In the commercial heart of the city, ultra-modern buildings, hotels, smart restaurants, art galleries and boutiques rub shoulders comfortably with traditional coffee shops and tiny artisans’ workshops.
Everywhere there is evidence of the city’s much older past. Due to the city’s modern-day prosperity and temperate climate, almost half of Jordan’s population is concentrated in the Amman area. The residential suburbs consist of mainly tree-lined streets and avenues flanked by elegant, almost uniformly white houses in accordance with a municipal law, which states that all buildings must be faced with local stone.
The downtown area is much older and more traditional with smaller businesses producing and selling everything from fabulous jewellery to everyday household items.
The people of Amman are multi-cultural, multi-denominational, well-educated and extremely hospitable. They welcome visitors and take pride in showing them around their fascinating and vibrant city.
THE UMAYYAD PALACE
The Umayyad Palace is located inside what is known as the Amman Citadel. Locals refer to it as Jabal al-Qal’a, as the site is located on one of Amman’s many hills (jabals in Arabic). Most of the directions in Amman will reference one of the hills in the city.
While most visitors venture to see the Temple of Hercules or the remains of the Hercules statue, just above the temple is the marvelous Umayyad Palace.
The Umayyad Palace gives visitors a glimpse into life during the Umayyad period in what is now Jordan. While largely restored, the palace is a popular photo spot, as both inside and out offer spectacular images.
The site itself is significant because its occupation dates back to the Neolithic age, although its importance declined after the Umayyad period. Today, the palace sees a steady stream of visitors who come for its archaeological significance and the panoramic views of Amman.
Towering over Amman’s modern skyline is the temple of Hercules, located at the peak of a hillside in one of the ancient city’s oldest quadrants.
Constructed between 162-166 CE during Marcus Aurelius’ Roman occupation of Amman’s Citadel, the great temple is larger than any in Rome itself. Its portico faces east and is surrounded by six, 33-foot tall columns. Measuring 100 feet long by 85 feet wide, with an outer sanctum of 400 by 236 feet, the fact that the rest of the temple remained unadorned by columns suggests to scholars that the structure was never completed, for reasons history has yet to reveal.
During the excavation process, few clues were left to help scholars unlock the mysteries of this massive half-finished, abandoned temple. But the ones that did exist were huge—albeit ambiguous. From just three gigantic fingers, one elbow, and a scattering of coins, archaeologists have agreed these marble body parts likely belonged to a massive statue of Hercules himself. Therefore, the theory goes, the temple also must have been dedicated to the half-god known for his feats of strength and far-ranging adventures.
Likely toppled during one of the area’s periodic catastrophic earthquakes, the statue fell to bits, but unlike the temple, all except the hand and elbow disappeared. As one guide put it, “The rest of Hercules became Amman’s countertops.”
Experts’ best guess is that, in its original state, the statue would have measured upwards of 40 feet high, which would have placed it among the largest known marble statues to have ever existed.
Back in the here and now, it makes for a pretty enjoyable time to walk up to a cluster of fat fingers, stare at their well-trimmed nails and cuticles, and walk away giggling that scholars have agreed: Hercules enjoyed a good manicure, just like modern-day demigods.
Cairo, Rome, and Beijing are all cities where ancient monuments and ruins punctuate rows of modern storefronts and streets humming with cars and mopeds. While lesser-known, Amman is also such a city.
Here in the Jordanian capital, the 6,000 seats of a 2nd-century Roman amphitheater stand testament to the significance of what was then known as Philadelphia, or “the city of brotherly love.” Commissioned by Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, this northward-facing landmark is divided into three distinct sections from which ancient spectators watched plays and modern ones listen to concerts.
Amman’s iconic amphitheater is, in fact, a perfect place to attend such events (discounting the steep and sometimes slippery stairs), because the Romans were masters of acoustics. There is a small marking between the stage and the seats, and if you stand on this spot and speak, your voice projects to the entire stadium.
The superior sound is not the only hidden gem this archaeological wonder contains, however. On the side of the stage, a small door opens to the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions, in which dozens of ceramics, traditional Bedouin clothing, jewelry, and trinkets sit on display. Behind the theater, the remains of the Temple of Hercules sits on a hill, heralding the bright Jordanian sun.
Downtown Amman, Jordan, has always been known for its staircases. According to legend the city was built on seven hills, although the present-day reality is that there are many more than seven!
In this hilly place, the daily life of residents and visitors very often revolves around finding pedestrian staircases to shortcut between the vertically stacked neighborhoods of central old Amman. It can take more than an hour to go from Rainbow Street to the Grand Husseini Mosque by car; but on foot, via the network of staircases, you can make the same journey in just a few minutes.
For many years there has been a tradition of decorating the city with bright graffiti (some of it even commissioned), and this includes many very colorfully painted staircases. A more recent phenomenon, however, is the umbrella-covered staircases: also colorful, shaded, and almost oasis-like amid the heat and bustle of old Amman.
No one seems to remember which was the first, but now there are several umbrellas adorning the stairways throughout the old city. Some are seasonal, others are up all the time. There is one in the gold souks off of King Faysal Street. The most well-known is the staircase that leads up from Prince Muhammed Street up to the Zajal restaurant.