Amman - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Amman


Originally spread over seven hills, or jabals, the capital of the Hashemite kingdom now sprawls over 19 hills and is home to over a million people, almost half of Jordan's population. Known as the White City, the hills are covered in a jumble of light-coloured stone houses, consistently box-like in shape with flat roofs characteristic of a typical desert city. Faded minarets, pavement markets, Arabian sweet shops and the crumbling remains of ancient civilisations contrast wonderfully with the contemporary edifices, fashionable boutiques and international restaurants. This blend of the old and the new combines in the noisy and chaotic downtown area where the city's extraordinarily friendly residents go about their business.

At the heart of downtown is the Ottoman-style King Hussein Mosque, around which the buzz and bustle is at its most interesting. Even busier at prayer times, the surrounding streets are filled with the essence of Arabia, exotic smells and rows of glittering treasures in the souq (market) amid the noise of frenetic haggling.

Just as overwhelming is Amman's sense of history, dating back 5,500 years to its position as the ancient capital of the Ammonites, Rabbath-Ammon of the Old Testament, and later as Philadelphia, the Roman city that became part of the Decapolis. Overlooking the city from atop Jabal al-Qala'a is the Citadel, the site of the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and at its foot lies the impressive Roman amphitheatre that is the most remarkable remnant of ancient Philadelphia.

Amman is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world, and today functions as a thriving commercial and administrative centre with modern facilities, historical attractions and a longstanding tradition of hospitality. It is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounds, even the rest of the country, being no more than five hours drive from anywhere, and is surprisingly agreeable for a capital city.

Information & Facts


The climate of Amman is pleasantly temperate. Summers are hot and dry, with cool evenings, temperatures remaining at comfortable levels. Winters are cool to cold and wet. Most rain falls between October and March, and snow can occur.

Getting Around

Amman is a relatively small city and is thus easy to negotiate. Metered private taxis are available at reasonable prices, and yellow, shared taxis cover fixed routes. Locals are usually very friendly and helpful regarding directions and drivers are usually forthcoming about route information. Regular Airport Express buses run from the arrivals terminal to Abdali Station in downtown Amman.

Arabic is the official language, but English is understood by most people involved in the tourist industry and by middle to upper class Jordanians.

The official currency is the Dinar (JOD), which is divided into 100 piastres or 1,000 fils. Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be changed at any bank or moneychanger, although the latter will usually give a better rate of exchange. Banks are closed on Fridays. Better hotels will also exchange money. American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are the most widely accepted credit cards and can be used at major hotels, restaurants and tourist shops; cash can be withdrawn from inside banks. ATMs are available, though acceptance of foreign cards is limited.

From its position on top of a hill overlooking the city, the Citadel (known locally as Jabal al-Qal'a) stands testament to the history of Amman, with its ancient ruins and excavated relics, alongside those from throughout the country, housed in the Jordan Archaeological Museum. It is the site of the ancient capital Rabbath-Ammon and numerous excavations have revealed Stone Age remains as well as those from the Roman to the Islamic periods. The site contains several structures including the impressive Omayyad Palace (al-Qasr), a small Byzantine basilica and what was once the Temple of Hercules, the Great Temple of Amman. Also on the site is the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which has an excellent collection of artefacts from Jordan dating back to the earliest settlement in the region over 700,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Iron Age sarcophagi and a copy of the Mesha Stele are its most important exhibits.

Stretching to the east of Amman towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq is the vast desert plain where a cluster of historic ruins such as castles, forts, baths and palaces have been preserved and are collectively known as desert castles. Their purpose is largely unknown, but most are thought to have been built as recreational retreats by the Umayyad caliphs during the early Islamic Period (7th to 8th centuries AD). Qasr Mushatta is the biggest and most elaborate of the castles, a fine example of Umayyad architecture although it was never completed. The best preserved and most enchanting is the luxurious bathhouse of Qusayr 'Amra, with its domed ceiling and colourful interior frescoes and mosaics, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other desert castles include the black rock fortress at Azraq, which was the desert headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Great Arab Revolt in 1917, the mysterious Qasr al-Kharrana, Qasr al-Hallabat's crumbling remains and the well-preserved complex at Qastal.

Situated about 31 miles (50km) north of Amman is one of the top attractions in Jordan: the ancient city of Jerash, considered to be one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. Its exceptional state of preservation is due to the fact that it was buried in sand for centuries and the magnificent baths, theatres, temples, arches, columns and stone chariot-rutted streets have long attracted scholars and tourists from across the world to admire the most complete city in the Roman Decapolis. Excavations dating to the Neolithic Age have indicated that Jerash was continuously occupied for more than 6,500 years. Today visitors can marvel as the ancient amphitheatre comes to life at the annual Jerash festival of Culture and Arts, where artists from around the globe sing, dance, act and play music on stage in a celebration of Jordanian and international culture.

The Medeba of the Bible is today Madaba, 'the City of Mosaics', most famous for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics from the 5th to 7th centuries, which are scattered throughout the town's homes and churches. Located just 19 miles (30km) south of Amman, Madaba is also home to the famous 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land, in which Jerusalem and its surrounding regions are depicted. One of the town's most beautiful mosaics covers the floor of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles, and the Archaeological Park features an impressive collection of mosaic collages, where a series of ramps has been built over excavated mosaics to allow people to view them from above. The Greek Orthodox Church of St George is home to Madaba's main attraction and most famous mosaic, the celebrated 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land. Millions of pieces of coloured stone embedded on the church floor create a vivid picture of Jerusalem and its holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, Jericho and the Jordan River. It is the earliest surviving original map of the region and was laid around 560 AD. Madaba is also known for its hand-woven carpets and tapestries and it is possible to see them being made in several shops around town.

The most sacred site in Jordan, Mt Nebo is believed to be the burial site of Moses who climbed the hill in order to survey the Promised Land that he would never enter. Situated on the edge of a plateau about six miles (10km) from Madaba, Mt Nebo affords spectacular views towards Jerusalem, whose spires are visible on a clear day, and across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. A modern day shrine sits on the ruins of a 6th-century Byzantine monastery, and affords protection to the original floor mosaics, while in the grounds stands the symbolic Serpentine Cross.

Below the Citadel is the magnificent Roman amphitheatre, an impressive relic from ancient Philadelphia that is cut into the hill and can seat up to 6,000 people. The theatre is still used occasionally for events today. Two cultural museums form part of the complex: the Jordan Folklore Museum, which has exhibits on traditional life, and the Museum of Popular Traditions with traditional costumes and mosaics from 4th to 6th century Jordan churches.

Situated about 28 miles (45km) from Amman, lies the famous geographic attraction known as the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth at 1,335 feet (407m) below sea level. Devoid of plant or animal life due the high salt concentration (four times saltier than normal sea water), it is the incredible mineral rich water that has made it an internationally sought-after destination since ancient times, popular for its curative properties as well as for the experience of floating effortlessly on its surface. Most holidaymakers go to the main resort area on the northern shore at Sweimeh, where the Government Rest House provides showers, a restaurant, a beach and the opportunity to smother oneself in the mineral-rich black mud. Accommodation is available at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel where various medical treatments are also on offer.

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