Amman, October 2, 2009., Friday

Trip Start Oct 01, 2009
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Trip End Oct 10, 2009


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Friday, February 4, 2011

Even before you get up in the morning, Amman gives you a chance to make a better acquaintance of it. Tired as I was after the trip the day before, I wasn't exactly dying to wake up before the break of dawn. But some time around five, or whenever exactly – because at that early hour I certainly wasn’t checking the time – I was waken by the call from muezzin for the morning prayer.

At first I was so shocked that I hardly knew where I was or what was happening to me. When some time later, after I had gathered my senses, I realised what it was, I at first regretted having booked the hotel in the centre of the old town, so close to the Al-Husseiny Mosque. However, after I had listened closely – you have to listen, there is no choice - I realised that the call for prayer didn’t come only from there, but it was coming from many sources, probably from the minaret on every city mosque. They were bit out of step with each other, sometimes like two or three seconds, but basically they made sure the whole city heard them.

I don’t know how long it took them to get through with it. Five minutes? Ten minutes? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that every second it took them was one second too long for me.

And speaking of long, it took me a long time to fall back asleep.

On the whole, how long I was going to stay in Amman largely depended on whether I’d be able to arrange an excursion to the Dead Sea from my Amman hotel or not. Or more to the point, under which conditions I’d be able to do it. The thing is, you dish out sixty JDs and off you go. They’ll find you any ride you want for that money. But that was not the point. Not being Bill Gates, I preferred to be a bit more economical about the whole issue. In other words, I’d put out a word at the reception on my arrival. In case there were other interested parties so we could pool the financial resources and split the total cost fourways, or at least threeways, I’d pitch in. If not, I’d forgo this Dead Sea thing for now and look for another arrangement elsewhere. And later. So when I came down to breakfast, I first inquired if there were any signings for the excursion. The guy at the reception told me that there was one lady who kind of expressed a general interest, but nothing by way of really committing herself. In other words, even if he wouldn’t write the whole thing off just as yet, the chances were that tomorrow morning I would be moving on.

That was just one more reason to put this day in Jordanian capital to a good use.

Fridays in the Muslim Middle East are what Sundays are in the Christian West. So if your first daily encounter with Amman happens to fall on Friday morning, you’ll be excused for thinking that Amman is a somewhat sparsely populated place. In practical terms it meant, for starters, that all the banks were closed and if you had to exchange some money – like I had – you had to do it in one of those exchanges offices like Western Union or something. And that meant parting with insolently high commission. But that’s how you learn. No one could better explain to me why next time when I fly to a Muslim country I’d make sure that my first day there isn’t Friday.

Same as last night, my exploration of Amman started on Al-Malek Faisal Street. In the beginning I decided to go uphill to the left, in the opposite direction of the Al-Husseiny Mosque, just to see what an Amman neighbourhood looks like. Al-Malek Faisal is a four-lane drag, cut down the middle by what would have been some sort of pedestrian pavement if it didn’t have a fence-like metal partition and a row of tall palm trees down its middle. Add to it lampposts at regular intervals, and you realise that this pavement has enough obstacles to not be a real pavement after all. I guess its purpose was, in fact, exactly the opposite – to prevent people from crossing the street at will, as maybe they otherwise would.

In any case, the people outside were still relatively few, the shops just started opening and the street life was yet to get into gear.

Amman is probably one of the darlings of the West, when it comes to the region of Middle East. They say it’s one of the most westernized cities in the Arab world and an average westerner usually appreciates an exotic character of a place only to a certain extent. He actually likes to feel a touch of home away from home and to know that he can fall back on the familiar when things get too different.

But Amman does have its own, unique heart and soul which is, in fact, the least you can expect from a city that has been around longer than most of the cities anywhere in the world. Based on one of the largest Neolithic settlements ever discovered in the Middle East, some claim the first inhabitants were here as early as 6500 B.C. Others, probably in a minority, push that figure even further back, all the way to 10000 B.C. or so. But either way, whenever the first settlers came, they never left again. However long this city’s history, nine millennia or twelve, just having been there all the time is a feat of its own, separate order.

At one point in history, it stopped being a settlement and transformed itself into the city, becoming the capital of the Ammonites, the people known to the Bible, too. But this area has always been too volatile for the things to stay calm and as they were for too long. What we are witnessing there today is by no means a treat of modern times. Conquerors, real and would-be, have been a constant feature in this neighbourhood. Some were celebrities like King David while others were just a support cast, at least in the eyes of an average human. In any case, they kept kicking each other out from the town with hope that precisely they would be the ones to stay.

But, even if at certain periods some seemed to stand a better chance than others, no one really pulled it off. So they just kept ousting their predecessors in an endless succession of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Nabataeans, Romans, Bedouins, Ottomans… So one would think that the fact that the city changed its name only once during the course of millennia comes almost as a surprise. It went from being Ammon to Philadelphia to going back to today’s Amman.

Not surprisingly, it had its ups and downs in the course of history. It kind of grew until the Romans came around. Then it really flourished and turned into a significant trading centre and a beauty of a town. Then Amman’s fortunes declined and the Crusades sent it off on a downward spiral, having it reduced to almost just the historical ruins. Under the Ottoman Empire, Amman couldn’t do any better than to just remain an insignificant backwater, and had in not been for the Bedouins, it would have probably gone entirely deserted. But it survived, its population slowly trickled back and by the time they established the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Amman was declared its capital.

And now, in addition to numerous archaeological sites it accumulated over millennia, Amman has expanded and flourished to become a modern, lively, commercial metropolis of well over two million people.

Amman is a hilly city. If you want to leg it, then you are condemned to going up and down all the time. There’s no way of going around it. But of course, I didn’t mind. And those who did, well, there were enough taxis around to hail yourself one. However, the direction I first struck, didn’t seem to offer anything by way of the spectacular. Of course, there were always a lot of little gems if you knew how to look. There were little street cafés, slowly filling up with guests for a morning coffee. Or whatever they drank. Occasionally, even if Jordan is one of the most moderate and westernized Arab countries, you could spot an odd local in an ankle-long white robe, or a lady wearing black hijab. But also – and definitely more often – teenage girls, or those in their early twenties, dressed up according to every rule of western fashion, complete with tight jeans and high heels, with only a headscarf as a concession to their traditional culture. There was a coffee shop where an elderly gentleman ground coffee beans and prepared the coffee the traditional way. And a bit down the road, there was a coffee shop and a restaurant, all in one, with a decades-old film projector on the pavement by the entrance, with a 35-mm celluloid reel, ready for projection.

I saw a building which housed a police station, decorated with portraits of Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his late father King Hussein. Up on the first-storey balcony there were two police officers who chatted in a relaxed manner and watched over the street below with just a mild interest at best.

There were women’s fashion shops, some in line with western fashion, some with traditional Arab fashion. There was a bookshop which didn’t display the books on any shelves or stalls, but rather on the pavement.

And so on until I reached the Al-Husseiny Mosque again. People – men, more to the point – started gathering around it and I assumed the prayer time drew near. Street vendors set up shop around it and for the first time I started to have a feeling that eventually I would witness a real oriental crowd in the course of time. I entered the Hashemi Street and passed by the mosque. Unfortunately, no matter what the "Lonely Planet" said, as a non-Muslim I couldn’t go in and have a look.

But now I was for the first time in an Arab souq, here in downtown Amman, and even if it was Friday, the hustle and bustle were picking up. Now majority of the shops were open, selling all sorts of goods, those you need and even more of those you’d never need. Hashemi Street was jammed with cars, so pavements were increasingly difficult to navigate. But of course, that’s what the beauty of a souq is all about.

Whoever once visited an Arab souq knows that it’s an immensely thrilling place to be. It’s a significant facet of local social life, usually crammed in a narrow space or a small area, teeming with people. Jordan is a country which heavily depends on tourism and Amman sees a handsome number of foreigners on a daily basis. So it’s not like everyone was staring at me and treating me as an exotic creature. But Arabs are open, friendly and communicative and most of foreigners receive a fair share of greetings and attempts to strike up a conversation whenever they mingle with the crowd. With my camera hanging off the strap around my neck, every now and then people asked me to take their pictures. The policemen, the bakers, the fowl vendors, the passers-by. Every time I duly obliged.

And then, at one point a big, burly Arab with a stubble of a beard got in my way and said something in – Russian. Why exactly in Russian of all the languages, I’ll never know. I’ve never been told that I have Russian facial features, whatever that may mean, so I guess his reasons were not that. Anyway, as I am not a Russian speaker, I resorted to the language of globalization and replied in English:

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“Where are you from?” he asked without much introduction. I told him, he beamed and said aloud:

“Dobar dan!”

Now it was my turn to get surprised because the greeting he’d just offered me is how we say “good day” in my own language. Which, just by the way, isn’t exactly among the most widely spoken languages in the world. So meeting an Arab who can say “good day” in Croatian on a street in the Amman souq was quite something. But my surprise wasn’t about to end there. The guy went on speaking – Croatian. Not the most fluent of all the varieties, but fluent enough to keep a decent conversation.

Needless to say, hardly a minute or two later, we had a fair number of passers-by who stopped passing us by, and instead stood around us, following the whole exchange with prodigious interest.

“Let’s have a drink!” the guy invited me. In Croatian. I hesitated for a moment. I had already been out in the streets of Amman for nearly two hours and yet almost everything worth seeing in the city was still ahead of me. But then again, this was an opportunity too good to pass up. First, a local guy. And second, a local guy who of all languages spoke – my native language.

I nodded.

“What’s your name?” the guy asked me. “I am Jazer.”

We shook hands and he took me only a few metres down the Hashemi Street to a small café, very basically furnished, with just three or four metal tables without as much as a tablecloth and only plastic chairs. There was a TV around which a few guys were gathered and watched something I couldn’t find interesting for the life of me.

And there was a fair number of water pipes. Or nargilehs, as they call it locally here. So for the first time in my life I was seeing something that I’d often read about when I’d read about the Arab world. Here I was in a tiny joint, most certainly closer to being downscale than upscale, where people gathered to do what Arabs had been doing for centuries as part of their culture and tradition. To socialise smoking the world famous water pipes.

Jazer asked me if I’d like to smoke some. I tried to decline as politely as could, not being entirely sure what turning down such an offer really meant. Would he be offended?

But he didn’t seem to be. He accepted my explanation that I was a non-smoker in stride. Chalk it up to my unfounded fears or the fact that Jordan has seen so many foreigners that nothing foreign can stun locals much any more, Jazer just said he would smoke one, though. But I would have a drink, of course?

“Yes, a bottle of water, please.”

“Something stronger, maybe?”

“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s so hot outside. Water would really be the best.”

All along our conversation went on in Croatian. His was broken, but quite understandable. Of course, my natural question was where he’d learned it. Not only is Croatian not that widespread, but it’s also by no means one of the easiest foreign languages to learn. Ask those who tried.

“I was a soldier in the UNPROFOR peace mission in Bosnia and Croatia,” he said.

Right. It made sense. Jordan was one of the countries that had sent troops there during the war to take part in the UN peace-keeping mission.

“And my wife is Bosnian,” he added.

OK, it figured now. He learned the Croatian while on his peace-keeping mission and afterwards wasn’t left without an opportunity to practice it on a daily basis.

“So which language do you use with your wife?”

“Arabic, but she doesn’t speak it well, so we speak Croatian sometimes, too.”

And so he told me how he’d met his wife during his duty, how they’d married and how they’d even spent some time in Croatia.

“Where exactly?” I asked.

“In Opatija.”

Now, Opatija is one of the most famous Croatian resorts – easily making it into the top three there – and just ten kilometres away from my hometown. So I know the place inside out. Jazer was very happy when he heard that I lived nearby as he could evoke his memories from the time he’d spent there himself and count every single spot he remembered, clearly relishing the fact that I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“I would like to return to Croatia to settle there,” he said at one point.

“Is that right? I mean, you are home here, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said. “But life there is so good.”

As if I didn’t know. However, my curiosity extended beyond Croatian borders:

“And how about Bosnia?”

He wasn’t so sure about Bosnia at first. But after a short consideration, he added:

“No, not in Bosnia. I’d like to live in Croatia.”

Well, I suppose it made sense. As his wife was a Bosnian, he could’ve moved to Bosnia any time, and yet he was still in Jordan. So it was obviously in line with what he was just telling me.

He asked me if I knew how he could get a permit to live in Croatia. I said I wasn’t sure because it was my impression that we had a relatively complicated policy towards foreign nationals.

“But many Bosnians have Croatian passport, too,” I added. “I don’t know the exact procedure, but if your wife, too, could get a Croatian passport, that’d be all you need to come over.”

I asked him if they visited Bosnia on anything like a regular basis. He said that they did. Not every year, but they did.

“And your wife? Does she wear a headscarf?”

“Here in Jordan, yes. But when we are in Bosnia, she takes it away.”

Inevitably, since he’d been a soldier there, we came to the political issues, as well. I was very surprised to hear him speak with anger and indignation against the Serbs. After all, I myself, a Croat, have tried to keep in mind the fact that in every country there are both good and bad people and if Serbia perpetrated a military aggression on Croatian soil, it still didn’t mean everyone there condoned it. And Jazer, a Jordanian, should have been by definition neutral on this point. But he wasn’t. Quite likely less than me.

“Once I saw a bus of tourists here in Amman,” he told me. “And I recognised the language. So I came up to them and asked where they were from. When they said they were Serbs, I just turned and went away. I would have nothing to do with them.”

I wouldn’t comment. But yes, I was surprised. OK, if he spoke a really good Croatian, he would have recognised that they had not been Croats. Even if that particular issue was beside the point now. The only explanation I had for his attitude was his wife. Coming from Bosnia, where war had left deep scars, and even some as yet unhealed wounds, I could imagine her resentment and I assumed that it had simply rubbed off on Jazer. Such things happen naturally.

And so on we chatted. It was just a matter of time before we touched on the Palestinian question, as well. I told him that I honestly believed the Palestinians should have their own, internationally recognised state.

“I mean, no one can expect Israelis to go up in smoke or disappear in thin air, but no one can expect that of Palestinians, either. The way I see it, the world should help Palestinians get their own, sovereign country, just as everyone else has it.”

Jazer was obviously pleased with my stance as he was a Palestinian by heritage himself. He told me that more than half of Jordanians have some Palestinian blood, either directly or hereditary.

At the end, we exchanged phone numbers. To my surprise, he had no e-mail address. Well, I suppose there are still such people. He insisted that I ring him up when I return to Amman. I said I would, provided it wouldn’t be just shortly before the flight back home.

He would’ve chatted on like that with me for much longer. But it was nearly two o’clock already and I still had an entire city to explore ahead of me. So I really had to excuse myself, telling him honestly that I would really wish to see some of the sites. He understood and I finally left after a strong and earnest handshake.

And so off I went up the Hashemi Street. It wasn’t a straight walk, though. Jazer wasn’t the only guy in Amman interested in a chat with me. Every few metres somebody would stop me, out of curiosity as to where I was from or to ask to have a picture taken. And also, I saw a fruit and vegetable market, with a number of people selling domestic fowl or birds like pigeons in cages to boot. As such spots are, without exception, hilariously interesting in every part of the world and let alone in an Arab souq, I had to stop by.

Yet, eventually I did find the first real ancient archaeological remains in the city, the Roman Nymphaeum. They say this nymphaeum is often overlooked by visitors and come to think of it, no wonder. When you pay attention, you do see one or two Corinthian pillars that once upon a time would have soared over 10 metres high, though not any more. You also see a stone arch and some walls that two thousand years ago could’ve been rather imposing.

But you will be almost excused if you miss it because, like many of the archaeological sites across the country, the Amman Nymphaeum, was damaged in a devastating earthquake that shook the region many centuries ago. However, as opposed to some others, nobody seemed to care much about this particular one and in short order it fell into disrepair. In addition to it, residential blocks were built all around it, crowding it in ever tighter and looming all over it. Only recently the Jordanian Department of Antiquities took up its restoration and I witnessed some ongoing works to preserve the site.

However, at the same time it meant that the site was fenced off, there was some heavy construction machinery inside, quite a few garbage containers outside and, just as I say, if all that made you believe this was just a regular construction site, nobody would hold it against you.

The thing that probably got your attention first was a brown signboard which clearly indicated this was the Nymphaeum or Roman Public Fountain, dated 200 A.D. and once decorated with columns and statues of nymphs.

In principle, nymphaea were built over caves or grottoes, first natural and later artificial ones, with running water, which were believed to be sacred to mythological nymphs. Particularly those of water springs. In Roman times they lost their strictly sacral purpose and extended it to recreational use, as well. With time these structures became the areas of public gathering and started to be seen as a sign of a city’s wealth and standing. In other words, the ancient Philadelphia was no orphan in the Roman Empire.

With this Nymphaeum my tour of classical Amman in effect got under way. Hardly three hundred metres from there, there was another ancient monument, this time a much more spectacular and better preserved Roman Theatre.

However, in order to cover three hundred metres in Amman, it often takes you much longer than you’d think at first. For starters, on the corner of a residential building in the Hashemi Street I discovered a small shop where among other things you could buy postcards. I picked a few and when I was about to pay, the old guy behind the desk said:

“I have some Iraqi money. Would you buy some?”

And even without waiting for my answer, he produced a few bills which at first, superficial glance looked as if cut out from old, brownish newspapers. Of course, I viewed them and with curiosity at that. I might imagine that there were people who in the light of the ongoing war in Iraq, which dragged on well past the “mission accomplished” point, would find it intriguing and cool to collect a few bills and show them off back home. But then again, what after you show them off? You’d stow them away in some drawer where they would languish forever forgotten. Until the day when you decide to clear the junk, that is.

So I thanked him and left just with postcards.

Hilly as Amman is, Hashemi street is on both sides flanked with slopes full of residential buildings, most occupied, but an odd one still under construction. And huge number of them sported portraits of both King Abdulah II and his late father, the King Hussein.

Approaching the Roman Theatre, I was at one point greeted by two chatty guys, probably in their late thirties or early forties. They were seated on a low wall at the edge of pavement, spoke some broken English and asked me to take a picture of them. I did as they requested and then we engaged in a small chat. However, we hardly got started when from just a few metres away one guy interrupted us angrily and told me to stop talking to them. I looked in his direction and saw him sitting with two kids and another, much older man. At first I tended to ignore him, but he wouldn’t let go. The two guys that had first called me fell silent and I went over to the guy who interfered.

“Don’t talk with them,” he said scowling. I felt a bit irritated, wondering who on earth he thought he was, but at the same time I did my best to hide whatever I felt. I wasn’t here to make enemies. Particularly not on their own turf.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, pointedly smiling.

“Don’t talk with them?”

“Why?”

“They are not good!” was his explanation. And at that moment I realized that, in fact, he was concerned about me. For some reason he thought those two guys were up to a swindle on me and he deemed it necessary to protect me. When I smiled this time, it was a genuine smile. I answered:

“Oh, don’t worry. I believe that most of people are good.”

He shook his head vigorously and rejected my claim:

“Believe only God!”

Before I could say anything else, he literally barked on two guys again and, miraculously, they got up and cleared out of there. Whether they were really getting up to something, I would never know. But honestly, their sudden departure surprised me. However, whatever they might have – or might have not – had on their mind, I was again protected by Providence.

And then I came to a less-than-an-oversize park which contained a few water fountains, one or two charming cafés – and an entrance to the famed Roman Theatre of Philadelphia. Or today’s Amman. This park is, in fact, all that’s left of the Forum, once one of the largest public squares in Imperial Rome. Once upon a time the square was flanked on three sides by columns, and on the fourth side by a stream, but today almost everything lies underneath the modern streets.

On the whole, it’s a small miracle that they wouldn’t charge you more than just 1JD there. I visited places elsewhere which cost ten times as much and roughly offered the same. And all this in Jordan, which is by no means a cheap country.

And not only that. For this price you get not only an access to the Roman Theatre, but two museums to boot. And to top it all off, there is the Odeon, too, adjacent to the theatre, but in a way maybe it doesn’t count because you can visit it for free anyway.

There are conflicting claims as two when the Roman Theatre in Amman was built and by whom. Some, probably in a majority, claim it was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, some time around 150 A.D. But there are others who place it some fifteen or twenty years later, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the wise and restrained intellectual, whom most of the people nowadays probably discovered through Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning saga „The Gladiator.“

I started my visit to the site with the Odeon. That too is a theatre, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s a 500-seater, dating back to the same time the Roman Theatre itself was built, and restored as it has been, it’s nowadays occasionally used for concerts.

Since the museums were included in the admission fee, I saw absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t visit them, as well. Even, truth be said, they can’t be accused of being anywhere near spectacular. At best modest, both in size and by the contents on display, they wouldn’t be worth while if they stood on their own. But I guess someone in the Amman City Council knew that, so they wisely included them in the whole package.

One of them is the Folklore Museum which houses a collection of items illustrating traditional Jordanian life as well as old black-and-white photos of old Amman. The other one is the Museum of Popular Traditions with exhibits of traditional costumes, jewellery, face masks and so on.

And then it was on to the Roman Theatre, undoubtedly one of the highlights of Amman. Restored today, it is the most obvious and impressive remnant of Roman Philadelphia, even for people like me who don’t know much about archaeology. Cut into the northern side of a hill, it’s cracked up to have a seating capacity of 6000. They built it on three tiers. The lowest one was for the ruling elite, of course, the bigwigs who sat closest to the action. The soldier boys had for themselves the middle section, and the general public sat perched, squinting, way up the top.

And way up the top was where I set out to go, minding my every step up the 33 rows of ridiculously steep, well worn and slippery stonework. I suppose in order to retain the air of authenticity, they don’t even dream of setting up a railing or something which you could hold on to while on your way up, or probably even more while on your way down. That’s probably as well. But if you don’t want to use the short-cut by taking a rolling tumble from somewhere up, you should really be careful when you negotiate the stairs. Whoever has the fear of heights and is on the first-name terms with vertigo, they should think twice even before setting their foot on the first stair.

Once up there, though, you’re treated to a magnificent view. Not only of the theatre which, restored as it is, is again in regular use for theatrical and entertainment productions. But also of the western Amman hills – well, some of them, at least – crowned with the Citadel in the distance, another historical landmark which I aimed to visit later. And interestingly enough, even if Amman is a really bustling city, perched high up on the last stone spectator row, I could bet that most of the noise of the city was strangely muffled and subdued. Chalk it up to my imagination, or real acoustic miracle, it was like that.

And so I found myself a spot in the shadow, had a snack and decided it was a good place to take a rest. To write a diary entry, take a few pictures and simply meditate before moving on. It functioned perfectly for a few minutes. For even if there was always a steady trickle of visitors coming in, they were nevertheless sparse enough that you were under no threat to feel crowded. Unless they came up to you on purpose, that is.

Which is exactly what happened to me.

While I was taking it easy up there, I noticed two young, thin and swarthy lads. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to them as they didn’t stand out in any particular way among the rest of visitors. But as they were gradually closing in on me, I was increasingly aware of their presence. Eventually they decided they wanted to socialise.

And for that, they picked me.

Yes, they were young, both with a gossamer of a moustache on the upper lip. Tentatively, they started a chat and I found out they were guest workers here in Jordan. One was an Indian and the other a Bangladeshi. They had been in Amman for several months now, working on construction sites and Friday was their only day off in the week. It turned out they hardly knew Amman at all and even if they’d been around for quite some time, this was their first visit to the Roman Theatre. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that they were expected to visit it once a month. But I visited it on my first day in town.

My guess was that the lads were simply underpaid and whatever they earned here in Jordan, they were sending it all back home, leaving only the most basic of the basics for themselves. In that light, 1JD for an entrance here looked entirely different.

They asked me where I was from, when I had arrived and what my plan was.

„I will go to the Citadel now,“ I said.

„The Citadel?“

„Over there,“ I pointed into the distance towards the remains of the Citadel across the valley between two hills.

„We’ll go with you!“ exclaimed the Indian, the more courageous of the two. The poor guys obviously didn’t know how to kill the time on their day off. On one hand, I was sure they were looking forward to every new Friday. On the other, I was prepared to bet that every Friday morning they had a problem on their hands as to what to do until sundown. So today I could be the solution to their problem. Or could I?

Not really, if they asked me. So I said:

„No problem. But you should know I’m not taking a taxi over there. I’ll go on foot.“

You didn’t have to be a geographer to know what it meant. It entailed several kilometres of hoofing it up, upslope most of the time, because there was no bee-line up to the Citadel. It was going to be a long detour under the still baking hot Amman sun. And I didn’t lie. I really meant it.

That was enough to deter them.

I would’ve stayed on a bit longer if the guys were not there now. Even if they realised they were not that desperate for my company to follow me all the way to the Citadel on foot, they enjoyed it enough to seek all ways to continue our conversation for a while longer. But I wanted to be alone. And also, I couldn’t afford to spend another hour – or however long – and not see at least those most important sites, now that I was here. So a bit prematurely, I stood up, wished the guys all the best and left.

Not far from the Roman Theatre there is the Hashemite Square, a large open space dominated by a modern, no-name mosque. Well, it’s probably not nameless at all, but I couldn’t find any references to it, so it was my assumption that even if it looked imposing, it didn’t belong among the most significant ones in town.

Somewhere near the Hashemite Square and that large mosque I crossed the Hashemi Street, stepped into a maze of hilly side-alleys and began my climb towards the Citadel.

They say Amman was built on seven hills, or jabals. Today, though, the entire city area spans no less than nineteen of them which are an enchanting mixture of ancient and modern. The city just keeps growing, practically in leaps and bounds, because whatever happens in the area – and the area can’t be more unstable than it is – steady streams of refugees, first Palestinians and now Iraqis, first come to seek shelter in this relative oasis of peace and stability.

Almost all of the houses I passed by or saw were either white or very close to it, gleaming in the gradually softening sun. In accordance with the local architecture, they were all flat-roofed and many sported white satellite dishes. I was now passing through an unmistakeably residential area and every street and alley boasted rows of cars parked along its either side. Very few of them were not new, sleek and glossy. Maybe I was just in a rich neighbourhood. I didn’t know Amman to know for sure. But according to what I could see, people here were quite well off. There was no doubt about that.

On my way to the Citadel, at one point I arrived at a location which was kind of on the spine of the hill the Citadel itself was on. So I could take in a magnificent view of this magnificent city, both to the south in the direction of the Roman Theatre and to the north to further Amman hills. What I could see from up there was outright impressive. They say the Jordanian capital can’t hold a candle to the likes of Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad. From where I stood I could only wonder what they were supposed to be like, then. Because what I could see below me in all directions, and further beyond, up more distant hills, was both a truly fascinating and at the same time charming city.

Right there on top of the Citadel Hill I decided I liked Amman very much.

I did reach the Citadel eventually. I am still in the dark as to whether they charge you any entrance fee there. I didn’t try to sneak in. I never planned to do it. I just followed what to me looked like the main road, where there was a number of buses who were constantly shipping foreign tourists in, and where I assumed had to be some kind of gate, ticket booth and so on.

Instead, suddenly I found myself among the ruins without anyone having ever asked me anything.

It’s not like I was jumping fences or crawling below wires or something. I noticed absolutely no obstacles on my path. It’s simply that all of a sudden I found myself all alone on what never stopped looking like the most natural way to follow, and nobody else was around me any more. Well, wherever I may have entered, I was at the Citadel.

The first thing that gets your attention at Jabal al-Qal’a, as the locals call the Citadel, are the mostly broken, and yet impressive pillars of what is thought to have been a temple of Hercules. In fact, that’s the first thing you notice anywhere in the city where you can see the Citadel Hill from. At least when it comes to it, there seems to be no doubt that it was built in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Today it is also often referred to as the Great Temple of Amman and is currently under restoration.

But this ancient Citadel where Amman was once born has much more to offer than that and up there lies a layer upon layer of history, all in one spot. So next to the Temple of Hercules there are the remains of a Byzantine Basilica with a double row of Corinthian columns leading up to its site.

And best preserved of all, and arguably the most striking, is what they simply call Al-Qaser or the Palace. That’s a building dating back to the Islamic Umayyad period, which means the period of the Umayyad Caliphate, the second of the four major Arab caliphates established after the death of Muhammad.

Finally, to top it all off, on the premises you can find the Jordan Archaeological Museum. I would have gone in and checked at least a collection of Dead Sea Scrolls that’s kept inside. Of course, there are other exhibits, too, maybe some of them more interesting to other people. But I would have liked to see those Scrolls because, at least according to some sources, they shed an additional light on Jews, Essenes and even Jesus. Not that I would have been able to read them myself, of course. But you can’t read Rosetta Stone, either, and yet people visit British Museum in droves just the same.

However, it was Friday today and on Fridays they roll the visiting time back, so at 4 p.m. they call it a day here. And I arrived exactly when they were about to shut it down until tomorrow. So at least as far as I was concerned, those Dead Sea Scrolls would have to wait until the next occasion presented itself.

I lingered around for a while for some more views and some more pictures from up there and then, my sightseeing mission more or less complete, I started my climb down into the Old Town. And Old Town, or the historic city centre, is in fact East Amman. Traditional as it is, with an obviously strong Arabic and Islamic character, I congratulated myself on the choice of my hotel, because it was located there.

West Amman, on the other hand, is the current economic hub. That’s where you find shopping centres, expensive hotels, bars, and international restaurants. Jordanians like to brag about it and point out at its existence as a mark of Amman’s being one of the most liberal and modern cities in the region. I may imagine there are visitors who like it there. Like business people, probably, who don’t waste much time on sightseeing and strolling through the maze of steep and narrow alleys. Or like expats, particularly western ones. But I hadn’t bought my flight ticket to Jordan in order to be able to say that I tasted western-style shopping in Amman. I had all the western-style life I needed back home in the West.

Maybe I would visit West Amman one day. But not now.

Not today.
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