Walk Through Centuries of History at the Amman Citadel, Jordan

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:

Background

Around 1200 BC, this area became known as the Ammonite capital of Rabbath-Ammon. 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 chose 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. The city was then replanned and reconfigured to follow 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.

The Umayyads placard

At their height of power, the Umayyad Caliphate covered approximately 4,300,000 square miles. It was easily one of the largest empires in history. Suffice it to say, they had great influence over this region, and many of the buildings from this era still remain at the Citadel.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll try to work chronologically through the buildings at this site.

The Ruins

The Temple of Hercules

The Temple of Hercules was built during the Roman occupation. It was built in the 2nd Century AD, around the same time as the Roman theater below the hill (shown later). I love Greek and Roman architecture. It has such a romanticized feel to it.

Temple of Hercules

The portico’s columns were 33 feet tall. However, there are no remains of other columns, leading archaeologists to surmise that the temple was never completed.

Temple of Hercules Amman Citadel

A close-up of the details still remaining on the columns:

Temple of Hercules Amman Citadel close up

The Byzantine Basilica

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 followed a standard layout of a central nave and two side aisles.

Roman columns, the Citadel

The basilica facing east from the entrance. You can see the semi-circular apse toward the back of the remaining building.

Byzantine Basilica

The Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves were taken from the Temple of Hercules to use in the construction of the basilica.

Bath House

These are the remains of a bath house from the Umayyad period, 8th Century AD.

Umayyad Bath HouseUmayyad Water Cistern

This is a water cistern, also dating from the Umayyad period. The cistern is about 6 meters deep and the walls are up to 2.5 meters thick. The cistern was fed by rainwater through an inlet channel. The stairs to the right of the photo allowed for easy maintenance.

The interior would have originally been coated with plaster to make it waterproof. It could hold up to 1370 cubic meters of water. This was the primary water supply for the governor’s palace, including the baths and latrines.

Umayyad water cistern

The Palace Mosque

This is all that remains of the Palace Mosque. It was built around 720 AD, but an earthquake in 749 AD destroyed much of the building. This section of the wall was re-erected.

Palace Mosque Remains

The Governor’s Palace

The Governor’s Palace (8th Century AD) is the most impressive building here. You can see it here in the distance. The domed roof almost perfectly matches the colour of the sky that day!

Amman Citadel columns and palace

Part of the palace was built on top of older Roman structures. It was built around 730 AD, when Amman was a provincial capital.

The domed roof is a 1998 reconstruction, even though it’s not entirely clear whether a dome actually existed in antiquity.

Governor's PalaceThis is the interior of the dome at the Governor’s Palace.

Interior of Governor's Palace domeThe interior of the palace facing the entrance. Don’t mind the fellow looking into the camera, he was our guide. 🙂

interior of Umayyad Palace, Amman

The Citadel also commands wonderful views of modern Amman. This is the view from the Citadel overlooking  the remains of a Roman Theater. The theater was 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.

view of Roman Theatre from the CitadelThe Citadel is also home to the Jordan Archaeological Museum. When we visited, it housed some really spectacular artifacts. These included 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. But I have to say, we were rather concerned by the preservation standards of this modest little museum. I’m happy to report that since our visit, a new Jordan Museum opened in 2011. 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.

(This post was updated May 2018).

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