On a chilly November morning in 2019, as dawn broke across the eastern horizon and started to spread its light over Amman Citadel, Coldplay greeted the day (and many of their fans) by playing songs from their new album. Asked why they chose Jordan, the band stated it’s because of its natural beauty and historical and cultural significance. This is also reflected in the Middle Eastern flavors and motifs that fill their new album’s music and artwork. The beauty of the Middle East can be heard on the band’s new album, Everyday Life. However, a sample of Middle Eastern beauty can be seen atop Jebel Al Qala’a in Amman’s ancient ruins.
The Amman Citadel sits on the highest hill in Amman at 850 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by a wall measuring 1,700 meters long. The site was known in ancient times as Rabbath Ammon. Both its walls and the citadel itself were rebuilt during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Later on, the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad occupations continued restoring it.
From up here, the sweeping views of downtown Amman are spectacular. But perhaps the most striking to see are the Citadel’s Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace.
The first thing you’ll notice once you get inside the ruins are two giant standing pillars. These are the remains of the Roman Temple of Hercules, Amman’s most famous ruins. Built sometime between 161 and 180 AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Temple was once connected the Forum located in downtown Amman. What remains of the temple today, however, are only parts of the temple’s podium and columns. These can be seen from all over Amman.
Nearby the remains of the temple is the Amman Citadel’s hand of Hercules. Carved from stone, the hand lays as evidence to the level of detail that must have once adorned the temple back in Amman’s halcyon days.
The Temple and Hand of Hercules are both quite impressive. But behind the sight’s rather quaint archaeological museum is perhaps the Citadel’s most impressive series of historic buildings that focus around the Umayyad Palace. Home at the time to the governor of Amman, the palace was once a wide-ranging complex of royal and residential buildings. It is believed to have been built around 720 AD by Umayyad Arabs. However, as far as palaces go, this one didn’t last long as it was destroyed by an earthquake twenty-nine years later in 749 AD and was never fully rebuilt.
As you approach from the South, you’ll notice that the first primary building of the palace’s complex is the audience hall. Its domed design was created to impress royal palace visitors. Mirroring the Byzantine church over which it was built, the hall is shaped like a cross and is the most intact of the site’s buildings. The dome was reconstructed by Spanish archaeologists. However, they debated as to whether the central space had originally been covered or left open to the elements. Finally, they agreed that there was, indeed, a ceiling dome over the church.
Coming out of the church, you’ll immediately proceed north to a courtyard that leads to a 10m-wide colonnaded street. This pathway is flanked by numerous arches and columns, as well as residential, commercial, and governmental administration buildings. A bit more to the north is the former governor’s residence, and it’s throne room.
The Umayyad Cistern lies east of the audience hall. Its steps lead down to the bottom of a huge hole that once supplied water to the palace and surroundings. Notice the small disc on the floor in the centre that once supported a pillar used to measure water levels.
The small Byzantine Basilica south of the museum was built in either the 6th or 7th centuries AD. Unfortunately, most of which was destroyed by earthquakes though a few dusty mosaics remain today.
If you’re wondering how to get to Amman Citadel (Jebel Al Qala’a) the only access roads to the Citadel are from Al Malek Ali Bin Al Hussein Street. The Citadel ticket office (Price: JD2, free with Jordan Pass) is near the Citadel’s entrance on this street as well. To save some energy walking up the hill, it’s best to just hire a taxi for the trip up.
On the way down, however, steps lead from east of the Citadel complex, past a viewing platform to Hashemi Street, opposite the Roman Theatre. This makes it a great place to start a walking tour of Amman’s downtown.
The Citadel is open year-round from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday through Thursdays. Fridays they’re open from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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