What to see in Amman and its surroundings
Situated in the north-central part of Jordan, Amman is the capital and the most populated city of the country. Amman is blessed with many historical landmarks, and it’s worth spending a couple of days enjoying its highlights and the surroundings. Visiting the ancient sites of the city is very easy because they are clustered in the downtown area, which sits at the bottom of four of Amman’s seven hills, or Jabals.
Citadel: it rises over the Jordanian capital where Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic ruins coat the hillside. Its particular location will reveal incredible views of the seven hills that assemble Amman, above all during the sunset, when the sun colours the houses with its warm light. The most interesting spots are the Temple of Hercules, built between 162 and 166 AD and dedicated to Hercules is more significant than any of the temples in Rome; the Byzantine Church, a basilica built between the 5th and 6th centuries; the Umayyad Mosque, the remains of the Umayyad governor’s palace mosque dating from the 8th century; the Dome of the Vestibule, a modern recreation of the interior of the dome of the Umayyad Vestibule. Close to the Temple, there is Jordan archaeological Museum with its exposition of ancient finds.
Roman Theatre: a 2nd-century restored amphitheatre built during the reign of Antoninus Pius, part of the ancient Roman city of Philadelphia that once stood on the site of today’s modern capital. The theatre itself is cut into the northern side of a hill to shelter the spectators from the fiercest heat of the sun and has a seating capacity of 6000. It is built in three tiers, the first tier, closest to the action, was reserved for the ruling class, the second tier for the military, and the third tier for the general public.
Al Bukharieh Souk: the oldest local bazaar in Amman, it is tucked away in an alley with little shops lining it left and right. It’s a beautiful slice of local life throughout the stalls and shops selling a wide array of spices, traditional Arabic delicacies, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. The Souk stretches around the Grand Husseini Mosque, the Ottoman-style mosque rebuilt using striking pink-and-white stone in 1924 by the late King Abdullah I on the site of an ancient mosque built originally in 640 AD.
1. Jerash and Ajlun Castle
Only 1-hour drive from Amman is located Jerash, one of the best-preserved Graeco-Roman cities in the Middle East. As a member of the Decapolis, a Byzantine trading federation of ten towns, Jerash became a prosperous place, and many grand public works were undertaken. Today, incredible ruins remain of temples, agora, collonaded streets and theatres.
Only 30 minutes drive from Jerash, you’ll find the Castle of Ajloun. It was built by one of the Islamic governors under Saladin and was used as one of the principal bases in the expulsion of the crusading armies. The excellent state of preservation makes Ajloun arguably the best example of Islamic military architecture from the crusading era.
2. Desert Castles
It is a group of early-Islamic buildings, Unesco World Heritage-listed, dotted around the desert on the east side of Amman, the best of which are now easily accessible by car. Most of the desert castles can be visited over a half-day in a loop from Amman via Azraq. These structures are amongst the oldest in Jordan, dating from the 7th century, and had multiple uses, such as hunting lodges, caravan stations and trading centres.
The most remarkable and closer to Amman are Qasr Kharana, one of the most visited and well preserved; Qusayr Amra, famous for its 8th-century frescoes of hedonistic scenes and Qasr al-Azraq castle, an imposing fort where T.E. Lawrence and Sharif Hussein bin Ali based themselves in the winter of 1917–18 during the Arab revolt against the Turks.
Driving along the road 40M for 70 km, you’ll first meet Qasr Kharana, then, after 15 km, Qusayr Amra and finally Azraq Castle after 30 km.
If you have time is also worth visiting Umm Qais, known as Gadara in Classical times. It is another former Decapolis city but also features more recent Ottoman buildings and architecture. The most impressive feature of the city is its location. It sits on a ridge overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights and the River Jordan, a magnificent and historic vista. A difference from the other cities is that much of the classical Umm Qais was built in black basalt, which makes for impressive ruins – amongst the best of them are the theatre and a basilica courtyard dotted with black sarcophagi. The site is in the northern part of Jordan, 2 hours and a half drive from Amman.
Need to Know
1. Where to sleep
the best neighbourhood is in downtown. Here you find cheap accommodations close to the main spots of the city. We slept at Rafi Hotel, next to the souk and 5 minutes walk from the Roman Theatre. You can also reach the citadel by taxi in 10 minutes. Anyway there are some others located very close to the Citadel with good deals such as Arab Tower Hotel, Art Hotel Downtown, Jabal Amman Hotel (Heritage House), Mamaya Hotel, Amman Pasha Hotel, The Boutique Hotel Amman, Leila Apartment, Zaman Ya Zaman Boutique Hotel, Over Theater, Jordan River Hotel, Mansour Hotel.
2. Where to eat
Around the souk, there are stalls selling street food like kebab and falafel. Along King Faysal street, you can also find some excellent local restaurants. Our favourite place is Hashem Restaurant, a very easy-going place serving tasty bread with local sauces like hummus, baba ganoush and falafel. If you like something local but fancier, we suggest trying the really good Tawaheen al-Hawa restaurant (Wasfi al-Tal Rd, Jubilee Gardens ). Close to the Grand Husseini Mosque, you’ll find Rainbow street, surely more touristic and with many great cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. Click here to find out the best restaurant in Amman and the customers’ reviews.
3. Visiting the surrounding
The best way to enjoy Jordan is to rent a car and self-drive. All the road are tarred and well maintained, and out of the cities, there is light traffic. Click here to find out the prices of the rentals cars in Jordan. Anyways, the local tour operators arrange the daily tour to visit Jerash, Ajlun, the Desert castles and Umm Qais. Also, ask your Hotel reception.
4. Local guide
If you are looking for an experienced local guide leading and arranging your trip around Jordan I suggest you contact Shaher Zayadneh (WhatsApp: +962 777592772, FB: Shaher Zayadneh).
5. Web Platforms
Moreover, if you don’t have much time, I suggest you check on travel agencies such as Viator or GetYourGuide the activities and tours they offer to find what’s more suitable for you to enjoy this beautiful place and its culture.
6. Local Tour Operator
7. Our itinerary in Amman
We started my trip visiting Ajloun Castle, then Jerash ending our day at the Amman Citadel. After the sunset, we had a walk along the Souk and its alleys. The next day we visited the Desert Castles, then, back to Amman, the Roman Theatre and the Souk again. If you have just a day to spend in Amman, we suggest visiting Jerash, the Citadel, the Roman Theatre and the Souk.
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