Amman Citadel standing guard atop city since antiquity

The citadel is a colourful site, rich in history and boasts a unique sunset overlooking the Roman Amphitheatre in Amman.
Sunday 09/06/2019
A view of the city of Amman (Backgound) from the citadel. (Roufan Nahhas)
A view of the city of Amman (Backgound) from the citadel. (Roufan Nahhas)

AMMAN - Perched majestically on the highest hill of Jordan’s capital, Amman Citadel stands as the guardian of ancient civilisations that left vestiges inside its 1,700-metre-long wall that dates to the Bronze Age.

Used as a rampart protecting the ancient capital of the Ammonites, Rabbath-Ammon — present-day Amman — the citadel went through many construction and reconstruction phases spanning the Iron Age and the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad eras.

It is a colourful site, rich in history and boasts a unique sunset overlooking the Roman Amphitheatre in Amman.

“The site, which is on Jebel Al Qala’a, a hill rising 850 metres above sea level and overlooking the old city, is a popular place with locals and foreigners because of its location and historical significance,” said Bassel Halaseh, an archaeologist at the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

“Many Jordanians like to visit the citadel and enjoy a lesson in history while breathing fresh air and watching the sun set.”

The Jordan Tourism Board said Amman Citadel receives more than 125,000 visitors each year.

“You cannot find a place with so many civilisations that left their marks in a single location. The citadel has this unique diversity that ranges from Assyrians to Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, as well as the Umayyad and Ayyubid dynasties, a truly unique experience,” Halaseh said.

The Roman Temple of Hercules that dates to the second century is one of the most popular attractions at the citadel. On display is a huge hand, which is believed to be from a 12-metre-high statue of Hercules. The temple also includes two 9-metre tall columns among other ruins.

Next to the temple are remains of buildings that formed the Umayyad Palace, built in the seventh and eighth centuries. Most of the buildings were destroyed by an earthquake but the beautiful domed audience hall remains in unexpectedly good condition. The outside courtyard contains ruins of residential buildings and the reservoir used to dispense water to the palace.

“There are also the remains of a sixth-century Byzantine church with pillars, floor plan and mosaics, a true feast to the eyes. The site hosts the Jordan Archaeological Museum, where visitors can admire many excavated artefacts, jewels and statues,” Halaseh said.

“The museum was built in 1951 and hosts some of the oldest known statues in Jordan, such as the Ain Ghazal Statues, which date from 7200-6500BC, are made from lime, plaster and reed.

The Amman Citadel not only gives visitors a perspective of the city’s history but provides stunning views of the area.

“It is simply amazing and the setting is remarkable because one is able to see everything with ease. My favourite part is the numerous early Bronze Age caves that are so mysterious. One can let his imagination go wild,” South Korean tourist Su yuk said.

“And, of course, the big fingers, part of a hand that belonged to a colossal statute from the Roman period near the temple of Hercules are impressive. You can just imagine the height of such a statute, which was estimated to be 12 metres tall. It is a unique experience that you cannot find anywhere.”

Some of the caves used as burial sites date to 2300BC and often have multiple tombs inside. Visitors can take a small step inside through the openings to view the limestone cavities, which were modified for communal burial during the Middle Bronze Age, 4,000 years ago.

French tourist Jeanne Seuve said the rich history of the citadel “makes it very appealing and shrouds it with mystery.”

“We have the Lascaux Caves near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne in south-western France. They are so mysterious and very ancient, too, but visiting the citadel is very appealing and inviting because you can walk easily around the monuments and caves and appreciate every single step towards the church or admire the hand and elbow of Hercules or simply just sit on a bench and enjoy the sunset. Who could ask for more?” Seuve said.

Last year, the Italian Embassy in Jordan began the “Requalification of Citadel-Roman Theatre Trail” initiative, which aligns with the historic role of Italy in protecting Jordan’s heritage sites.

It aims to achieve a comprehensive proposal for requalification and making the pedestrian trail from the citadel to the Roman theatre attractive for tourists and residents by linking two iconic sites of Amman.