Monday 16 May 2022 – A shorter day beckoned, although you’ll see from the number of photos in this entry that the intensity didn’t diminish much from yesterday. However, we didn’t have to get under way until 10am, when we met our driver, Saeed (since we now have his card, we know how to spell his name properly; but I’m not going back to correct the joke), and our guide for the day, Marwan, and set out to explore Amman. As it turned out, we did the itinerary in the reverse order of what Audley had described in our literature, but since we hadn’t really read that, it didn’t really make much difference.
Our starting point was the Citadel of Amman, the city’s historic and archeological centre. Marwan gave us a long, detailed and complex run down of the cultural influences that have formed Jordan and Amman. The highlights are summarised on some monoliths just by the Citadel entrance, which trace the naming of the city as the various cultures came and went:
- Rabbath & Ammon – Iron & Bronze Ages and the Greeks
- Philadelphia – the Romans and the subsequent Byzantine period when they converted (Christianity, rather than North Sea Gas)
- Amman – the arrival of Muslims and the Ottomans.
(Round the corner on this patch is a stone dedicated to, inter alia, the British influence which started after World War I. Several of the key letters have fallen off this one, so, for example, it would appear to start with the “itish Mandate” from 19AD – 1946AD.)
The cultural roots of Jordan are utterly bewildering, as wave after wave of nationalities have washed over the place and left some influences and picked up others. Arabs of many persuasions, Muslims, Turks, Kurds, Bedouin of all sorts of nationalities, and even Gypsies (of three different types, apparently) have come and either gone or stayed and this makes Jordan a real melting pot. The Citadel, however, displays principally its Graeco-Roman roots.
It being a Citadel, it’s on top of a hill to maximise its defensive chops, and so you can get a great view over the old city of Amman – “old” in this case meaning from about the last century.
There’s an obvious exception to the “last century” tag bang in the middle of that picture – the Theatre – and we’ll come to that later. But Marwan did educate us on one point of subtlety about its construction which gives away its Greek roots. When Romans built theatres, they made them self-contained, stand-alone constructions, whereas the Greeks tended to build them based on and incorporated into natural features such as a hill; you can see this is the case with Amman’s Theatre. We visited it later so there are more photos below.
A couple of other things about the old city of Amman. Firstly, its colour, or, rather, lack of it. The buildings are of a uniform sandy colour, and this is mandated. The idea is that it should not differentiate itself too much from the hills upon which it is built. Secondly is something you might not even notice until someone points it out, and then you can’t unsee it: white tanks on top of all of the buildings.
These are water tanks, and the reason they’re needed is that water is only pumped to any one area of the city on one day a week. So each building gets to fill its tank, but this has to last for seven days.
Our route round the Citadel took us past the Temple of Hercules
and then further on past the remains of an episcopal church.
Marwan pointed out that this was a view over the religious history of the city from pagan to Christian. The site also had a palace from the Ummayad period (8th Century), which had a stone roof until an earthquake did for it; a team of visiting Spanish archaelogists (there’s a strong connection with Andalucia as this became part of the Ummayad caliphate) subsequently built a wooden dome clad in lead.
The varied cultural roots of Jordan continue in the details of the decoration of the stonework inside the building.
If you look carefully, you can see a cross between the two arches, betraying Christian influences.
As we walked outside, we were distracted from all this cultural hoo-hah by the appearance of a lark
and, delightfully, a hoopoe.
The next stage on the journey round the Citadel was the museum, which contains all sorts of historical artefacts from all over the Arab world. I’m not, frankly, much into the detail, but a couple of things stood out.
Lovely bowls, yes, but – Tupper ware? If someone reading this knows any credible historical reason why this is not a mis-translation, please answer in the comments section. There were some striking clay coffins
seen here with the alarm sensor that Jane triggered when gesturing to a detail on the coffin. But the minders let us off with a mild beating and we went on our way.*
We returned to the car and Saeed took us on a short drive so we could see the old town, which is exactly as colourful, hectic and chaotic as you would expect from having seen how they drive over here.
We actually started this part of the tour by going to the Theatre (behind us in this shot) but simply getting across the road was an act of derring-do.
The Theatre. Ah, yes, the Theatre, originally built between 138 and 161 CE, during the rule of the Antoninus Pius. It’s massive – seats 6,000 apparently.
Marwan, ever a source of intriguing nuggets, told us that one of the ways that historians calculate the number of inhabitants of a Roman city was based on the size of the theatres.
Before we got to clamber up all those steps, we looked into the two small museums on the Theatre site, the Jordan Folklore Museum and The Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions. In the latter of these, we had a bizarre encounter with two young Arab ladies who spotted what a big camera I had and wanted me to take their picture with it. Trouble is, they spoke no English. Jane got Marwan to translate and even he was struggling to understand what they wanted, since they originally wanted Jane in the picture as well. That was a non-starter.
It turned out that they wanted to be photographed with a tourist so they could show off their cultural credentials, presumably to their mates on Instagram; but they couldn’t grasp the technicalities of transferring a picture from my Nikon to their phones and for some reason didn’t want to use either of their phones (both iPhones, I might add, so would have been perfectly capable of providing a picture). So, here they are, immortalised on a platform that will be read by literally one or two people. Probably Jane and me.
After we agreed that we couldn’t (wouldn’t) help them, we looked around the rest of this museum, the folklore one,
which included a model of a chap selling a liquorice drink, which Jane found rather fetching.
For myself, I was taken with a display that included music instruments.
Bottom left you see implements for grinding coffee, which was a rhythmic exercise, thus often done to music.
The other museum had some examples of mosaic work and also further models of costumes, including a Bedouin Police Uniform
designed, apparently, by the British. I never satisfactorily understood how that happened.
And so to the Theatre itself. Of course we had to climb all the way to the top. There were many, many steps, not all of them completely safe. But the view from the top was quite something
and then all we had to do was to clamber down again, a process which would sting quite badly if one got it wrong. Happily, we made it to the bottom unscathed, and carried on our walk into the bowels of Amman Old Town. Again, crossing the road to get there was far more dangerous than anything we’d encountered on the Theatre steps. It’s a vibrant, colourful area.
Marwan took us on a small detour through a fruit and vegetable market, which was exactly as noisy, crowded and exotic as you might expect (I never once found a position to stand where I wasn’t in someone’s way within five seconds) with all sorts of fruits and leaves and spices the like of which we knew not.
The final part of the tour, and continuing the cultural induction aspects, was lunch. This was taken in a restaurant called Hashem which seemed to span several properties, but had a very simple offering: pitta bread accompanied by salad and pickles and any or all of falafel, fava beans and hummus. Tea, coffee, coke or water were the available drinks, and everything was served on a plastic sheet with no cutlery or plates or luxuries like that. Basic, it was. Delicious, it was. I even took a photo of it, but it’s more than my life is worth to share it here. After that, Marwan took us for pudding to a shop which is part of a chain called Habiba sweets. The menu is largely incomprehensible, even the bits in English.
Znood set, anyone? Marwan ordered us something that turned out to be coarse kunafeh – shreds of pasta on a cheese base, topped with syrup and ground pistachios. It’s the second from right in this picture
and was, you guessed it, delicious. Vastly calorific, but, hey, we’re on holiday. The shop also sells sweets and has a beautifully-crafted display.
And that was it for the day. Saeed took us back to our hotel where we promptly fell into a siesta, only waking in my case to write about the day before all the details got lost. Quite a few of them did, but I hope there’s enough in the above to have entertained you thus far.
(Later: having slaved over this blog entry, we went down to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks
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and ended up having a very enjoyable chat with the bar staff – some compensation for the extraordinary price for the drinks. You can drink alcohol in Jordan, but it’s not a cheap pastime.
Tomorrow we leave Amman for the next stage of our holiday here. We go to Petra and I hope that the prospect of reading about that in these here web pages will keep you coming back for more, to learn how we got on.
* I’m joking. A chap poked his head round the corner and then went away again.