Amman is Jordan’s capital and largest city, and also the country’s commercial, political and cultural center. It is located in a hilly region of north-western Jordan. The city was originally built on seven hills, which now constitute the city’s districts, and has now spread over 19 hills. Thus the city’s elevation ranges from mountain to mountain, from 780 to 1400 meters. The region experiences a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons.
Amman boasts a long history as it is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Its ancient core is the Citadel that sits atop the Jabal Al-Qala'a and can be seen from all over the city. In the citadel the ongoing archaeological excavations reveal remains of Roman, Byzantine and Islamic cultures, which can all be seen in the Jordan archeological museum, along with the artifact considered to be the nation’s pride, the ancient collection of biblical texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Other notable landmarks in Amman include the Roman Theatre, a short walk downhill from the Citadel, together with the Museum of Popular Tradition and the Museum of Jordanian Folklore. Also worth seeing is the royal collection of cars in the Royal Automobile Museum.
But the ‘white city’, as Amman is often referred to, due to the glistening white facades of its buildings, is mostly a base from where visitors can explore the amazing historical gems of Jordan. The country’s biggest draw is Petra, a dramatic city carved into the red stone cliffs, the mesmerizing Wadi Rum Desert, and the azure waters of Aquaba.
Not far from Amman lies the city of Jerash, home to the best complex of Greco-Roman ruins outside Italy. In addition, dotted around the desert that encircles Amman are the so-called Desert Castles, ancient forts and stations, many of which are within a day-trip from Amman.
Amman has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot and dry and last from late May to early October; humidity levels are low, high temperatures range between 25 to 33 °C, while night temperatures are cooler. Winters are long and cold, lasting from November to mid-March. This is also the wettest period, as the majority of rain falls between October and March. Winter temperatures are frequently around or below zero, with occasional snowfall. Springs are brief with occasional strong rainfall.
January average temperature 7 deg Celsius 63 mm rainfall February average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 63 mm rainfall March average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 43 mm rainfall April average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 18 mm rainfall May average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 3 mm rainfall June average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall July average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall September average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall October average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall November average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall December average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 48 mm rainfall
Queen Alia International Airport is the entry point for most visitors. It is situated in the Zizya area, 32km south of Amman. The airport has two terminals and is the hub of the Jordanian national carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines. Entry visas can be bought on arrival by most Western visitors, if not obtained prior to arrival at consulates overseas.
The city can be reached via taxi, which costs approximately 30 USD, or the Airport Express bus that operates from 6 am to 11 pm, and runs every 30 minutes.
Metered taxis are widely available throughout the city. Official city taxies are yellow and grey in color, with a green logo on the doors. The yellow shared taxis cover fixed routes.
The city center is served by a reliable and inexpensive bus service.
Walking is an option, since Amman is not particularly large. During the summer heat, however, walking long distances would be impossible.
Visiting drivers must hold a valid International Driving Permit. Cars drive on the right. Main roads are well maintained, but minor ones are often in poor shape. All major car rental offices are present in Amman. Some offer the service of a driver along with the car.
Petra is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction and no trip to Jordan would be complete without a visit to the mysterious ancient rose-red city conjured out of the sandstone cliffs. The vast city, carved into sheer rock, was built by the Nabataens, an Arab people that lived in southern Jordan over 2000 years ago. It is situated in the heart of the mountains between the gulf of Aquaba and the Dead Sea.
Petra, meaning ‘rock’ in Greek, one of the world’s most stunning archeological sites, is an abandoned necropolis of temples, and tombs cut directly into sheer rock of amazing pink and orange hues. Its grand architecture and great cultural, historic and artistic significance has placed this site on the UNESCO world heritage list.
The city is approached through a narrow, 1 km long gorge with rock walls looming 200 meters in height. The first sight you behold is the magnificent Al-Khazneh (Treasury), the most famous of Petra’s monuments. The rest of this vast city can be explored on a series of climbs and hikes where you can find hundreds of temples, tombs, baths, arched gateways, colonnaded streets, stunning rock drawings, an open air theatre, and a huge 1st century Monastery. The complex also features a modern archeological museum. Petra can be reached via a 3-hour drive from Amman.
THE DEAD SEA
The Dead Sea is truly unique. It is the lowest point on Earth, lying 422 meters below sea level. The heavily saline waters, containing up to 8 times the salt of normal oceans, provides the swimmer with completely effortless floating. The waters and the mud are rich in minerals and world famous for both their medicinal and beauty properties and use in various spa and dermatological treatments.
The area has several resorts, spas and beaches and is the perfect place to spend a few days luxuriating in pure relaxation and pampering. In fact, the area has attracted visitors from around the Mediterranean for thousands of years and was the site of one of the world’s first health resorts.
Most tourists visit the northern shore at Sweimeh where the Government Rest House is located, offering several facilities such as showers, beach, restaurants and spa treatments.
This spectacular desert is located in southern Jordan and is among the most stunning found anywhere on earth. The place is virtually untouched by human hands, and the vast expanses of sand are dotted with monolithic rocks, reaching up to 1,750 meters in height. Canyons, water holes, 4,000-year old drawings, and spectacular rock formations can be seen by hiking here.
The desert was made famous as the place where T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and Prince Faisal Bin Hussein were based during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during World War 1.
The visitor’s center offers numerous options for exploring Wadi Rum. There it is possible to rent a 4x4 vehicle with a driver as a guide. Note that night temperatures tend to dip low in the desert so do not forget to bring warm clothes.
Located in the far south end of the country, Aquaba is Jordan’s window to the Red Sea. It is a popular seaside resort with crystal clear azure waters, which stay warm all year round, sandy beaches facilities for all the usual water sports. The range of sleeping options is wide: from luxurious five star hotels to simple natural campsites. It is also enticingly close to two of the country’s biggest attractions, the Wadi Rum Desert and Petra.
Jerash, which lies 50 km north of Amman, is home to the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, one of the best preserved ancient cities found outside Italy. The ruins were buried under the sand for eons, only to be rediscovered at the beginning of the 19th century however, excavation could not begin until after WW I. The area has been inhabited since Neolithic times and was continually inhabited for over 6,500 years. The city was a part of the Decapolis federation of Greek cities, and reached its peak under the Romans, when it is believed to have had a population of around 20,000 inhabitants. The impressive site features beautifully preserved ruins, among which are theaters, baths, temples, plazas, arches, churches and a mosque, dating from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods. In July visitors should not miss the Jerash festival of Culture and Arts when the ancient city comes alive with dancing, singing and musical performances by artist from around the world.
THE DESERT CASTLES
To the east and south of Amman a vast desert stretches all the way towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It is dotted with ancient ruins of castles, forts, palaces and baths mostly built by the Umayyad caliphs during the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Even though they are called castles they served several functions, from caravan stations to trade centers, resort pavilions and outposts. Decorated with fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Greco - Roman traditions, they make fine examples of early Islamic architecture and art.
The best preserved is Qusair Amraan, an ancient bath house with a domed ceiling, frescoes and mosaics, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also very popular are the Qasr Mushatta, the biggest and best preserved. The black basalt fortress at Azraq which served as the desert outpost of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt, and the Qasr Mushatta, Qasr al - Kharrana, Qasr at -Tuba and Qasr al – Hallabat, both of which have been restored and are in excellent condition.
Several of these castles can be visited on a day trip from Amman. It is possible to use a combination of public buses, minibuses and walking, but it is much easier and quicker to rent a car or a cab for a day.
Mount Nebo, located 10 km west of the Roman Byzantine town of Madaba, is one of Jordan’s most revered holy sites. According to ancient tradition, the prophet Moses saw the Promised Land from the top of this mountain. It is also believed that Moses was buried here. As such, the mountain has long been the place of religious pilgrimage. The peak offers magnificent views overlooking the Dead Sea, Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem. Today a modern shrine stands over 6th-century ruins of the Byzantine monastery, protecting the original floor mosaics. Outside stands the Serpentine Cross symbolic of the bronze serpent Moses took to the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
The Ballad or the Downtown is the oldest part of Amman, surrounded by the seven hills where the city first emerged. It is the hub of commercial activity, where numerous souqs or markets are located. In addition, it features many landmarks, such as the Citadel, the Roman Theater, the Umayyad Palace, and more.
The Old Citadel
The citadel is perched on a hill overlooking the city and has been inhabited since the Neolithic times, and thus one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited places. The site also symbolizes the birth of three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Excavations have revealed traces from the Stone Age, through Roman times and all the way to the Islamic period.
Jordan Archaeological Museum
Address: Jabal al-Qala’a Open: daily 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (winter) & 9:00 am – 7:00 pm (summer)
The Old Citadel is home to the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which houses ancient ruins and valuable relics from all over the country, among its most important exhibits are the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient scriptures with great religious significance as they are also the oldest surviving copies of Biblical documents. The museum also exhibits Iron Age sarcophagi and a copy of the Mesha Stele, a black basalt stone adorned with inscriptions from the 9th century ruler Mesha of Moab. Among other notable features at the citadel are the remains of the Byzantine basilica, the Temple of Hercules and the impressive Omayyad Palace Complex.
The magnificent amphitheatre, cut into the hillside beneath the Citadel, is an ancient relic from Roman times, probably around the 2nd century AD. The large, steeply raked venue could seat up to 6,000 people. In fact, it is still in use today during the summer months for sporting and cultural events. At the back of the Theater there is the Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions, featuring traditional Jordanian costumes, fine embroidery and beautiful jewelry, and the Amman Folklore Museum, showing the traditional life of local people.
King Hussein Mosque
The Ottoman-style mosque, standing on the site of a more ancient mosque, is situated in the heart of the modern downtown. The surrounding streets are filled with stands and vendors. The city’s gold souq (market) is a wonderland of shops packed with golden jewelry and can be found in close vicinity, between the mosque and the Citadel.
The museum gives an insight into the history of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from the 1920s until today with a display of 70 classic cars and motorbikes belonging to the royalty, from King Abdullah I, the founder of the Kingdom, to the current leader, King Abdullah II. Available are personal audio guides narrated in 5 languages.
The city offers a lot of shopping opportunities and has many large malls; the City Mall, the Mecca Mall, the Abdoun Mall and the Plaza Mall. Sharia'a Al Wakalat" (Brands Street) is a shopping district where international brands are available. The Souq in the old downtown is an exotic and traditional shopping experience, where you can browse the spice market, and shop for authentic souvenirs in numerous little stores lining the streets. The best place to start is King Talal Street. Amman’s Gold Souk located off King Faisla Street is a great place to shop for gold and jewelry by weight.
Amman is a cosmopolitan city with a wealth of restaurants, ranging from traditional Middle Eastern to international cuisines, and also Western fast food franchises. Be sure to try local food at the traditional restaurants. These places often provide entertainment as well.
The cheapest eats available are at the shwarma stands, which can be found everywhere. They typically also sell soft drinks and water and are open from noon into the later night hours. ‘Shwarma’ is pieces of lamb or beef meat rolled in thin bread together with vegetables and yogurt sauce. ‘Mansaf’ is a typical rice and lamb dish.
Arabic food is diverse and delicious. Locals use a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes, often with plain white yogurt. Chickpea (garbanzo bean) is very popular and can be found in many dishes, for example in falafel, hummus, and fuul (fava bean paste). Meat usually includes lamb and chicken, beef is less common, while pork is not used. Side dishes are typically rice and flat bread. Sweets are very popular among Jordanians so patisseries can be found everywhere.
Address: Alamir Mohamed Street (vis-à-vis the Cliff hotel) Phone: (06) 463 6440
Hashem is a very popular eatery, serving typical local food. It has a small menu but the dishes are delicious and cheap. Try falafel, hummus and fuul. It is among the cheapest and most popular places in Amman, and is reputedly also visited by the Royalty.
On the other end of the scale is this charming restaurant, loved by diplomats, and serving great Lebanese food. Pricey - but excellent.
Wild Jordan Café
Address: Jabal Amman First circle; Othman bin Affan Street Phone: +962 646 335 42 Web: www.wildjordancafe.com/
This modern and trendy café is very popular with expats and locals. Wild Jordan Café offers great views and great food. It specializes in a healthy low fat cuisine, featuring excellent fruit smoothies and organic salads. The open air terrace offers stunning views over Amman, especially at night. Located in the Wild Jordan Nature Center, the café aims to help various natural reserves in Jordan. 25% of your bill goes towards nature conservation projects.
This marathon takes runners down a route from Amman to the Dead Sea. There are three categories, the half marathon, the classic marathon and the ultra marathon, the latter being the most challenging with its 52 kilometers, high temperatures and tarmac roads sans shade. Superb fitness and acclimation to the scorching temperatures are a must. The race is held on behalf of the Society for the Care of Neurological Patients.
Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts
Date: July/August annually Location: Jerash
The two-week festival set in one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world, has been held since 1980. It has a rich program of dancing, singing and musical performances by artists from around the world, as well as hosting poetry readings, concerts and films. The entire cultural program is held within the old city using Roman ruins as stages.
Jordan was a 2008 addition to the FIA World Rally Championship and is one of the biggest sporting events Jordan has held. The rally is based at the Dead Sea and the service park, HQ and special stages are all within a 75 kilometer radius, making it one of the most compact events on the FIA racing calendar.
The annual festival showcases the best in short films from around the world. The festival serves as the platform for Jordanian as well as other Arabic indie filmmakers, allowing them to showcase their work and keep in touch with the latest trends.
Jordan’s newest international cultural festival, located in the magnificent Marj Al-Hamam area, 15 kilometers south of Amman, combines carnival with shopping, food and drink, theatre, folklore and culture. Its aim is to promote tourism and to bridge the cultural gap across the world.
In the evening people mostly meet in the traditional cafes, where water pipes are smoked.
Alcohol is available in upmarket establishments and places frequented by Westerners, in better restaurants, and hotels as well as pubs and bars. It is expensive because it is heavily taxed, with the exception of the locally brewed Amstel beer and Jordanian wine.
Note that during Ramadan most places stop serving alcohol
Although nightlife in Amman does not compare with other Middle Eastern capitals, such as Beirut or Tel Aviv, a few night clubs and bars do operate. Most clubs are located in the four and five star hotels.
Buddah Club located in Le Royal Hotel, has a very chic Southeast Asian ambiance, serves various cocktails and mostly plays dance music.
JJ’s bar, located in the Grand Hyatt Amman, serves drinks and has a dancefloor and usually stays open past 1 am.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Royal Cultural Centre
Address: Al-Malekah Alia Street, Shmeisani Phone: (06) 566 1026
This is the city’s premier venue for cultural events, hosting classical concerts, Arabic music, and folk dancing.
There are several cinemas where the latest releases are screened. Note that they are usually censored.
The area where Amman is located has been home to several civilizations continually since ancient times. The earliest settlements recorded, date to the Neolithic period, around 8500 BC. Digs have revealed artistic work as well, showing a high level of development. During the Iron Age Amman, then called Rabbath-Ammon, was the capital of the Ammonites, who were referred to in the Old Testament. Their settlement stood on the site of the Citadel. Later the city was conquered by the Assyrians, then the Persians, and later by the Greeks. Under the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy II the city was renamed Philadelphia, and became part of the Nabataean kingdom, until it was taken over by the Romans.
Christianity became the Eastern Roman Empire’s official religion and in 326 AD Philadelphia became the seat of the bishopric. As a result, several beautiful churches emerged in the city. In the 7th century Islam started spreading north from the Arabian Peninsula, and after a severe Sasanian attack, the city became to be known as its Semitic name, Ammon. During the Early Islamic Era Amman was in a good strategic military position and an important stop on the trade routes. Several earthquakes and natural disasters befell the city and left it in ruins. By the time the Circassians settled there in 1887, the city had declined to a village with just around 2,000 inhabitants.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In the early 20th century the Ottoman Sultan built the new Hejaz railway, linking Damascus and Medina. It largely contributed to the town’s new boom as it brought in the hajj pilgrims as well as trade.
In 1921 Emir Abdullah made the city the seat of government of the newly-established Trans-Jordan Emirate, and two years later the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The city, however, remained relatively small until 1948. From 1952 onwards the city experienced rapid development and growth under the rule of Hashemite Kings, Hussein of Jordan and Abdullah II of Jordan. In 1967 Amman experienced a considerable rise in population due to an influx of Palestinian refugees from the Occupied Territories.
The 1970 clashes between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian army caused considerable damage to the city. The population swelled even more as refugees were accepted from Kuwait after the Gulf War of 1991.
In the last ten years the city has experienced a dramatic expansion, and numerous new districts are emerging, especially in the West Amman.
The bombing of hotels in 2005 resulted in widespread protests, followed by large-scale vigils. But despite these pressures, Jordan remains a moderating force amidst its troubled neighbors.
You can learn more about Amman’s rich history in the city’s museums, for example the Folklore Museum, the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions (both in the Roman Theater), or the National Archaeological Museum (in the Citadel).
Jordanians are polite and hospitable. Paying compliments is a welcome practice. When meeting new people, especially the opposite gender, behavior should be respectful and not too friendly. When a man meets a woman for the first time it is polite for him to wait for her to extend a hand in greeting first.
Ask people for permission before taking their photographs. Haggling and bargaining is expected especially in the markets. Homosexuality is illegal.
Wearing the traditional headscarf is optional and many women do not wear it, especially in the more affluent areas. In West Amman local women often wear Western style clothes. Nevertheless, western women are advised to dress modestly. Keep legs and shoulders covered and wear long skirts and pants, and sleeves past elbow. This especially applies when visiting the more conservative East Amman and at religious sites. During the holy month of Ramadan, be discreet when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours.
It is strictly forbidden to consume alcohol in the street.
Tipping is not expected or customary but it is appreciated. Better hotels and restaurants add a 10 to 12% service charge to the bill. In smaller venues a tip is appreciated. Round up the bill in a taxi.
Amman is a very safe city. While serious crime is very rare, petty crime does occur, but if you take the usual traveler’s precautions you should be ok. Avoid carrying backpacks that can be easily opened from the back. At night do not walk the streets alone, instead take a taxi. When exploring Jordan’s numerous attractions, e.g. the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, etc, always carry a passport. There are several check-points.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Jordan police emergency number: 191 Jordan police non-emergency number: 196 Amman Civil Defense: 199
US Embassy in Jordan
Web: jordan.usembassy.gov/ Emergency hotline during after-hours / U.S. citizens only: (06) 590 6000 Non-emergency contact number: (06) 590 6950 (from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Sunday - Thursday, excluding Jordanian and U.S. holidays and the last working day of the month)