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Amman historical places and old buildings worth visiting

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Amman, Jordan, a city steeped in rich history, boasts an array of captivating historic sites and landmarks, each a testament to its diverse heritage.

From the commanding Amman Citadel, offering panoramic views of the city, to the ancient grandeur of the Roman Theatre and the intimate Odeon theatre, history unfolds at every corner. The opulent Belbeisi Palace, the serene Nymphaeum, and the cultural enclave of the Mango House showcase the city’s architectural splendor.

Journey through time to the Umayyad Palace and the formidable Temple of Hercules, discovering relics of ancient civilizations. The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church stands as a symbol of religious heritage. Al Burj, the Intercontinental Jordan Hotel, and the majestic Raghadan Palace mirror modernity amidst historical grandeur.

Explorations extend to the Al-Mufti House, the enigmatic Rujm Al-Malfouf, the ancient Ayyubid watchtower, and the vibrant Hashemite Plaza, each holding a unique chapter in Amman’s fascinating narrative of heritage and culture.

We have more articles, one about the historic mosques of Amman, and another about the best art and history museums to visit here.

The Amman Citadel

Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel – watercolor

The Amman Citadel, known as Jabal Al-Qal’a, sits at the heart of Amman. This L-shaped hill, part of the original seven hills shaping Amman, boasts a rich historical tapestry, tracing its occupation back to the Neolithic period and fortification during the Bronze Age around 1800 BCE.

It served as the capital for the Kingdom of Ammon and witnessed dominion under several empires including the Neo-Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Romans, Byzantines, and Umayyads.

Throughout its history, the Citadel witnessed glory and decline, its splendor fading until the late 19th century when it lay mostly in ruins, sporadically inhabited by Bedouins and seasonal farmers. Remarkably, it stands as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places, despite periods of abandonment.

The site predominantly showcases remnants from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods, including the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church, and the Umayyad Palace. The Jordan Archaeological Museum, established in 1951, showcases artifacts discovered on the hill.

Archaeological excavations have revealed human occupation dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. The Citadel served as the capital of the Ammonites during the Iron Age and holds the oldest known Ammonite inscription. Its structural evolution witnessed Roman and Byzantine influences before Muslim rule in 661 CE.

The Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with USAID, initiated restoration projects in the 1990s, aiming to preserve this historic site and foster tourism and community engagement. The Citadel and its museum offer a glimpse into Jordan’s rich historical heritage, drawing visitors and researchers intrigued by its layers of ancient history.

The Roman Theatre of Amman

The Roman Theatre of Amman, a magnificent structure dating back to the 2nd century CE, stands as an iconic heritage site in the Jordanian capital.

Accommodating around 6,000 spectators, it’s a testament to the city’s rich history, crafted during the Roman era when Amman was known as Philadelphia. Situated at the base of Jabal Al-Joufah opposite the Amman Citadel, it’s part of the city’s architectural and cultural legacy.

Originally constructed in honor of Emperor Antoninus Pius, the theatre’s massive structure was carefully designed into the hillside, offering an incredible seating arrangement divided into three zones (diazomata). With a northward orientation, it provided a shield from the sun for the audience, ensuring a comfortable experience during performances.

Beyond its grandeur, the theatre’s surroundings house significant cultural establishments. Adjacent to the theatre, rooms once utilized by performers now host the Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition and the Jordan Folklore Museum.

These museums delve into the evolution of Jordanian life, showcasing traditional tools, furniture, rural and Bedouin lifestyles, and Palestinian and Jordanian traditional clothing and adornments.

Today, the Roman Theatre remains a vibrant cultural hub, hosting a variety of events from musical concerts to book fairs, preserving its historical charm while embracing modern cultural endeavors.

The Odeon theater

The Odeon, a 500-seat theater in Amman, Jordan, stands adjacent to the larger Roman Theatre, on the eastern side of Hashemite Plaza. Archaeologists suggest it might have had a temporary wooden roof to shield the audience from weather conditions.

This Roman odeon was constructed in the 2nd century CE, contemporaneous with the nearby Roman Theatre. Recent restoration efforts also covered the adjacent Nymphaeum fountain.

Today, the Odeon is a venue for concerts, notably hosting the annual Al-Balad Music Festival. It is believed to have been primarily used for musical performances and might have had a temporary roof for protection from the elements.

The severe earthquake that hit Amman and surrounding areas in 1927 likely contributed to its partial destruction, particularly its high façade. The recent restoration has revitalized the Odeon and its surrounding area in Hashemite Plaza, attracting music events and poetic gatherings.

The Belbeisi Palace

The Belbeisi Palace, situated within the historic area of Jabal Amman, was once owned by Ismail Pasha Bilbeisi, who migrated from Salt to Amman in the 1920s.

Initially one of the earliest palaces in the kingdom, it now stands as a museum exhibiting traditional arts, recognized for its exemplary traditional Arab architectural design. King Abdullah I utilized this palace to host esteemed guests.

Ismail al-Bilbeisi, a significant businessman and parliament member, established two houses on the same plot of land. The first house, built in the mid-1930s, was a rare architectural gem among Amman’s elite homes, designed by an unknown foreign architect. This house often welcomed dignitaries, including Prince Abdullah’s close allies.

The fusion of tradition and modernity is evident in House I, featuring circular shapes in the staircase and balcony plans, a cantilever cap, and vertical windows, juxtaposed with ornate balustrades, Islamic-Revival ornamentation, marble columns, and Islamic geometric art adorning the exterior.

House II, constructed in the late 1940s, in collaboration with Jordanian and Egyptian architects, emerged as Amman’s largest private residence of its time. With over thirty rooms, it epitomized the Mamluk Sultanate’s architectural style, serving as a representation of Islamic-revival structures.

This grand house was a prestigious venue for hosting distinguished foreign dignitaries visiting Jordan.

The Nymphaeum

The Nymphaeum stands near Hashemite Plaza, alongside the Roman Theater and Odeon in al-Balad. Constructed in the 2nd century CE, it holds aesthetic significance. Recent restoration efforts involve meticulous stone-by-stone cleaning and repairs.

Located by the Amman Stream, it served as a monumental bathhouse, with remnants including two towers. The site spanned three fountains with half-circular basins in two rows, showcasing grandiosity with marble interiors and a sprawling 26-feet-deep pool, topped by baths, fountains, and towering columns.

As Amman evolved, the Nymphaeum transformed roles, becoming a travelers’ hostel and animal rest spot. However, haphazard constructions now mingle with the ancient structure, diminishing its grandeur.

Remnants include the Roman Stream’s covered bridges, once exceptional feats of Roman engineering, reduced now to a mere stretch and remnants of two towers.

Adjacent to the Roman Stream, a paved street stretched around 800 meters, and a public square once surrounded the Roman Theater’s north side, marked by eight remaining columns, each eight meters tall, adorned with Corinthian capitals and intricate inscriptions.

Another remnant, the Music Hall or Theater, still exhibits ruins on the eastern side of the Roman Theater. Restoration efforts between 1990 and 1998 uncovered its grand arched walls and rebuilt sections, restoring its former glory.

The Mango House

The Mango House, nestled along Mango Street in Amman, Jordan, stands as a distinctive architectural gem overlooking the scenic vistas of downtown Amman and Jabal Akhddar across the valley.

Designed by architect Mukhtar Saqr, renowned for crafting the nearby Al Bilbeisi House II, this residence epitomizes a new wave of Jordanian architecture.

Constructed in the late 1940s, this residence departs from its contemporaries of the era, featuring smooth rose stone and distinctive wrap-around balconies. Unlike typical 1940s layouts, the Mango House exhibits clear room separations instead of the traditional tripartite plan, reflecting its unique design ethos.

Divided into two halves, it was tailored to accommodate the two Mango brothers, Kamal and Ali, sons of Hamdi Mango, scions of Amman’s prominent business dynasties.

Strategically positioned on Omar bin al-Khattab Street, later named Mango Street, the house found itself amidst a cluster of residences, emblematic of the family’s property holdings in the area.

The interior underwent renovations in the 1970s and witnessed a notable expansion in 1995, introducing a two-room penthouse atop the upper floor. Today, the Mango family continues to call this distinguished architectural piece their home, preserving its heritage and legacy within Amman’s cityscape.

The Umayyad Palace

Umayyad Palace at sunset – watercolor

The Umayyad Palace, an expansive palatial complex dating back to the Umayyad era, graces the Citadel Hill (Jabal al-Qal’a) in Amman. Erected in the early 8th century, this once-magnificent structure now lies mostly in ruins, yet a restored domed entrance chamber, known as the “kiosk” or “monumental gateway,” offers a glimpse into its grandeur.

Located on the northern edge of Jabal al-Qal’a, this palace comprises three distinct sections, potentially built atop ancient Roman foundations. Within its walls, an elaborate reception hall encircled by rooms showcases Islamic motifs intricately carved into soft rock, adorned by half-domes crowning the walls.

Featuring two entrances—one facing an open central courtyard and the other overlooking a square courtyard at the front—the palace boasts a cruciform gateway, its ribs vaulted with barrel-vaults and half-domes.

Adorned rectangular chambers reveal embellished windows and columns, each window featuring ledges supporting smaller-sized windows. Adjacent to the palace stands an ancient, round, rock-hewn reservoir, historically serving as a water source for the inhabitants during times of need, etched into the rock to collect water during the winter months.

The Temple of Hercules

The Temple of Hercules, nestled within the Amman Citadel, stands as a historical gem in Amman, Jordan, recognized as the most significant Roman structure in the Citadel.

Dating back to the 2nd century CE, it was built during Geminius Marcianus’ governance of the Province of Arabia, coinciding with the construction of the Roman Theater.

Measuring about 30 by 24 meters, with an outer sanctum of 121 by 72 meters, this temple was a colossal structure. Its portico boasted six columns, each approximately 10 meters tall.

While some remain, archaeologists suggest its unfinished state due to the absence of additional columns, with the marbles possibly utilized in constructing a nearby Byzantine Church.

Within its precincts, remnants of a colossal statue, presumed to be Hercules, were discovered. Initially towering over 12 meters, this statue is now reduced to three fingers and an elbow, remnants of its grandeur, possibly destroyed by an earthquake.

With towering columns supporting external corridors, adorned with Corinthian capitals, the temple’s grandeur is evident despite the few remaining columns. Restoration efforts in the early 1990s, a collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the American Center of Oriental Research, aimed to preserve this architectural marvel, now an emblem of the city’s history.

The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church

The Virgin Mary Coptic Church in Amman, situated in the Abdali area, serves around 8,000 Coptic Christians in Jordan.

It became a memorable site as Pope Shenouda III conducted a mass during his inaugural visit in 2005. Scores of Egyptian Coptic residents in Jordan gathered to witness the Pope’s presence, marking a significant event for the community.

During his visit, Pope Shenouda engaged in discussions with the King, emphasizing the Coptic Church’s role in fostering coexistence, interfaith dialogue, and understanding between Islam and Christianity. Their discourse focused on fortifying values of tolerance, moderation, and harmony advocated by divine religions.

This church stands as a spiritual center for Coptic Christians in Jordan, providing a space for worship, community gatherings, and events. Its significance extends beyond religious practices, serving as a symbol of unity and dialogue among diverse religious communities in the region.

Al Burj

Al Burj, a 91-meter tall commercial tower in Amman, stands as a historic building recognized by the government. Once known as the Comprehensive Commercial Center (CCC), it was a bustling hub on a vibrant commercial street, earning its local moniker “Al-Burj” (The Tower) and serving as a leisure hotspot for Amman residents.

Al Burj in Amman – vintage painting texture

Constructed between 1979 and 1985, this 22-floor tower on Prince Muhammad Street was the city’s tallest building. Initially owned by the Jordan-Royal Estate Establishment and built by Consorzio Trocon Percoco, it was later acquired by the government, adding to its cultural heritage and representing early examples of contemporary and Brutalist architecture in Jordan.

Strategically positioned in a bustling area between the Third and Second Circles of Amman, the tower offered panoramic views of the city, highlighted in the project’s launch pamphlet. Its presence contributed to the character of the expanding commercial district, redefining streets as both commerce hubs and spaces for communal activities.

Once a home to a cinema, a prestigious rooftop restaurant, offices, and stores, today, the building stands mostly vacant and abandoned. However, it now hosts the Income and Sales Tax Department and the “Al-Kanz” night club.

The ground floor accommodates several retail stores offering menswear, watches, vintage items, and women’s clothing, some operating since the 1980s.

The iconic “Philadelphia Cinema” space has transformed into the new Al-Balad Theatre, continuing the cultural legacy and undergoing renovation following the cultural organization’s relocation from the Jafra building in downtown Amman.

The Intercontinental Jordan Hotel

The InterContinental Jordan Hotel, nestled in Jabal Amman between the 2nd and 3rd circles, stands as a historic landmark in the city.

Constructed by a Swiss-German company at a substantial cost of $2 million, the hotel’s inception dates back to January 1962 when it first opened its doors under the name Al Urdon Hotel.

Subsequently, in May 1964, it became part of the prestigious Intercontinental Hotels family, rebranded as the Hotel Jordan Intercontinental. Today, it operates under the renowned Intercontinental Hotels Group and is owned by the Jordan Hotels and Tourism Co.

Boasting an impressive accommodation capacity, the hotel offers 391 rooms along with 49 suites, catering to a diverse range of guests. Its amenities include both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, enhancing the guest experience with leisure and relaxation options amidst the bustling cityscape of Amman.

With its long-standing history and modern facilities, the InterContinental Jordan Hotel remains a prominent destination for travelers seeking comfort and luxury in the heart of Jordan’s capital.

The Raghadan Palace

The Raghadan Palace in Amman, has a rich history as a royal landmark. Built in 1926, it was King Abdullah I’s residence and influenced the design of surrounding palaces. Its traditional Islamic style mirrors the al-Aqsa Mosque’s aesthetics in Jerusalem.

Functioning mainly for diplomatic events, it hosts state meetings and events like ambassadorial credentials and Parliament openings. Noteworthy for hosting President George W. Bush in 2006, it doesn’t serve as the current monarch’s residence and underwent renovations after a fire in 1983.

Guarded by ceremonial Circassian units, it’s a notable structure on Jordan’s 50-dinar banknotes. Positioned strategically for panoramic views, it symbolized prosperity. Its architecture, influenced by artisans from Damascus, Nablus, and Jerusalem, blended luxury with simplicity.

It was a hub for political decisions, royal audiences, and cultural gatherings. Hosting Arab festivals, it fostered free expression amidst regional crises.

Its interior reflected royal elegance, housing prayer rooms, reception areas, and a throne hall. Witnessing key allegiance ceremonies, it represented a significant investment of 1,600 Palestinian pounds and remains a symbol of Jordan’s heritage and royal governance.

Al-Mufti House

The Mufti House stands at the Rainbow Street-Mango Street crossroads in Jabal Amman, boasting a lush wooded front yard that’s matured over 70 years. Its ivy-draped stone wall creates a serene separation from the bustling main street, a common feature among the neighborhood’s houses like the Mango House.

Constructed in the late 1920s, the Mufti House reflects the architectural style of neighboring houses, notably the Akrawi and Habböo House. Initially built by Umar Hikmat, a notable Circassian figure, it later came into the possession of Sa’id al-Mufti, a fellow Circassian politician and later mayor of Amman.

Mufti expanded the house, adding a modern kitchen, toilets, a dining room, and the distinctive front porch during the 1950s. An adjacent house was also erected by Mufti’s brother, Shawkat, around the same period.

The house’s aqua-green façade, typical of its era, stands out, reminiscent of Amman’s architecture from that time. Its front balcony, adorned with rose-stone columns akin to the Mango House, overlooks Jabal Akhddar, showcasing a unique perspective away from the street, unlike typical homes in the area.

Rujm Al-Malfouf

Rujm Al-Malfouf stands as one among several watchtowers tracing back to the Ammonite kingdom. Its name, “Hill of the Twisted [Stone],” derives from its circular structure, constructed during the first half of the first millennium BC. Positioned on Jabal Amman, it neighbors the Jordanian Ministry of Antiquities.

An ancient emblem of Amman, Rujm Al-Malfouf is an Iron Age tower, part of the defensive fortifications surrounding Rabbath Ammon. Towering four meters high, it sported a circular design, earning its nickname “cabbage.”

Comprised of two or three layers, it contained four roofless rooms and a primary entrance. The tower sits west of the Fourth Circle in Jabal Amman, overlooking Wadi Saqra, adjacent to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

Initial assessments in the 19th century proposed its use as an Ammonite border post. Later findings revealed diverse functions, potentially as settlement forts or agricultural facilities. Its origins were estimated to date back to the Assyrian era, with some asserting its association with the expansion of the Ammonites to the west.

Experts continue to debate its purpose and age. The structure’s evolution from a defensive installation to an agricultural watchtower remains uncertain. Amidst the ambiguity, the tower remains a silent witness to the enigmatic Ammonite period, its secrets locked within its weathered stones.

Ruins of the site include a stone tower and adjoining storage rooms atop a hill, suggesting a structure potentially higher than its present state of three levels. Despite its historical significance, accessing such archaeological sites poses challenges, particularly regarding safety, transportation, and inclusivity for all visitors.

Preserving and enhancing access to these sites while respecting their historical integrity remains a priority. Efforts to provide accurate information, improve transportation, and ensure inclusive access to these monuments are crucial steps toward nurturing a deeper appreciation for Jordan’s rich cultural heritage.

The Ayyubid watchtower

The Ayyubid watchtower, erected around 1220 on the southern walls of Amman Citadel, stands amidst the capital’s heart, a relic from the Ayyubid period (c. 1170-1250). Nestled alongside the ancient Temple of Hercules, its stones whisper tales of civilizations spanning millennia.

Crafted by the Ayyubids, masters of military architecture, this tower served as a sentinel, offering a vantage point over central Amman. Its modest dimensions—9.45 meters long by 7.55 meters wide—housed a small room.

Strategic openings along three walls once facilitated arrow shots, while the fourth wall harbored a staircase leading to the roof. Notably, cylindrical columns, remnants of the Roman temple, embellish its southern face.

Under the care of the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the tower underwent restoration in the early 1990s, reclaiming its historic splendor.

The Citadel Hill’s history weaves a complex tapestry, entwining Crusader lore and Ayyubid reign. William of Tyre’s accounts hint at Philip of Milly’s stewardship of “Ahamant” in 1161, potentially alluding to Amman.

Amidst shifting powers, Amman transitioned from Crusader to Ayyubid hands by 1170, while the tower, once attributed to the Crusaders, now bears testimony to the Ayyubid era. Unraveling the mysteries of the Crusader castle awaits further exploration, beckoning historians to unveil its hidden truths.

The Hashemite Plaza

The Hashemite Plaza, sprawled across 20,000 square meters in Amman, underwent rejuvenation in 2014, christened in honor of Jordan’s esteemed Hashemite royal family.

This expansive plaza is a mosaic of open spaces, verdant gardens, cascading fountains, inviting cafes, and ample parking. It serves as a cultural hub, hosting events like the Amman Book Festival.

The watchful Roman Theater and the Odeon flank its perimeter, while the Nymphaeum stands a stone’s throw away. Overlooking this lively scene, the Citadel Hill offers breathtaking vistas.

Founded in 1986, the Plaza nestles in East Amman, adjacent to the Roman Theater, providing a space for public festivities and a respite within the city.

Distinguished by its array of cafes and encircling bistros, the plaza witnessed a historic event in 1968—the display of Israeli losses and Jordanian triumphs from the Battle of Karameh. Festivities erupted, celebrating the Arab Jordanian victory over Israel, marking this plaza as a site of historic resonance.

The Plaza’s extensive scope encompasses various elements: a vibrant passage adorned with dancing fountains and mosaic; a grand ceremonial space adjacent to the Roman Theater; a media building housing administrative offices and a café with panoramic views; a media wall broadcasting documentaries and live events; shaded colonnades along the Hashemite Street; modern pavilions hosting cafes and visitor services; elevated green lawns featuring seating; and a tourist police kiosk ensuring safety and guidance for visitors.

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