Philadelphia means, in Greek, city of brotherly love. And so the Greeks called Amman, the capital of Jordan, a bustling city full of interest that, many times, is relegated to a mere stopover in and out of Jordan. Amman is home to the international airport that serves as the main gateway to the country and, dwarfed by the many jewels of the Hashemite kingdom – with Petra in the lead, but not forgetting the Dead Sea, the beaches of Aqaba, the Wadi Rum desert, the Roman city of Jerash or the innumerable biblical settings -, is often unfairly forgotten by travellers.
crossroads of civilizations
And it’s a shame because the capital has a lot and very good things to offer the most demanding traveller. The thirty hills over which the city sprawls, in the purest chaotic urban frenzy, have seen human presence since the Neolithic. In addition to Greeks, before them Ammonites, Assyrians, Persians and, later, Romans, have left their mark on the city; especially the Romans, who made Amman one of the decapolisthe ten most important Roman cities in the Middle East.
A good starting point to fully explore the capital is the citadel, on the highest and most important of the seven hills on which Amman was founded. Numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains have been found here, and it offers sensational views of the friendly chaos of the city, punctuated by the skyscrapers of the Abdali neighborhood, countless kites and, depending on the time, the songs of the muezzins. Also, depending on what time of day -in the morning-, the hill is a swarm of schoolchildren, who run around among the ruins and attend to the teachers; in the afternoon, couples and friends make the citadel the most popular and pleasant meeting place in summer because of the air that blows it from Amman.
The Jordan Archaeological Museum -a modest building with a very rich collection, perhaps exhibited in a somewhat chaotic manner-, a Byzantine church and the Umayyad palace complex, dating from 730, share an esplanade with the remains of the Temple of Hercules, which dominates the hill. From the temple, which became the largest in the entire empire, today the immense columns, ten meters high, parts of the base and a gigantic fragment -a hand- of the statue of the demigod remain.
From the citadel you can see the other great historical treasure, the Roman theatre, which was built between 138 and 161 BC on the old forum. Its stands are very well preserved, to the point that today it hosts concerts and various events; but the show is also very close, on the street that flanks it, Al Hashimi Avenue. This road is the main artery of the city, full of street stalls, shops, cafes and the Al-Husseini Mosque, one of the largest in all of Jordan. The avenue overlooks the alleys of the market (Amman does not have a traditional-style souk), bustling and very authentic.
Another of the most interesting places in the Jordanian capital is the Hejaz railway station, in the Mahatta neighborhood. It was the terminus of a train line that, for much of the last century, carried pilgrims from Damascus on their way to Mecca. Today, the building houses a museum with old locomotives and one of the wagons used by the royal family on their journeys.
The Royal Automobile Museum is another interesting visit: it houses the spectacular collection of vehicles of the Jordanian royal family, from the days of King Abdullah I, the founder of the kingdom, until today. Units of Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Bugatti, the Lincoln that King Hussein used in his coronation are some of the automotive jewels that he treasures.
Abu Bakr al Siddiq Avenue (although everyone, including the city’s inhabitants, refer to it as Rainbow Street) and its surroundings is the area where the best restaurants in Amman are concentrated. Along all of them there are ideal cafeterias to enjoy the afternoon having an excellent coffee after another or a shishaactivities both very popular among the locals, as in any other city in the Middle East. It is here, at 26 Rainbow Street, where the most famous restaurant in the city is located, Sufra, a must for celebrities visiting the country, whose menu includes hummus, mansaf (the traditional Jordanian dish, based on rice, lamb and jameed yogurt sauce) or the muttabal (aubergine cream).
In Amman there are also many street food stalls: kebabs, pitas, juices, sandwiches…
Street food stalls also abound in Amman: kebabs, pitas, juices, sandwiches… The most recommendable of all is the Shawerma Reem (second square, next to the Intercontinental Hotel), where there is always a small crowd: it serves the most daily than 5,000 of these sandwiches of pita bread with lamb, sauces, vegetables and spices.
And to end this stroll through Amman in the best way, nothing like going back up to the heights: in this case, to the terrace of the Ghoroub Bar, the most elegant venue in Amman, located on the roof of the Landmark Hotel. From there, with a cocktail in hand, the sunset over Amman becomes a magical moment.