Jola Chudy takes a whistle-stop taxi tour of Jordan’s ‘White City’, discovering its crumbling remnants of bygone splendour and enjoying a taster of what the modern capital has to offer
1. The Citadel
The hill on which the Citadel rests is a good place to begin a tour of Amman, offering as it does a near-panoramic vista of the city below. Nestled between the densely packed white and limestone blocks and square-fronted houses you can spot the restored Roman theatre, which dates back to the second century, and the distinctive Grand Husseini Mosque, built by King Abdullah I in 1924. The Citadel itself is the site of the Temple of Hercules (main picture), built during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180AD). The impressive Umayyad Palace complex is housed here, as is a Byzantine church, and excavations have also revealed Stone Age remains.
2. Archaeological Museum
Situated next to the temple is the Jordan Archaeological Museum. Although surprisingly small for a museum of such note, it is packed with priceless artefacts that date from prehistoric times to the 15th century, including fragments of Jordan’s famous Dead Sea Scrolls and examples of the earliest known sculptures of human figures, which date back to 7,250BC. The Ain Ghazal statues are made of lime plaster and are in remarkably good condition for their age (see inset image above). Another exhibit which packs a punch is the tattered remnant of a Bronze Age prediction that the end of mankind would be brought about by a misuse of nature. Go to visitjordan.com for more details.
3. National Gallery of Fine Arts
Jordan has a rapidly growing art scene, and Amman has become a focal point for all kinds of cultural activity. Situated near the King Abdullah Mosque, the collection at the National Gallery is one of the most significant in the Middle East, with a permanent collection of more than 2,000 works of art, representing more than 800 artists from 59 countries across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Open since 1980, the gallery focuses on contemporary art, offering a modern perspective on the artistic culture of this ancient city. Visit nationalgallery.org.
4. Fakhr El-Din
After sampling Jordanian culture it’s time to dig into the cuisine. Hop in a taxi down to the second circle, in the heart of the city, and step into one of Amman’s leading restaurants. The ornate interior of Fakhr El-Din is a world away from the dust of the streets outside, and the restaurant boasts an authentic Arabian interior. It is renowned for its fabulous mezze, and the 120-item menu includes traditional meats, fresh fish and vegetable, as well as a mouth-watering selection of desserts. The cuisine is broadly Arabic, although local specialities do feature. Over the years, the restaurant has hosted many celebrities, and today its 170-plus capacity interior and beautiful garden are among Amman’s most popular dining venues. Go to fakhreldin.com.
5. Royal Automobile Museum
After lunch, this little gem is worth a quick visit. Located on a tree-lined hillside to the west of the city, the museum offers an offbeat angle on Jordan’s more recent history. The gleaming vehicles on display date from the era of King Abdullah I to the era of King Abdullah II and are testament to the royal family’s enduring love affair with cars. Pristine models, from vintage Cadillacs to envy-inducing Ferraris and Porsches, tell the story of the country’s pivotal moments through accompanying photomontages and video clips as well as a rare picture archive. Exhibits include a 1952 Lincoln Capri which the late King Hussein used during his studies in England and a 1936 Cord 810 that was a wedding gift in 1955.
6. Mecca Mall
One of Jordan’s biggest malls is last on the agenda. Also in Western Amman, the Mecca Mall is situated in Mecca Street, a major thoroughfare which connects easily to other parts of the city, and contains 490 shops including the biggest pharmacy in the Middle East. Aside from the usual international brands and designer outlets, the mall has several shops featuring local produce, including sand painting, hand-blown glassware, and beautiful Palestinian hand-embroidered rugs, quilts and pillowcases. Although bargaining is the order of the day at smaller, independent shops (usually located in the souks, such as the famous Gold Souk in downtown King Faisal Street), in malls prices tend to be set. Visit meccamall.jo.