, the left hand remains behind the back. It is also frowned upon to blow on the rice ball, no matter how hot it is. Although nowadays in restaurants it is also possible to eat it on a plate and with a spoon, it is not acceptable according to tradition.
The Mansaf plays an active role in the resolution of tribal disputes in Jordan, such as Atwa (truce) and Ja´ha (peace-making process). It marks the end of a conflict when tribal chiefs visit each other and the host sacrifices a sheep or goat to prepare a shared Mansaf. It is considered a sign of reconciliation.
If you want to experience the local cuisine, this is our recommendation, a Jordanian speciality that is both the national dish and a Bedouin tradition.
THE GOLDEN ZOCO
Shopping in Jordan is one of the best ways to learn about the country´s culture, history and traditions. Like most Arab cities, Amman has a large number of traditional oriental markets called zocos, which offer an almost infinite variety of all kinds of goods. As these are local markets where Jordanians do their own shopping, prices are fairly cheap and, in many cases, bargaining is allowed.
During your visit to Amman, it´s worth checking out Souk el-Sagha, the popular market or ´Gold Zoco´ in central Amman, famous for the artistic pieces of jewellery made from real gold and exquisite silver that are displayed in its shops. From simple earrings and classic rings to large, extravagant bracelets, you can find everything in this gold paradise: delicate and intricate necklaces of all shapes and sizes, earrings, watches, even coffee makers, glitter on the counters.
Located in the heart of Amman, the maze of narrow streets between the Al-Hussein Mosque and the Roman Citadel is home to this historic zoco that is considered one of the cheapest places in the world to buy gold - it´s almost impossible to find such quality and purity in any other country for the same prices. With over fifty shops displaying jewellery of the highest quality, the range in the Souk el-Sagha is overwhelming and hard to resist.
You can enjoy the variety and elegance of the pieces on display as you stroll through the bustling place, admire the quality craftsmanship or simply be dazzled by the jewellery-filled shop windows. Watch the merchants weigh each piece to determine its price. And if you find something you like, feel free to haggle politely for a better price.
Keep in mind that the pieces are sold by weight and purity, and that the craftsman´s work determines approximately 20-30% of the price, that´s why you can negotiate. Be careful with so-called "Russian gold", it is not as valuable as normal gold and that is the reason for such a good price.
Souk el-Sagha is open every day. Besides gold and silver, you can also find the usual oriental bazaar goods: many spices of every imaginable colour that invite you to smell and taste, fruits, vegetables, nuts and dried fruits, which are part of the market´s culinary variety and incomparable mix of smells. Some stalls also sell cosmetic products made from Dead Sea salts. There is also a lot of ceramics and glassware, as well as perfumes and textiles, including excellent handmade carpets.
Get a gift for yourself or for a loved one, and find a craftsman at Souk el-Sagha to make you a personalised piece of jewellery. Engraving a name written in Arabic on a piece of your choice is also an option for a more personalised present.
Address: Souk el-Sagha
THE BLUE-DOMED MOSQUE
Mosques are very important for Muslims because it is the place of worship. Furthermore, the walls of many of them are full of history, while others are marvels of modern architecture.
The King Abdullah Mosque is probably the most impressive ones in Amman and one of the symbols of the city. Its huge blue dome decorated with magnificent mosaics will amaze you for a while.
It was built between 1982 and 1986 by order of King Hussein I and named after his grandfather Abd Allah ibn Husayn I, the first king of Jordan. The plans were designed by the Czech-German architect Jan Cejka.
It is located on Jebel al-Weibdeh Hill in the western part of the Jordanian capital and is famous for its spectacular architectural design. Its impressive turquoise-blue main dome contrasts with the sandy tone of the rest of the city, while two smaller domes and two futuristic-looking minarets stand next to it. It has become one of the symbols of Amman, ideal for photography or as a backdrop for selfies - you´ll probably get the best angles from its north side and from Al Mamoun Street.
The King Abdullah Mosque is the only mosque in Amman that is open to non-Muslims, so you can take pictures inside. Men should wear long trousers and women should cover their heads, arms and legs, and free robes with hoods are provided for them. Of course, shoes must also be removed before entering.
It can hold up to 7000 worshippers. The large men´s prayer hall is located under the dome with a diameter of 35 metres. It is not supported by columns, reminiscent of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The interior of the mosque includes another prayer hall for women, the mihrab, decorated with beautiful inscriptions, and the pulpit.
The corridors, both sides of the minarets and the outer entrances are decorated with blue ceramic which have writings from the Koran. The ceilings are made of stucco in the traditional Arabic style. The furnishings include rugs, chandeliers and large traditional copper lamps. The mosque is air-conditioned to make worshippers feel comfortable during prayer.
The complex includes a museum of Islamic history and religion with two wings, one dedicated to the legacy of King Abdullah I and the other with ancient Islamic artefacts, as well as photographs and models of Islamic archaeological sites. It also houses a Koran school, a library with over 20,000 books, lecture and exhibition halls, a charity market and an Islamic cultural centre for children including a sports club.
The mosque is definitely one of the most photogenic places in Amman, a wonderful mix of design and architecture; being one of Amman´s most beautiful attractions from the outside and a comprehensive Islamic cultural centre on the inside.
Address: Abd Allah ibn Husayn I Mosque
Jabal al Weibdeh
TH DIVAN OF THE HAPPY 20´S
The Duke´s Diwan is one of the oldest buildings in the heart of Amman. Located near the bustling zocos of the city centre, the “Diwan” welcomes the curious who are willing to climb the steep staircase leading to its historic rooms without requesting an entrance fee.
Built in 1924 to fit the prestigious social position of Abdul Rahman Madi, one of the notables of the time, this house at 12 King Faisal Street serves as one of the best reminders of the architectural heritage of old Amman.
The house entered Jordanian history when it came to the attention of the government of the Emirate of Transjordan, before the country became a kingdom, which leased it to be the first headquarters of the Central Post Office until the late 1940s. In 1948 it became a hotel known as the "Haifa Hotel" and remained so until 2001.
In 2001 it entered a new phase when the businessman Mamdouh Bisharat, appointed Duke by King Hussein for his agricultural and environmental activities, rented the house to the Madi family and turned it into a cultural and tourist centre in order to preserve its history and prevent the building from being demolished as it happened to other houses. Since then, the place has been called "The Duke´s Diwan", after his benefactor and in reference to the Arabic word Diwan used for a room in the house that is always open to guests.
The " Duke´s Diwan" consists of five rooms of different sizes, with high ceilings and thick walls, in line with the architectural style of the time; the rooms surround a large hall whose floor is decorated with black and green tiles. The house still retains its thick old wooden doors and heavy handles, and is distinguished by its tall windows ending in ornamental arches.
Throughout the residence, much of the original 1920s decoration has been preserved, including an antique radio, the original cooker and furnishings from the glory days of the Haifa Hotel, when Amman was one of the oldest cities in the world trying to become modern.
The Diwan opens its doors to talent, often hosting literary and artistic events, as well as lectures and seminars on the history of the city. Concerts and informal music, painting, poetry or theatre events make this house a meeting place for the city´s creative persons and artists.
Stay a while and a nice host will invite you for a cup of tea, despite language barriers that should be insurmountable, the magic of the Diwan will make you understand many things he will tell you.
You can´t miss this house turned into an architectural treasure of the happy 1920s in Amman.
Address: Duke´s Diwan 12, King Faisal.
THE HOOKAKH PROTOCOL
After a busy day in Amman, you might feel like taking a break, so why not do as the locals do and go out and smoke an aromatic tobacco pipe?
Hookah smoking is simple but can be a little overwhelming for a beginner, there is a protocol to follow. Here are a few tips to help you pass the Jordanian smoker´s test.
Drink plenty of water before smoking hookah. You can drink water or mint tea to keep your mouth hydrated during the session, so you can better savour the fruity shisha smoke.
If you are sitting on cushions, be careful if you cross your legs, don´t point your instep at anyone and don´t show the soles of your feet - it´s disrespectful to the locals.
Always use your right hand when smoking hookah. In the same way as when you are eating, the left hand is considered unclean. If you ignore this rule, you may offend your fellow smokers.
Generally, the person who sets up the pipe smokes first in rotation. The person in charge of the embers goes second. The bong always rotates clockwise.
When you are puffing, be careful that the charcoal does not get too hot; if the tobacco in the pipe burns it will taste bitter. Breathe in the smoke slowly and lightly, taking breaks between puffs.
Allow 2 to 3 minutes each time it is your turn; this will equivalent to 4 to 5 puffs, enough for a good aroma and taste sensation.
If you are about to talk for a long time, pass the bong first - it´s not nice to keep others waiting in a shared hookah session.
When passing the hose, bend the handle so that the nozzle never points at the next smoker, the correct way is to deliver it with the tip in the opposite direction. And of course, never let the mouthpiece touch the ground.
If the bong has more than one hose, never smoke at the same time as another person. This causes the embers to burn too hot and no one will get a satisfactory puff. If you try to inhale at the same time, you break the protocol and ruin the session.
If you smoke from a multi-hose pipe without an automatic seal, you should block the mouthpiece of yours with your thumb when it is not your turn. If it is open, there will be leak that introduces air into the pipe when someone else smokes.
As you learn to smoke hookah, you will want to try a lot of different flavours. Any lounge will have a good selection. Choose one that you like the smell of because the aromatic smoke will permeate your clothes.
There are many cafes along the streets of Amman with rooftops where you can climb up to enjoy a shisha and good views. Smokers gather not only to enjoy the aromatic smoke, but also to socialise and chat with others who share the hobby.
HAND OF HÉRCULES
During the I century a.D. the territory of modern Jordan was part of the Roman Empire, and at that time its capital, the current Amman, was known by the Greek name of Philadelphus.
As in all corners of their empire, the Romans also built many public buildings here. In the Citadel of Amman, in the ancient heart of Jordan´s capital, are the remains of a magnificent temple built during Roman rule. It is one of the city´s most iconic monuments, featuring on many posters promoting Amman as a tourist destination. It is known as the ´Temple of Hercules´, but why is it called like this?
Due to its dimensions the temple may have been larger than any other built in Rome itself.
The portico measured 30 metres long by 25 metres wide and was decorated with six 10-metre-high columns. The outer sanctuary measured 120 x 70 metres. The presence of columns on the front of the structure and not on the rest suggests that the construction was never completed for reasons that history has yet to reveal.
During archaeological excavations, few clues helped to unravel the mysteries of this huge unfinished temple. Those that were found were surprising, though not so easy to decipher.
Note the two pieces of marble that appear to be thrown in front of the crumbling columns, they seem to provoke their own mysteries, one is a set of three fingers of a gigantic hand and the other looks like an elbow of equal proportions.
On the basis of these remains, archaeologists posited that there was a colossal statue of about 13 metres high in its original state, which size would place it among the largest marble statues ever sculpted. From just three giant fingers and an elbow they determined that these body fragments belonged to a colossal marble statue of Hercules himself.
Not all experts agreed with this attribution. However, the fact that a large number of coins with the effigy of the mythical figure were found below in the city, made the hypothesis credible.
Consequently, according to the theory, the great temple must also have been dedicated to the demigod known for his feats of strength and the protagonist of many mythological adventures.
Much of the temple probably collapsed along with the statue during some catastrophic earthquake. The marble was easy prey for other uses, especially if it was smashed to pieces. It is possible that some ancient houses in Amman still contain blocks of rock from the ´mythological force of Hercules´. Parts of the temple and statue may, in fact, be in kitchens in the form of beautiful countertops.
The gigantic finger fragment is known as "The hand of Hercules". The neatly trimmed nails and cuticles show that Hercules enjoyed a good manicure, as only the demigod gods deserved.
Address: Museum St. 132
THE LIVELY AND COSMOPOLITAN NEIGHBOURHOOD
Jabal Amman is an area with personality, occupying one of the seven historic hills on which Jordan´s capital city sits. If you fancy a stroll through the city centre, be sure to include this lively and cosmopolitan neighbourhood.
This space has served as a human settlement since the Stone Age, but unlike the other hills of Amman it was never fortified. In the early XX century when Amman was declared the capital of the Emirate of Transjordan, high-ranking officials began to move to the hill and surrounding area, making Jabal Amman the neighbourhood of the elites.
Jabal Amman is distinguished by its characteristic 1930s streets and is home to many of the capital´s popular monuments. Today it is famous for its bohemian atmosphere and lively cultural life.
Its main streets are known for their beautiful villas, such as Omar bin al-Khattab Street which has many popular cafes and houses the famous art-deco Mango House.
Rainbow Street is probably the most famous one, probably in all of Amman. Here, the clichés of the Arabian Nights reappear with the call of the muezzin, the smell of spices and scented tobacco smoke emanating from the nearby zoco and cafes where you can smoke shisha. It is also a social meeting place, one of the busiest streets in Amman that offers many options to choose from: restaurants, tea rooms, rooftop bars, colourful ice cream shops, galleries and vintage stores; the most fashionable cafes and boutiques await you here. On your walk you will come across the Safadi Mosque and its beautiful minaret and the renovated "Al Riynbu" cinema that gave its name to the street.
Stop at any of the restaurants serving authentic Jordanian cuisine. The Wild Jordan Café Amman is a good option to have lunch or drink something, so you can support ecotourism and local Jordanian artisan. It has a beautiful view of Amman and you can stock up on local souvenirs such as tea, olive oil soaps, cushions and much more. Also nearby is the "Souk Jara" market, where you can buy handicrafts, delicious food, clothes and other traditional items. This market takes place from November to March every Tuesday from 10 h to 14 h.
Stay until dusk, when the area takes on a different character. Many Rainbow Street cafés turn into trendy bars, the cosmopolitan nightlife awakens when the sun goes down. For something more low-key, head to a shisha bar, a popular choice for a relaxed night out with friends, choose one with good music and get ready for a night of entertaining people-watching.
Jabal Amman is one of the best areas of Amman to explore on foot, there´s something for everyone in this popular area, come for a stroll here and you´ll be convinced of the Jordanian capital´s lively atmosphere.
Address: Jabal Amman
THE WATER-SAVING PARK
The National Gallery of Fine Arts is one of the most important art museums in Jordan, containing over two thousand works from Jordan, Africa and Asia. The Gallery exhibits mainly contemporary art with an emphasis on local and regional artists.
The collection of paintings and sculpture is spread between two buildings separated by a well-tended park. In a city like Amman, where green spaces are scarce, these gardens are a haven of peace and greenery in the heart of the city centre. If you want to relax for a while and enjoy the shade surrounded by works of art, come and visit the National Gallery of Fine Arts Park.
The park provides a physical and visual connection between the two National Gallery buildings, including outdoor sculptures, seating and benches for visitors, a children´s play area and an exhibition and performance space. It is also an educational garden model that teaches water conservation practices in green spaces.
Opened in the late 1950s and formerly known as Jabal al-Luweibdeh, is one of the oldest parks in Amman. With an area of about 7500m² it provides a pleasant green space surrounded by residences in a pleasant neighbourhood. After years of neglect and abandonment the place was rehabilitated in 2005.
There is a reservoir able to collect rainwater and connected to an efficient drip irrigation system and has water-conserving plants that require minimal watering and limited maintenance. The type of grass also minimises water consumption. The signs on the plants provide information that includes not only the name, but also relevant botanical information. The place is also an environmentally friendly garden as it uses renewable energy in its lighting.
The central platform has different levels forming a space that can be used as a stage or as a seating area. Surrounding leafy trees provide a considerable shaded area. The paths leading to the western end of the park converge in a semi-circular square where there is a café-restaurant, convenient if you also want to eat or drink something.
Apart from being attractive, the sculptures scattered throughout the park convey different humanitarian and environmental messages. Other exhibits of interest include two small gardens. These are a Japanese garden, designed through the Embassy of Japan in Amman, and an Andalusian fountain designed and implemented by the Embassy of Spain.
The entrance is free and has three public entrances. The north and south gates lead to the National Gallery building and its extension respectively. The eastern entry connects directly to the park. All accesses close at 20 h. The National Gallery Park offers a quiet space to relax in the noisy city, and a unique art and landscape experience in Jordan.
Address: National Gallery Park.
6, Husni Fareez Street
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