The Citadel & The Souq

The Citadel is Amman’s focal point. All one has to do is climb aboard the Temple of Hercules and make a 360 degree turn. On one side is Jabal Al-Ashrafeeyeh with all the trappings of the Balad beneath it: from the Roman Theater to the Souq. On another side is West Amman, primarily the vertical landmarks of the third circle such as The Royale and Hayyat Hotels. On yet another side the blue King Abdullah Mosque is visible as is the Housing Bank and Jabal Hussein. And coming full circle you see the Royal Court and Palaces including the Jordanian Flag on its landscape.

The Citadel is one of the key defining attributes of the city. It is Amman’s origin, from its ancient inhabitants to its very name. Sadly it is at times neglected by modern day Ammanis as just another tourist site. It’s a shame really given the fact that this is where the roots of the city lay, beneath this very rubble.

The area consists of the Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace (the two most noticeable structures from afar) as well as the Byzantine Church and the Umayyad Mosque. There’s also a Museum of Archeology where you can see an exhibit featuring some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Practically every Middle Eastern Superpower has ruled over Amman making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. After the Ammonites (13th century BC) who named the city Rabboth Ammon “great city of the Ammonites”, came the:

Assyrians (8th century BC)
Babylonians (6th century BC)
Ptolemies & Seleucids (3rd century BC)
Romans (1st century BC)
Umayyads (7th century AD)

Not to mention that it was also conquered by King David in the 10th century B.C. from the Jabal Hussein entrance, which remains the main entrance today as it is geographically unguarded.

Right before the Romans Ptolemy II Philadelphus renamed the city Philidelphia. It became part of the Decapolis (10 Cities), became a headquarters for Christianity during Roman rule and flourished under the Umayyad rule whose artwork and craftsmenship is still evident today. The Umayyads also gave Amman her name back but the city declined during the Abbasid period probably (in my humble opinion) because the Abbasids were not exactly fans of anything “Umayyad”, hence neglected any of their traces.

Here’s a handful of pictures from one of my recent journeys as well as a secondary journey to the Balad and the Souq where fruit and vegetable stands line the alleyways.

To begin: there are two ways to get to the Citadel. Either you enter from Jabal Hussein by going straight ahead past the Firas Circle, or you come in through the Balad. The Balad is a little trickier but cheaper since you can take a bus. Stop the bus at the new Raghdan Complex right by the Pedestrian bridge that goes across the street. Take the bridge from the complex to the other side and climb all the way up. Once you get there you’ll be at the focal point of an L-shaped street. You can take either one as they both lead upwards towards the Citadel. It’s quite an uphill battle so you better have a good pair of sneakers on.

Upwards and onwards to The Citadel where Jordanians pay 15piasters and Non-Jordanians 2JDs. The Temple of Hurculeas is the first thing you’ll see up ahead.

Local children who had been playing football near the Temple, stopped to pose for a photo after which they huddled around the tourist to see themselves in digital.

To the right of the Temple are the ruins of the Byzantine Church.

In that direction is also the Umayyad Mosque and Palace.

The inside is fairly small but it seems to be mainly an entrance into the rest of the palace. That being the case, this is one heck of an entrance.

The Dome has been re-erected and there’s even a floral floor.

Inside the dome an elderly employee who walks slowly with a cane and wears a hearing device, asked me to take his picture and so I graciously did. He then indicated with his index finger that I had to pay him 1 JD for the picture. I told him I was Jordanian and he scuttled away as quickly as possible.

While The Citadel has the best 360 degree view of the city, one view in particular is worth it all:

Down the hill and into the Balad there lies the Souq. Now what I love about the Souq is that it’s entertaining. It’s far from the sterile environment of typical West Ammani shops such as Safeway for example. You get to make your way through the stands amidst the chorus of vendors who chant carols about ripe tomatoes and sweet oranges to attract customers. Here you can ask to taste the produce to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Not to mention of course the prices being cheaper. But for me personally it’s simply the most nostalgic of places.

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Click to hear the sounds of the souq.

While the Balad is currently filled with Iraqi artifacts, be they key chains or carved wooden miniatures in the shape of Iraq, Saddam Hussein makes an appearance every now and then. Jordan is mixed with pro and anti Saddamists, be they Jordanians or Iraqis themselves. So a large portrait of Saddam hanging outside a shop for sale is not an uncommon sight. But here’s an artifact that caught my attention and it was something I just had to buy (for 1JD). A deck of cards the US Army used to distribute in order for its soldiers to be better acquainted with the ex-regime’s most wanted:

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  • What a beautiful place
    What a wonder it must have been before it was “ruins”.
    How humbling to think that our “primitive” ancestors were so talented and able to make such beautiful buildings, and were, perhaps, not so “primitive” at all.

  • Salam,
    Very nice post. As I said before, your Amman posts have very nice spirit.
    Quick note; Amman was not continuously inhabited.
    From wikipedia: (and I know this from school history lessons)
    [after] the Abbasids … It was then destroyed by several earthquakes and natural disasters and remained a small village and a pile of ruins until the Circassians settlement in 1887.

    This is why in Amman we have some very old great landmarks (e.g. the amphitheatre, the citadel, etc.) and then very new ones (e.g. the Balad area, Darwish Mosque in Al-Ashrafiah, Husseini mosque in downtown). We lack any significant history in between.

    Cities like Salt & Madaba, though small, have a more continuous legacy of historical buildings. Too bad the Circassians did not leave any major buildings that carry their tradition from 1880s until now. Al-Ahli sports club might be the most “Circassian” entity in Amman today.

  • Funny how I couldn’t comprehend any words from the “Souq” clip. If you didn’t tell me it’s from Amman, I would have not thought it’s Arabic.
    nice – i like the salli-3a-ennabi part ๐Ÿ™‚

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