There was a time when Amman was viewed as little more than a stop off point on the way to the more popular destinations of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. An almost forgotten city until it became Jordan’s capital in 1921, it has slowly evolved and developed a character of its own.
Now the ever-expanding capital is full of old and new flavours that will ensure you are kept entertained across a weekend. While it cannot compete with the storied history of many of the Middle East’s most famous cities, Amman is full of charm, thanks to its traditional mosques and souks being joined by modern art galleries, quaint cafés and sprawling malls.
A must-visit for anyone travelling to the capital, the Roman Theatre is the most impressive remnant of ancient Philadelphia. Cut into the northern side of a hill and with the ability to seat around 6,000 people, it was built in the second century AD and once housed a statue of the goddess Athena (which is now in the Jordan Museum).
Full restoration of the theatre began in 1957 and the reconstruction is impressively accurate. Concerts are even held during the summer months, while the best time to visit is in the morning when the light is soft and the crowds have yet to appear.
Another ancient site that continuously proves popular with visitors to the city is the Citadel. Sitting on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel Al Qala’a (about 850 metres above sea level is surrounded by a 1,700-metrelong wall and was occupied throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The most striking sites within the Citadel are the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace. The former was built by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and is home to two giant standing pillars, while the latter is a series of structures that was believed to be an extensive complex of royal and residential buildings that was once home to the governor of Amman.
Many of the buildings were destroyed by an earthquake just 29 years after being constructed, but the remains are suitably impressive and provide a glimpse into what the city looked like more than 1,200 years ago.
There is also a small archaeological museum in the city with a range of rare artefacts for those with an interest in the Islamic faith, as it is home to some 7,000 books, many of which are based on the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.
Explore the modern side of the city by heading to Jabal Al Luweibdeh, a Bohemian neighbourhood that is home to funky cafés, street art and prominent art galleries. Here visitors will discover a complex of three villas that doubles as an exhibition space for Arab artists. It also hosts film screenings amid the columned ruins of a sixth century Byzantine church, while the studios on the first floor lead to a library and rooms displaying contemporary works and even video art.
This area of western Amman is also where visitors will discover modern shopping malls and buzzing bars, while the downtown area of the city is home to mosques, coffeehouses and huge souks where you can grab a bargain – especially if your haggling skills are up to par. Close to this area is The Jordan Museum, one of the best complexes of its kind in the Middle East. Housed in a modern and extremely grand building, there are a series of informative displays that tell the rich history of Jordan from the first people through the Nabataean civilisation to today.