On the Shoulders of Giants

The Citadel

Amman, Jordan

Dec 27, 2016

Flat-roofed buildings stagger up the hillsides and traffic clogs the road in a never-ending stream. The aroma of cardamom-laced arabic coffee mingles with traces of incense curling outward from some of the shops. The hiss of hot oil announces the presence of a falafel shop at a street corner. People walk by in the spattering rain, huddled in their thick winter coats, scarves wound around their head.

Downtown Amman may seem modern at first glance but this city started life in the distant reaches of human history. A part of the fertile crescent, it is one of those rare places in the world that can claim continuous human habitation from the Neolithic times to the present. Like a crowning glory, the Citadel sits atop the highest of the seven hills. The name Amman itself is derived from the old name Rabbath Ammon, the city of the Ammonites who settled here in 1200 BC.

From the eighth century BC this corner of the world has been ruled by a succession of powers – the Assyrians followed by the Babylonians who gave way to the Ptolemaic rule of the third century BC. They were then succeeded by the Seleucids who were in their turn followed by the Romans in 60 BC.

Called Philadelphia or ‘City of brotherly Love’ it was then a part of the Decapolis, a loose alliance of ten Roman-ruled cities. During a rule that lasted some four hundred years, this city was re-planned and reconstructed in typically grand Roman style with a colonnaded street, baths, an amphitheater and impressive public buildings. The Temple of Hercules was built here in 161 AD. Amid broken columns and massive stone blocks, enough of the floor plans exists today to awe visitors. A couple of massive columns still stand upright spearing the sky and the broken columns flanking the colonnaded street bears mute testimony to past grandeur. The massive six thousand capacity roman theater at the foot of the hill has been rebuilt and now plays host to public events.

During the Byzantine period following the Romans, the city was the seat of a Christian bishop, expansive churches were the norm. Ruins of some still remain while others served as foundations for the inevitable next wave of rulers. The Umayyad rule beginning in 720 AD saw the creation of a large palace with a domed audience hall and extensive open courtyards. Some have been reconstructed and some lie in ruins inviting imagination.

Arched gateways of the ruins form prefect frames for the cityscape of tall minarets in a sea of rectangular concrete buildings. A giant water reservoir with an algae-green puddle serves as a birdbath to a flock of sparrows. Remnants of columns stand sentinel atop the hill, framing the sprawl of the present-day Amman.

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