A short hike through the striking city of Amman, Jordan gets you to Jabal al-Qal’a, known in English as the Citadel. (Jabal is Arabic for “hill”, and Amman is built on seven hills.) This is a national historic site with evidence of settlement as far back as the Middle Bronze Age (1650-1550 BC). Numerous civilizations occupied this land. So let’s start with a quick history lesson:
Around 1200 BC, this area became known as the Ammonite capital of Rabbath-Ammon, and there are even several references to this region in the bible. But once the Ptolemaic ruler Philadelphus swung through the region sometime in the third century BC, he decided to re-name the city after himself: Philadelphia.
Later, the Seleucids ruled the city, followed by the Nabateans (most famous for their ancient city of Petra). By 30 BC, the Roman King Herod took over, which meant replanning and reconfiguring the city following the Roman architectural style.
The Persians conquered the city in 614 AD, but they only ruled until 635 AD, when the Arabian armies of Islam overtook them. Philadelphia’s name was then returned to its original Semitic name of Ammon, or Amman.
One of the dynasties most closely connected with the Citdel was the Umayyads. They were the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the Arab Kingdom. The two branches of the family ruled from 661-750 AD.
I won’t go into the entire history of the Umayyads, but suffice it to say that they had great influence over this region and many of the buildings from this era still remain at the Citadel. But I’ll try to work from oldest to most recent for clarity’s sake.
The Temple of Hercules was built during the Roman occupation, and was built in the 2nd Century AD. I love Greek and Roman architecture, it has such a romanticized feel to it.
These columns are from a Byzantine Basilica dating from 5th-6th Century AD. You can see the Temple of Hercules in the background.
The Basilica facing east from the entrance.
A water cistern also dating from the Umayyad period. This was the primary water supply for the governor’s palace.
The remains of the Palace Mosque.
The Governor’s Palace (8th Century AD) is the most impressive building here. The domed roof is a reconstruction, but impressive none-the-less.
Interior of the dome at the Governor’s Palace.
The Citadel also commands wonderful views of modern Amman. This is the view from the Citadel overlooking the remains of a Roman Theater, built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 AD). It’s still used occasionally for sporting events and concerts, and can hold up to 6000 spectators.
The Citadel is also home to the Jordan Archaeological Museum. When we visited, it housed some really spectacular artifacts, including the Ain Ghazal statues, which were some of the oldest statues ever created, and some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They even had the remnants of a table that was believed to have been used to write some of the scrolls. I have to say though, that we were rather concerned by the preservation standards of this modest little museum, housing some truly mind-blowing pieces. I’m happy to report that since our visit, a new Jordan Museum was opened in 2011 and the most important artifacts from the Jordan Archaeological Museum such as the Dead Sea Scrolls were moved there. Hopefully they will continue to enthrall and delight visitors for centuries to come.