The capital and largest city of Jordan also forms a great base for exploring the country
Amman holds a few items of interest, is generally well-appointed for the traveler, reasonably well-organized, and the people are very friendly.
The city holds many surprises for the visitor. Visit Amman’s Roman Amphitheatre or stay in a luxurious hotel. Amman is experiencing a massive change from a quiet sleepy village to a bustling metropolis. Amman’s roads have a reputation of being very steep and narrow in some of the underdeveloped parts of the city but now the city has state of the art highways and paved avenues.
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The steep terrain and heavy traffic remains challenging for pedestrians and for the rare cyclist. New resorts and hotels dot the city and there are many things for the traveller to see and do. Use Amman as a staging point for travels to nearby cities and settlements in Jordan.
Amman is a major tourist destination in the region, the country’s political, cultural and commercial centre and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Amman is considered one of the richest and most Western-oriented cities in the Middle East.
A city built of white stone, Amman’s growth has skyrocketed since it was made the capital of Trans-Jordan in the early 1920s, but especially after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees settled. Another wave arrived after the second Iraq war, with Iraqi refugees forming the majority of newcomers.
Its history, however, goes back many millennia. The settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia. After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.
Amman is a very diverse city. Palestinian, Iraqi, Circassian, Armenian, and many other ethnic groups reside in Amman. The city went from 20,000 inhabitants to more than 2 million people in less than a century partly because of massive influxes of refugees from Palestine and Iraq.
Despite the common assertion that most Jordanians understand English, that knowledge is quite limited. The only non-Arabic language used in signposting is English, and you will find “Tourist Police” near the major monuments. It never hurts to know a few useful phrases and come prepared with a translation book, or to have the names and addresses of places you are going written in Arabic for use with a taxi driver.
To See & Do
The capital of a diverse kingdom, Amman is a great gateway to explorations further afield and makes a convenient base for trips to:
- Wadi al-Seer – A region to the west of Amman, it is a small valley leading down towards the Dead Sea. Nearby is the al-Bassa Springs, the source of the valley’s river. Above the spring is the al-Deir monastery. It’s a 20 minute climb up to the monastery. To reach Wadi al-Seer, head to the minibus station on al-Quds Street, just south of al-Husseini Mosque.
- Petra in Wadi Musa, home of the Nabateans, is a complete city carved in a mountain. The huge rocks are colorful, mostly pink, and the entrance to the ancient city is through a 1.25 km narrow gorge in the mountain called the Siq. In the city are various structures, all (except 2) are carved into rock, including al Khazneh, known as the Treasury, which has been designated as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” by the for-profit New Open World Corporation. Other major sites of interest in Petra include the Monastery, the Roman theater, the Royal Tombs, the High Place of Sacrifice. Petra was rediscovered for the western world by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.
- Jerash is famous for its ancient Roman architecture, with colonnaded streets, Corinthian arches, outdoor Roman Theaters and the Oval Plaza.
- Ajloun has a medieval Crusader castle
- Al Karak contains an important castle from the times of Salah al-Din, known as Al-Karak Castle.
- Umm el-Jimal, the so-called “Black Gem of the Desert”, was once a town on the margins of the Decapolis. Rural and well to do, it was a fitting contrast to the surrounding busy cities. Its black basalt mansions and towers, some still standing three stories high, have long inspired poets.
- Montreal Crusader castle, less than an hour north of Petra. The ruins, called Shoubak or Shawbak in Arabic, are located in modern town of Shoubak. It dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. The fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his successors appear on the castle wall.
- Qasr Amra, one of the best preserved Umayyad Islamic period monuments and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with unique frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colourful mosaics.
- Umm ar-Rasas, UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Muwakir (Arabic for Machaerus) was the hilltop stronghold of Herod the Great. Upon Herod’s death, his son Herod Antipas inhabited the fortress, and ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded there and where the fabled Salomé daughter of Herodias is said to have danced the famous Dance of the Seven Veils thus asking for John the Baptists’ head.
- Jordan River, which is the river where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist according to Christian tradition.
- Madaba is well known for its mosaics, as well as important religious sites such as The Madaba Map, the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Landand especially Jerusalem. It dates to the 6th century AD.
- Mount Nebo, where Moses was said to have gone to get a view of the Promised Land before he died, according to the Bible.
- Aqaba is a town on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba with numerous shopping centers, hotels and access to various water sports and protected coral reefs and marine life. It has the ruins of the mediaeval town of Ayla and other Edomite ruins. Aqaba also has a vibrant nightlife scene especially on holiday weekends when thousands of wealthy Jordanians visit the coastal city. Numerous raves and concerts are held by international DJ’s and artists at the major resorts and beach clubs. Aqaba is seeing nearly $20 billion worth of developments centered on tourism and real estate projects transforming the city into a “new Dubai”.
- The Dead Sea It is the lowest point on earth, 402 meters below sea level, and becomes 1 meter lower each year. It is the only depository of River Jordan and was part of the biblical kingdoms of Midianites and later the Moabites. The Dead Sea area is home to numerous world-class resorts such as the Kempinski, Mövenpick and Marriott. In addition, there are water parks, a public beach and international restaurants. The ultra-chic destination in the area, however, is the O-Beach which is home to cabanas, bars, international restaurants, and a beach club. Mount Nebo and Jesus’ Baptism Site on the Jordan River are essentially on the way, so consider them as well. The Dead Sea Amman City Resort is about 15-20jd with free showers and swimming pools, but no lockers, towels or mud.
- Wadi Rum is a desert full of mountains and hills located south of Jordan. It is popular for its sights in addition to a variety of sports that are practiced there, such as rock-climbing. It is also known for its connection to Lawrence of Arabia. Barren, isolated and beautiful, granite cliffs contrasting with desert sand.
- Dana Nature Reserve Stay in a village little changed since the 15th century, enjoy unforgettable hiking in an offshoot of the Great Rift.
- Desert Castles 5 castles spanned in the Eastern Desert. These castles once were getaway for Kaliffs from the Omayyad Period
Ancient City of Petra • Locations & Activities