The Citadel has a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. Evidence of inhabitance since the Neolithic period has been found and the hill was fortified during the Bronze Age (circa 1800 BCE). The hill became the capital of the Kingdom of Ammon sometime after 1200 BCE. It later came under the sway of empires such as the Neo-Assyrian Empire (8th century BCE), Neo-Babylonian Empire (6th century BCE), the Ptolemies, the Seleucids (3rd century BCE), Romans (1st century BCE), Byzantines (3rd century CE) and the Umayyads (7th century CE). After the Umayyads, came a period of decline and for much of the time until 1878 CE as the former city became an abandoned pile of ruins only sporadically used by Bedouins and seasonal farmers. Despite this gap, the Citadel of Amman is considered to be among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places.
Today most of the structures still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods.
The ‘Birkah’ Cistern
The uncovered cistern, referred to as a ‘Birkah’ or ‘Sahrij’ in Arabic, measures 17.5 meters (58 feet) in diameter and its stone walls are up to 2.5 meters (over 8 feet). The interior surface was covered with a water-proof layer of plaster, and the traces of this ancient layer can still be seen near the stairs. The sloped floorcollected unwanted silt at the bottom.
Up to 1370 cubic meters (more than 48,000 cubic feet) of water could be collected in the cistern. It was diverted there from the roofs of surrounding buildings and from paved surfaces through channels feeding into the north and west sides of the cistern. A column in the center measured the water level. The cistern supplied water to the baths, laterines and other areas of the settlement. Located partway up the cistern wall, a hole leads to a shaft that discharges water through the east fortification wall.
Masterful in minitary architecture, the Ayyubids built the guards’ watch tower, which offers an excellent defensive view over the city below and beyond. The tower has a small room (approx 9.45 x 7.55 meters) with a single arrow-slit on three sides and its staircase is embedded in the fourth wall and leads to the roof. Large drums, once part of the Roman era Temple of Hercules, are integrated into the southern facade. Materials re-use is a typical practicethroughout thecenturies that can be seen in many buildings at the citadel such as the Byzantine Church and the Umayyad Palace.
Located at the highest point of the citadel acropolis, the mosque lies to the south of the Umayyad palace. It sits on a raised platform with a simple hypostyle interior plan, comprising seven rows of six columns around a central courtyard. An unusual feature of this mosque is the evidence of vaulted ceiling, which appears to have covered the intersecting arcades. This unique roofing system was not known in the Levant area before the ninth century CE, when it first began to appear in the mosque-architecture in Tunisia, as well as Afghanistan. In the center of the Qiblah wall is a concave niche within a rectangular frame which projects beyond the south wall. This mihrab directes towards the Kabah in Mecca. To the west is a small gate that may have provided access to the residential unit that was most likely used by the governor. One of the main entrances from the north have been recently reconstructed.
Temple of Hercules
The great temple at the citadel was dedicated to the supreme Roman deity, Hercules. The temple has been attributed to the popular hero-god Hercules due to the discovery of remains of a gigantic statue (parts of arms and hands) near the temple area. Hercules was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman (Alcemene) and was known for his supernatural physical strength. Also, Hercules is depicted on the Roman coins minted in the city, which was called Philadelphia at the time.
The temple stands within an immense temenos (sacred precinct) that is surrounded by porticos. It was positioned on a large purpose-built stone podium and was meant to be seen from the lower city. It is thought that it was built on top of an earlier temple associated with the Ammonite god Milkom.
According to an inscription that was at the top of its facade, the temple of Hercules was built when Geminius Marcianos was governor of Provincia Arabia (circa 161-166 CE) in dedication to the co-emperors of Rome, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. A second Roman temple was constructed north of the citadel site at the highest point of the acropolis. It was built before the mid second century CE, however its materials were later integrated in to the structure of the Umayyad complex around the year 730 CE.
This monumental gateway was constructed on the remains of an earlier building from the late fourth to early fifth century CE. The large gateware was the formal entrance to the residential temenos of Umayyad era. The visitors would be screened here and then announced to the governor before entering his palace are where the reception hall and ‘throne chamber’ was also located.
The interior of the entrance gateway (hall) has a cross-shaped floor plan with square central area and four recesses extending outwards from it. The arms of the cross are barrel-vaulted at the north and south ends, and covered with semi-domes at the east and west sides. Windowsills on the upper part of the central area indicate that it was roofed, probably with a wooden dome, like the one currently in place (a modern reconstruction that was installed towards the end of the last decade of the twentieth century CE).
The niches of the interior spaces are decorated with foliage motifs carved in low relief. These include half-palmettes, oak leaves and vines as well as geometrical patterns, rosettes, trefoils and quatrefoils (three or four ringed shapes). Both the roofing system and the decorative motifs have strong Sasanian influences.
The colonnaded street connected the domed entrance hall to the inner palace complex and is flanked by columns. Access to the street would have been restricted with gates at each end, controlling the entry. Side passages lead off the street to other residential areas. A partially covered water channel can be seen near the middle of the street. This was part of the clever subterranean Umayyad era water system that was used to supply water to the entire site.
Early Bronze Age Cave
This early bronze age cave tomb dates back to the twenty third century BCE. Burial-tombs like this exist in different places in Amman and they often have multiple burials inside. This cave houses a series of rock-cut burials, and a number of cavaties can still be seen inside. It was common for such features and structures to be re-used for different purposes in different periods of history. This burial-cave was cleared and re-used during the Umayyad period by stonecutters who were preparing the building stones for the massive building program at the citadel of Amman.
The sixth century CE church has a basilical plan that consists of a central nave and two side isles. The semi-sircular apse in the eastern end of the building is separated from the church by a ‘chancel screen’. Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves weretaken from the nearby Temple of Hercules for use in the basilica, and the aisles arepaved with flagstones.
Rectangular rooms complete the aisles, some of which may have been added by the Umayyads a century later. The nave has a mosaic floor, a common feature in the Buzantine period; it is now covered over for protection. A fragmented Greek inscription near the apse reads “… was paved with mosaics by the zeal and labor …“. The cisterns located inside the basilica walls were also used extensively during the Umayyad period.
In the Umayyad tradition, social gathering and cleansing at the hammam was an important partof urban living. The hammam was made up of a series of rooms, each with a specific function. Bathers would first enter the vestiary (for disrobing), which had benches and aremrests, followed by a sequence of cold, warm and hot chambers.
The interiors of the bath would have been decorated with polised stone and marble, along with painted plaster (frescoes) and mosaics. However none of these decorations havesurvived. This bath had a discrete north entrance from the monumental entrance hall, which may have been used by the governor and his family. The public entrance was at the south, where people could enter from the large courtyard or Rahbah.
Umayyad Palace Complex
On the northern side of the hill ofthe citadel of Amman, a great palatine complex with an urban structure was built during the Umayyad period (first third of the eighth century CE). The palace complex was consisted of three districts, firstly a more public one including a large plaze. Nine residential buildings with their access streets and squares are situated in the intermediate area. Finally, at the northern end, the main residence was built with an audience hall, a throne chamber and four residential buildings.
The entrance hall has a cruciform floor plan, due to the earlier existence of a Byzantine building. The rich decorative carvings are of Persian/Sassanian tradition showingthe different influences of the early Islamic Art. The central space must have been covered by a largedome. The magnificence of this part of the palacial complex, undoubtedly the most monumental, was meant to impress the visitors who were led to the hall before being received by the ruler who inhabited the palace.
Audience Hall “Iwan“
The Iwan audience hall occupied an area of some 30 square meters and was roofed by a barrel-vault. It was connected to the throne chamber via a single doorway in the northern wall. The western wall, preseved to the most heigh as compared to the other walls, has a doorway as well.
The cruciform chamber was located directly behind it, thought to have been covered by a dome. The floor of the “throne chamber” was paved with polychrome mosaic. Three recesses contain doors that connect with side rooms, and the north arm opens on to a courtyard. This structure forms a four-way arch (shahr-taq), which is a typical feature of the Sassanian architecture. In the southwestern corner of the throne room is a barrel vaulted crucible that may have served as a closet for the robes and other ritual items used for reception.