Amman - The White-Stone Capital Of Jordan
By Habeeb Salloum
In every part of Amman, Jordan's bustling capital, white
stone buildings edged the streets through which we drove. It was as if we were
making our way through a forest of chalky-coloured boulders carved by the hand
of man. Ibrahim, our guide who was driving us around and who seemed to be in
love with his city remarked: "Are they not beautiful, our homes? I don't think
there's a city any place else on earth where all the houses are built from white
Often referred to as ‘the white city’, Amman, like Rome,
was originally built on seven hills, but it has now spread to some nineteen
hills. As in the past, its buildings' outstanding whiteness, with which most
visitors are impressed, continue to be the trademark of this rapidly growing and
Amman, known historically in Ammoniate times as
Rabbath-Ammon, was also referred to as ‘City of Waters’. Later in the Graeco-Roman
era it was called Philadelphia (Friendly City) and was one of the 10 cities of
the famous Decapolis - located in Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Today, the
flourishing capital of Jordan, it has been on the pathway of humankind for
thousands of years. Ammoniates, Assyrians, ancient Egyptians, Babylonians,
Persians, Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans and
British, all once, called it home.
of these bygone ages remain in the Citadel, located on a hill high above the
town- centre. These include the Roman Temple of Hercules built by Herod
the Great - its regal columns silhouetted against the sky, the elegant capitals
of a Byzantine church, and a 7th century Umayyad-Arab palace- both, presently,
being renovated by the Spaniards. The dome of the Umayyad Palace dominates the
ruins – the most impressive in the complex. On the grounds also stands the
excellent Jordan Archaeological Museum housing a fine collection of antiquities
- some going back to the dawn of civilization.
Below, at the foot of the Citadel, stands the Roman Forum,
Odeon and the renovated 6000-seat Roman theatre - a deep-sided bowl carved into
the hill and still used for musical and other entertainment related
performances. The theatre is the home of two museums: the Jordan Folkloric
Museum, exhibiting the traditional life of Jordan, and the Jordan Museum of
Popular Traditions, housing traditional Jordanian costumes.
Twentieth century Amman, with a population of 2.5 million,
is a flourishing administrative and commercial metropolis. It retains its
mystique from the past, combining it with the best of the modern world. Still
rapidly growing, the city contains 24 four and five star hotels while others are
under construction. The government is making strenuous efforts to fill these
hotels with tourists, and, they are succeeding. In 2005, near 3 million
travellers spent at least one night in Jordan – their spending accounting for
13% of the GNP.
though the Arab-Israeli conflict, the mother of all Middle Eastern conflicts, at
times, slows down the number of visitors, tourism is being encouraged in every
way and tourist officials are upbeat. Jordan's great number of attractions will,
no doubt, in the future, lure many more visitors.
Not only Amman but also the whole country are very safe and
offer some of the oldest antiquities in the world. English is widely spoken, the
city is clean and, year-round, has a fine-dry and moderate climate. Above all,
the Jordanians are wonderfully gracious, helpful and hospitable. When all these
attributes are combined, most of the visitors' expectations become a reality or
are even surpassed - hence, the optimism for the future of tourism.
The city is a perfect place to base one's tours for
exploring Jordan or the neighbouring countries. No more than a five hour drive
from anywhere in the country, Amman has a good number of experienced tour agents
and tour companies who will handle every conceivable travel need.
For entertainment, Amman offers a variety of things to see
and do. The city has a wide spectrum of discos, nightclubs and innumerable
restaurants offering the cuisines of the world. From Arabic food, in its many
varieties, to international specialities and fast food, Amman offers them all in
fine restaurants. The whole city is a sophisticated gourmet world with a
dizzying array of savoury dishes.
Should a visitor yearn for Western foods and entertainment,
in Amman's affluent Abdoun district, there are European and North American type
cafes and nightspots with a slight Arab touch. The Sheraton Entertainment Centre
with its ultra-modern theatre and shops, the Hard Rock Cafe, Ciro’s Pizza
Pomodoro of Knightsbridge and many other eating and entertainment spots bring
the West to this part of a fast evolving city.
However, for visitors who are looking for the Orient, the
ultimate place to buy the epitome of Jordanian handicrafts and, at the same
time, enjoy Arab food is the Tourist Village of Kan Zaman (once upon a time) - just outside Amman. Once an Ottoman property, it dates
back to the turn of the century. The estate has been transformed into a
handicraft and restaurant complex - for visitors an enchanted oasis where the
centuries-old Arab hospitality lives on. Even with the passing years, the
Village's reputation has not diminished. A traveller who enters through its
stone doorway is still considered an honoured guest.
Inside, cobbled streets and courtyards all lead to the
interesting and exciting traditional Jordanian life of the past. Small
fascinating shops at Arti Zaman (the Craftsman Souk) offer a wide variety of
traditional artisan products where visitors can watch glassblowing and
woodcarving in traditional workshops, stop in a street cafe or sample the
ever-popular mankoushei (Arab type pizza) at the makhbaz (bakery).
However, for us, the village's vaulted ceiling restaurant,
serving authentic Arabic cuisine was our nook. Amid the atmosphere of Arabic
music and dancing, we dined on an excellent Arab meal. It was an exciting
culmination to the sights, sounds and tastes of Jordanian history wrapped in the
cloak of the 20th century - an unforgettable finale to our visit to Jordan's
IF YOU GO
Facts about Jordan
1)Tourist visas are easily available at any entry point into Jordan except
at the King Hussein Bridge. These are single entry visas and cost 10 JD. Groups
of five persons or more arriving by way of a designated Jordanian tour operator
are exempted from all visa charges.
2) The U.S. dollar is equal to about .70 cents to the JD
(Jordanian dinar); Canadian dollar about 60 to 1 JD. Exchange cash or traveller
cheques at the money exchangers - they do not take commission.
3) The usual price to rent a reasonably modern small car
with full insurance is around 30 or 35 (JD) per day. The roads are good - gas
costs .60 JD per litre. Jordan is a small country with good roads, making
important historic sites easily accessible. Taxis are reasonably priced and are
one of the most convenient methods of transportation. However, agree to the
fare beforehand. If taxi metered add 200 fils tip to price shown on metre.
4) Modern medical services are readily available in
Jordan's larger cities and towns and the larger hotels normally have a doctor on
call. Most doctors speak English fluently. Emergency medical treatment for
cases not needing hospitalization is free in Jordan.
5) There are many Internet cafés all around the country –
even in remote places.
6) Jordan is a very safe and friendly country in which to
travel. Most Jordanians speak English and are very hospitable to strangers.
7) Conservative dress is advised for both men and women.
Women will feel more comfortable when travelling in the country if they dress
modestly - no leggings, mini skirts, shorts or sleeveless tops.
8) Besides mezzah and an endless series of appetizers, and
the other usual Middle Eastern dishes, try the local Jordanian dishes of mansaf
(lamb, rice and yogurt sauce) and musakhkhan (chicken, onion and pine nut dish).
9) For handicrafts, shop at Amman's downtown souk or Kan Zaman Tourist Village. Items to buy are: coloured sand bottles, cross-stitch
embroidery, Madaba rugs, olive wood and mother-of-pearl articles, pottery and
glassware, and silver Bedouin jewellery.
10) Culture is thriving in Jordan. Artists are rapidly
developing the fine arts scene. There are so many exhibits and openings in
Amman that the English newspaper, The Jordan Times, runs a daily list of events.
There are at least a half dozen galleries in the city and a Cultural Centre.
Topping all the cultural events is the folkloric Jerash Festival, held in summer
in the nearby city of Jerash.
11) Departure taxes for non-Jordanians are 10 JD at the
airport and 5 JD at other crossings.
12) For those in North America who would like to see a
little of Jordan without travelling to that country, they can travel to Ottawa,
capital of Canada and see the excellent Jordan Petra Exhibition at the Canadian
Museum of Civilization – running from April 7, 2006 to January 2, 2007.
Note: All prices quoted are in Jordanian dinars (JD)
For Further Information, Contact:
Jordan Tourism Board, P.O. Box 830688, Amman 11183, Jordan. Tel:
962-6-5678294/962-6-5678254. Fax: 962-6-5678295. E-mail: [email protected]
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