Umayyad Palace, Citadel, Amman, Jordan

Amman – The Bedouin Metropolis

Not just a stop-over on the way to Petra, Amman is a city packed with lots to see and do. We tell you where to go, what to do and where to stay…

Amman is a young city, we are told, as our driver and guide drove us into the centre from the Queen Alia airport. Its history is as long as the history of human civilization, but the city itself is as young as the Kingdom of Jordan.

It radiates from the Raghadan Flagpole, which hoists the country’s flag, so many limestone buildings in varying shades of white glistening under the desert sun, undulating over nineteen hills, from the center to suburbia. Built with limestone from the surrounding hills, altogether it looks as if it were sculpted from the very ground beneath.

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Corinthian columns found in the Citadel, an ancient UNESCO site in the bustling city of Amman

The days when Bedouin tribes reduced cities to ruin are a memory in distant past. Today, it is the city that has embraced the tribes. Throughout the Middle-East, they are flourishing in modern metropolitan landscapes. Amman has over one million inhabitants, most tracing their ancestry to Israel and Palestine. However, a large minority of over three hundred thousand are Bedouins, whose genealogy links ancient family histories to the contemporary Amman.

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Byzantine church in Amman’s Citadel, dated 550 A.D.

Amman is laid-back and tidy, without a lot of the chaos that characterises other Middle-Eastern capitals. It is not a city of tourists, often viewed as a gateway to Petra and Wadi Rum, rather than a destination in itself, but therein lies its attraction. While it lacks the oriental exoticism found in most other Middle-Eastern centres, what it has seems all the more authentic for it. Jabal Amman, one of the original 7 hills on which the ancient city was built, and part of old Amman, is void of the usual tourist trappings. Instead, it boasts easily navigable streets lined with charming cafes and boutiques frequented by hip young Ammanites.

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Ruins of the Temple of Hercules

What to See

First on the list is the Citadel. Together with the Raghadan Flagpole, the Citadel defines the skyline of Amman and provides a teaser of the archaeological wonders Jordan has to offer. Occupied since the Neolithic period, it is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places, in the heart of a mostly young, modern city. Where Roman ruins are concerned, it is one of the most accessible, being fairly compact and within the city itself.  To experience 360 views of Amman, this is the place to take it all in. Being a fairly small site, we didn’t think it was worth our while getting a guide, and were advised against it by our driver as well.

Another great find was the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, which houses a decent sized collection of contemporary art from Jordan, the Middle East and the greater Muslim world. The pieces are of high quality and exhibit great creativity and skill. Unlike most contemporary art in the West, these pieces do not rely on shock value, and are beautifully executed and genuinely introspective.

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An interpretation of the hour glass; spinning the glass case would cause the sand to pour from one end to another

The Royal Automobile Museum is also well worth visiting. It tells the history of Jordan from the early 1920s till the present, through a selection of cars and other vehicles that highlight the life and leadership of King Hussein and his reign. The exhibits were highly engaging, connecting classic cars to the significance and role of Jordan in global politics.

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Retro yellow sports car from the pre-war era, part of the Car Museum’s royal collection

Where to Eat

Fakhr El-Din, a restaurant just off the Rainbow Street, is a must-visit. Located in an elegant villa on a quiet avenue, it took us back in time with its traditional cooking and courteous staff. Frequented by urbane Jordanians, travelers and business people from all over the Middle-East and beyond, it is a timeless mixing pot, welcoming everyone.

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French pressed Chai Lattes from the Turtle Green Tea Bar

For every traveler, every city has that one place you feel you could go back to, any time of the day, to take a break, relax and indulge your Wi-Fi addiction. In Amman, the Turtle Green Tea Bar was this place for us. It was relaxed, mostly smoke-free , run by staff with a sense of humour, and serving coffee that is organic by tradition.

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Funny poster promoting the coffee sold in the bar – a pun on Starbucks and hipster coffees?

Where We Stayed

In Amman, we stayed at the Four Seasons and the Le Meridien. The Four Seasons was excellent on all levels, and made for a great start to our trip. It was an absolute pleasure to head out to see the Desert Castles and return, sweaty and dusty from the day’s adventures, into a place that was an absolute oasis of clam in between the adventure and the bustle of the city.

Below the iconic pillars of the Temple of Hercules in the Citadel

While Amman isn’t a city we would travel to specifically for visiting, it is a very beautiful one with lots to see and do. We did not feel our days there were days spent “in transit” to Jordan’s world famous sites. Ultimately, it was a good city break with lots of culture and a taste of the contemporary Middle East.

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View of the city of Amman from the Citadel