Amman’s Citadel continues to embrace a medley of cultures

Amman’s Citadel 4
(Photos: Jude Taha/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Jordan’s capital is home to many hidden treasures, but this one — in plain sight right in the middle of the capital — is far from obscure: The Citadel, or Jabal Al-Qalaa. Every visit still offers insights both old and new into the city Amman was and is, and where it is headed.اضافة اعلان

In January 2019, my mom and I visited the site. After two-and-a-half years aboard, my visit home would have been incomplete if I did not make what was a once-usual trip to the Citadel, one of the many reasons I am fond of the Kingdom's capital.  It is a trip I make every so often, most recently accompanied by a dear friend, on January 5. It was a good way, I thought, to start this year.

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Central to modern-day Amman and historic Ammon, Jabal Al-Qalaa has always provided a sense of comfort; it exudes friendliness and gives a good picture of the history of this part of the land. Admittedly, when I first visited, the purpose was not to learn the history of the civilizations that occupied this height — although the museum remains one of my favorite spots —  the joy I was seeking, and that it offered, was the ability to observe the bustling activity of those visiting to escape or enjoy.

Then (a very brief history)Welcomed by chatter and laughter, and the omnipresent tour guides explaining the history of the site, my friend and I walked to the sweeping overlook, stopping on the way to read the wealth of information on signs everywhere.

Perched on one of the seven hills that make up Amman, Jabal Al-Qalaa is home to a Roman temple, a Byzantine church, an Umayyad palace, and a few other historically significant features.  The Romans must have chosen this, and not any of the other seven hills that Amman, like Rome, boasts of being made up of, because of its proximity to the river (el sel), now covered, that runs along the foot of the hill.

The Temple of Hercules, thought to be the most significant structure in the Amman Citadel, dates to around AD161–166, right in the middle of Roman governor Geminius Marcianus’ time. The Citadel saw the rise and fall of several empires: the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, and Umayyads.

Based on the restored columns and bases, it is believed that the temple rose from a podium of 43x27m (half the size of a football field). Remains (three fingers and an elbow) of a colossal (nearly 12m) marble statue identified as that of Hercules are present near the temple. Based on these measurements, the Citadel would have rivaled in size some of Rome’s greatest legacies. 

These remains are easy to see while visiting. Many stand tall and are all are easily accessible, offering an all-sensory experience.

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Seeing visitors, children, and adults alike, climbing and taking photos by these magnificent remains, one can only feel that they serve as a bridge between past and present civilizations, a unifying thread of what was and what is.

NowThe peaceful site overlooking the Roman Amphitheater in downtown Amman, the graffiti-covered walls and modern structures, and the enthusiastic tourists invite reflection.

The Citadel of Amman is among the world's oldest continuously inhabited places, a marvel that itself offers a human perspective to the historic nature of the site.

So long ago, yet so close to the present; Great civilizations that reached their peak and turned to dust. And so many nations enjoying the same site in a manner that could, and should, become the way we interact with each other: civilly, considerately, mindful of our common humanity.

While visiting, we were treated to a football match by children who settled in the area by the temple and marked their goals with stones. The audience — local and foreign — cheered, just like the crowds at chariot races must have cheered during Roman times, and everybody seemed to have a great time.

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In the museum, jewelry enclosed in glass, similar to that sold downtown nowadays, gave a taste of ancient life. The elaborate pieces, an archaeological miracle now, could have been offered by parents, friends, lovers. They were all tokens of the same feelings we have today.

At the Citadel, maybe selfishly, it seems that barriers drop. Tourists and locals come together. Food and photos are shared without question, and jokes are continuously told. For a brief period, the Citadel fills visitors with a sense of continuity, makes them feels that they, too, play a role in its consistent habitation. And that is its power.

Where it is headedIt remains unclear if the magic of the Citadel is immune to time, although I would argue it is.

During the visit, a tourist stopped us and asked if we could take pictures. She talked about her previous trips and praised the Citadel for “having something special”, unlike similar sites in Greece or elsewhere.

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Right as the sun was setting, a group of Jordanian dabke dancers made their way to a yard by the temple. Music played and they danced again and again. I could not ascertain the occasion, but it did not matter. It was celebration at its best.

And this is where I imagine Amman is heading. Despite political and economic hardships, and regional turmoil, people find a way to come together and celebrate.

The human interaction and local history offered by the Citadel reignite my awe toward Amman, this place where people lived and will live — albeit in different ways — in the past, present, and future. 

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