Amman Travel Guide
It was a sparsely populated, mud-bound farming village before Emir Abdullah chose it to become his new capital in 1921. Amman has dramatically improved from an insignificant, dusty village to a bustling metropolis. It is a constant presence in Amman's downtown area that offers a sensory experience. The weight of history needs to be added here, unlike in many Middle Eastern cities, where Ammanis' self-reliance and intelligence prevail. The impulse behind Ammanis' dynamic self-reliance is often displacement: many people who call themselves 'Ammanis' are displaced people from other nations. Many Circassians, Iraqis, and especially Palestinians have come to the city because they either came here by choice or were forced to do so - and recently, a mixture of post-war Syrians and Libyans. Combining their unique cultures with the Bedouin culture is a challenge. Amman, in reality, hides a cluster of distinct personalities.
Brief history of Amman
Amman has been occupied for over nine thousand years, beginning with a Neolithic settlement near the Ain Ghazal spring to the northeast of the current city. In addition to being one of the most significant Neolithic settlements in the area, three times larger than contemporary Jericho, its two thousand residents produced statuettes and figurines in limestone and plaster, the earliest of their kind ever found, which are now on display at the Jordan Museum.
Amman during the Old Testament
Around 1800 BC, during the Bronze Age, the hill now known as Jabal Al Qal’a, which overlooks the central valley of Amman, was fortified for the first time. According to Genesis, the area was inhabited by giants before the thirteenth-century-BC arrival of the Ammonites, named as descendants (along with the Moabites) of the drunken seduction of Lot by his own two daughters. By 1200 BC, the citadel on Jabal Al Qal’a had been renamed Rabbath Ammon (Great City of the Ammonites). It was the capital of an amply defended area that extended from the Zarqa to the Mujib rivers.
Rabbath – or Rabbah – is mentioned many times in the Old Testament; the earliest reference, in Deuteronomy, reports that, following a victory in battle, the city had seized as booty the great iron bed of King Og, last of the giants. Later, the book of Samuel relates that, around 1000 BC, the Israelite King David sent messengers to Rabbah with condolences for the death of the Ammonite king. Unfortunately, the Ammonites suspected the messengers were spies: they shaved off half their beards, shredded their garments, and sent them home in disgrace. In response to such a profound insult, David sent his entire army against Rabbah. However, he stayed behind in Jerusalem to develop his ongoing friendship with Bathsheba, who soon became pregnant. On David’s orders, her husband Uriah was placed on the front line of battle against Rabbah and killed. David then traveled to Rabbah to aid the conquest, threw the surviving Ammonites into slavery, and returned home to marry the handily widowed Bathsheba. Their first child died, but their second, Solomon, lived to become king of Israel.
The feud between neighbors simmered for centuries, with Israel and Judea coveting the wealth gathered from lucrative trade routes by Ammon and its southern neighbors, Moab and Edom. Without military or economic might, Israel resorted to the power of prophecy. “The days are coming,” warned Jeremiah in the sixth century BC, “that a trumpet blast of war will be heard against Rabbah of Ammon.” The city would become “a desolate heap” with fire “destroying the palaces.” In a spitting rage at the Ammonites’ celebration of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BC, Ezekiel went one better, prophesying that Rabbah was to be occupied by bedouin and to become “a stable for camels.”
A map of Amman can only provide half the story because the city comprises hills. Even if distances appear short on paper, traffic and people are funneled down streets often situated on valley floors or clinging to the side of cliffs: to reach any destinations above Downtown, you will generally have to zoom up sharp slopes.