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Secrets of the Citadel...

December 2011

Gail Simmons explores Amman, one of the Middle East's liveliest, least visited and safest cities.

Each time I return, I'm struck by how this once-sleepy town has so rapidly become one of the most sophisticated cities in the region. Ancient even before the Greeks named it Philadelphia, Amman was chosen as the capital of the new kingdom of Transjordan in 1921. Now, it's one of the region's liveliest and most underrated centers.

It's also one of its safest. Since the early days of the Arab Spring there have been sporadic protests in Jordan, but the country has been quiet compared with some areas of the Middle East and neither the Australian government nor British Foreign Office advises against visiting.

As with Rome, Amman was originally built on seven hills but is now spread over at least 19, connected by thundering highways. Rather than attempt to explore the city on foot I always hail a taxi, then get out and walk when I arrive at my chosen district, map in hand.

One of my favorite quarters for an amble is Jabal Amman, occupying an original hill. Populated by Jordan's elite in the early 20th century, it's now a hot spot for students, young professionals and expatriates. I like to stroll along leafy Rainbow and Mango streets, lined with 1920s-built villas, as well as cafes and boutiques, perhaps popping into Books@Cafe to mingle with hip Ammanites.

Amman doesn't have the intoxicating, winding souks and magnificent mosques of most Middle Eastern capitals. But what it lacks in the more obvious exoticism of its neighbors it makes up for in its theatres, galleries, cinemas and restaurants.

However, there is classical culture if you know where to look and to get my fill I head for the old center, called Downtown. Old Philadelphia lies beneath its streets and although there is little to see of the original Greek metropolis, I enjoy sitting on the steps of the Roman Theatre, imagining the old city surrounded by its once-green hills. I always end a visit with a trip to the ancient Citadel, towering above Downtown and the rest of the capital. This is the original city, with its monumental Temple of Hercules, Umayyad Palace, National Archaeological Museum and panoramic views of Amman's jabals (hills).

It's worth spending a few hours at the Citadel, especially in the late afternoon. If I'm still here at sunset, when most other visitors have gone, I'm rewarded with a symphony of sound as the city's mosques serenade with the call to Maghrib (sunset) prayers. Truly one of the most magical experiences in the Middle East.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald www.smh.com


Jabal Amman

Amman Downtown

Amman Citadel