Amman is the capital city of the Middle Eastern country of Jordan. Probably inhabited at least as early as 6500 BC, it has been the home of many ancient civilisations, often seeing different cultures living side-by-side with each other. Now with a population approaching 2 million, Amman has grown hugely since the Second World War due to the enormous numbers of refugees entering the city from Palestine following the foundation of Israel in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, then from Iraq in the more recent Gulf Wars. Originally founded on 7 hills, like Rome, the dramatic expansion means that the city now sprawls over 19. The different districts of Amman take their names from the hills (jebel or jabal) on which they are built.


Amman has expanded hugely in recent years with new districts and building programmes being undertaken for the waves of refugees entering the city. The Balad, the older downtown area, is where most of the tourist attractions can be found. These include the souks (bazaars), museums, ancient buildings and other cultural remains.

Jabal al-Qala’a, the Citadel Hill, has been a crucial military and religious site for centuries and is the ideal place to start a historic tour of the city. This was the location of Rabbath Ammon, the 13th century BC settlement from which the biblical Ammonites originated. Archaeological remains from the Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic periods can be found here. Al-Qasr (“the palace” – although its exact purpose is unclear) includes the remains of a large gateway, a colonnaded street and four vaulted chambers. Nearby, Corinthian columns show where a Byzantine basilica stood in the 6th or 7th century.

Also near Al-Qasr is the Great Temple of Amman, also known as the Temple of Hercules, probably constructed in the 2nd century in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (probably best known as a character in Gladiator). Just northwest of the temple is the Jordan Archaeological Museum, a small building which contains collections of objects from prehistoric times up to the 15th century AD. Perhaps most significant amongst its exhibits are fragments of the 2000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls. There is also a copy of the Mesha Stele, erected by the Moabite King Mesha in about 850 BC to record his military victories. Opening hours are 8.30am to 5pm daily; 9am to 4pm Fridays and holidays.

A few minutes walk to the east is the Roman Theatre, cut into the side of a hill that used to serve as an ancient graveyard. The theatre, built in the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 AD) can seat 6000 spectators and is still used for some events today. Two small museums are located in its foundations: the Jordan Folklore Museum (exhibiting objects from traditional Jordanian life) and the Museum of Popular Traditions, which houses local costumes, including embroidered garments and antique jewellery. A smaller, 500-seat theatre from around the same time stands just to the northeast, probably the venue of musical concerts in Roman times, as it still is now.

Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman is a good area to explore to get the feel of the old city. Many of the old houses have recently been restored and there are several cafés, bars and small shops. Books@cafe combines a bookshop with a coffee bar and internet café (and, incidentally, has a local reputation as a gay bar). The [ Wild Jordan Cafe], located at the top of the Wild Jordan Nature Reserve, offers healthy food and amazing views of the city.

If you run out of things to do in Amman itself, there are several sites of interest within easy driving distance. Al-Maghtas (“the Baptism Site”), on the Jordan River opposite Jericho on the Israeli side, is supposed to be the place that John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Further south, the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea. 40 minutes from Amman you can find beaches to enjoy the ultra-saline waters and try the mineral-rich mud which is said to be good for skin complaints.

30 miles north of Amman is Jerash, known in ancient times as Gerasa, one of the cities of the Decapolis. Jerash is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East and is Jordan’s second largest tourist attraction as a result (after Petra).


Amman is well known for its antique dealers, whose shops can be found scattered throughout the city. Shops in the west of the city will probably be more expensive, though the staff are more likely to speak English. For a different experience, try the Balad (downtown Amman). Here, the shops are filled with haphazard piles of goods. Prices may not be marked and, where they are, can be subjected to enthusiastic negotiation anyway.

Look out for antique brass tea and coffee pots, hand-made Jordanian daggers and embroidered clothes. Olive wood carvings and keffiyehs (the chequered headgear worn by men) are available almost anywhere.


Amman has plenty of nightlife to suit all tastes. After the sun goes down, different clubs offer a wide range of musical experiences, from discos that appeal to the younger population with modern music, to the Arabic music and dance in more traditional places. Many restaurants also put on live entertainment.

Amman’s many [ cinemas] screen relatively up-to-date films. Theatres and concert halls offer plays, ballets and musicals.

Tourist Information

Jordan Tourism Board 1st floor – Kennedy House115 Hammersmith RoadLondonW14 0QH


[ Queen Alia International Airport] is situated 20 miles south of Amman. Flights serve destinations all over the world, including London Heathrow (British Airways, Royal Jordanian).