The Amman Citadel. The first of a plethora of sites I visited in Jordan. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer timeline I was to witness, walking through this archeological wonder. We set off from Le Royal hotel along the sleepy, quiet streets of Amman (It was a Friday, their weekly holiday) winding our way up to the highest hill of Jebel al- Qala’a.
Guarded by two lone military officials, the site, thankfully, wasn’t crowded. Walking in, we stopped at the first look out point and were treated to a fantastic view of the city from above. The Greco- Roman Theatre below us was barely discernible in the massive haze of dust that had suspended itself across the skyline. As our guide proceeded to tell us about the various elements we would be seeing, I realised it was among the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. No wonder then, that there were so many different remnants from so many different periods in time.
Neolithic Period (8000- 4000 BC)
The earliest known date of settlement on this hill dates back to the Neolithic period. Not too much remains, but for some early tools displayed within the museum on-site.
Bronze Age (1650 – 1550 BC)
Lying unassumingly by the side of the walking path was a little cave in the road. A tomb dating back to the Bronze Ages, found containing pottery and scarab seals.
Rabbath Ammon 1200 BC
The present-day name of the city comes from the Ammonites who settled here sometime in 1200 BC. Records from the Bible have noted that King David captured this city in the late 10th Century.
Iron Ages 800 BC
Still a part of the time it was called Rabbath Ammon, the Iron Ages were when the first record of the written Ammonite script has been recorded. Within the museum, we found the Amman Citadel Inscription, one of the earliest examples of Phoenician writing on a limestone tablet. Standing there, staring at this piece of stone, and contemplating the sheer age of it was overwhelming.
Greek 331 BC
The Greeks that conquered this constantly changing ancient settlement renamed it to Philadelphia. Ruled in turn by the Assyrians, Babylonians, the Ptolemies, the Seleucids and then onto the Romans.
Roman 100 BC
Walking up to the centre of the site, we arrived at the pièce de resistance. A couple of gigantic columns are what remain of the Temple of Hercules. Studies have proven that this (constructed between AD 220 – 225) was never completed, owing to missing columns (and a bunch of other scientific data that I probably won’t understand) I’ve read that this here, is larger than any temple in Rome, and while I can only try to compare the size of the piece of Hercules’ hand lying here to the Colossus of Constantine I saw in Rome, it certainly does look massive! It was so fascinating seeing bits and pieces of this hero, synonymous with strength, lying bereft of power in the ground.
Byzantine (500 – 600 AD)
The remnants of a Byzantine church, columns and a skeletal foundation sat beside the Ummayad complex. I could barely discern a nave, flanked by rows of columns on either side and the partial remains of the apse wall. Walking around, made me think back to my time in Istanbul, and how amazing it was that their empire spread all the way to this little hill so far away.
Ummayad Period AD (661 – 750)
Walking to the far end of the sprawling complex, a looming dome caught my eye. A remarkable distinct style to the Romanesque elements scattered everywhere, this was the Ummayad Palace. Called al Qasr in Arabic, this impressive structure was previously a royal residence of the Ummayad Arabs. Destroyed in the same period by an earthquake, it was never really rebuilt. Beneath this dome, sat the audience hall, and I stepped in, looking up at the fascinating ceiling, one that had of course been re-created in recent years, but gave a sense of the sheer size of this impressive entrance.
Lying before it, were a network of columns, remnants of the Ummayad Mosque. The open courtyard is large, and is less than a skeleton of the mosque which isn’t aligned to the palace vestibule, but instead to Mecca.
Beside the palace building sat the Ummayad Water Cistern, one that we didn’t have time to explore. There is also a Muslim cemetery around the corner, with stumps of tombstones that remain. This was the period that returned to Amman it’s erstwhile name, one that has stayed on ever since.
Ayubbid Rule 1300 AD
All that remains from the decline of the Amman citadel through the Ayubbid rule was a watchtower that was added here in that time.
The National Archeological Museum
If all these dates and different periods of time are mind boggling to navigate as you walk around the Amman Citadel, the small, on-site museum makes it a lot clearer. Walking through the museum is like walking through a timeline. With shelves showcasing pottery, sculpture and other knick-knacks found in the area, we walked past sections dedicated to the Neolithic, Byzantine, Roman, Hellenistic, Iron Age, Islamic Age, Bronze Age, Chalcolothic Age, Neolithic Age, Stone Age etc.
The next morning, I woke up to better weather. From my window at Le Royal Hotel, I saw a skyline, now cleared of dust and punctuated very clearly by the columns of the Hercules temple up on the Amman Citadel hill. This fascinating site, standing tall, showing us that it is very much a part of Amman’s past and present.
Explore the Amman Citadel in more detail on the Jordan Tourism Board site.
This post was made possible by the Jordan Tourism Board. Opinions as always, are our own.