Amman PDF Print E-mail
Written by Micah Key and Stephen Langfur
 
  
Article Index
Amman
Philadelphia
Later history


Amman


vestibule of Ummayad palace on acropolis There were doubtless other Roman buildings on the acropolis, but they were replaced. The Byzantines built a small church to the north at a time when Philadelphia was a bishopric. As their power waned in the 6th century, a kingdom of Arab Christians, called the Ghassanids, filled the vacuum. Because their language was Arabic, they avoided the name Philadelphia and reverted to the Semitic “Amman,” which has stuck until the present day.

In the 7th century came the Muslim conquest. The Ummayads built a big palace complex on the northern half of the acropolis, incorporating a Roman temenos. Before the entrance they put a vestibule, which stands out today in its completeness. Facing it across an open plaza are the foundations of an early mosque with a remarkable columned prayer hall. To the right of the vestibule is the cistern that served the palace, reminding us of the perennial problem of water on this height.  At 5 meters deep and 16 across, it could hold 1000 cubic meters (250,000 gallons), which it got from the rain that fell up here.

Large cistern serving Umayyad palace on Amman acropolis The palace itself is huge, but one must use imagination. North of the vestibule was a courtyard, followed by a colonnaded street that dates back to the Romans. On either side an arrangement repeats itself: a square courtyard surrounded by rooms. There are nine of these. At the street's end we enter the main residential palace. One of the rooms has again the shape of a cross. Whatever its origins may have been, in the palace this likely served as the throne room or divan, where the governor of Amman (Ummayad, Abbasid and finally Fatimid) would have held court.  

Before leaving the citadel, we should visit the museum, which has an extraordinary number of treasures in proportion to its size. These include the Ammonite king Yerah Azar pictured above, finds from Jericho, pieces of the Dead Sea copper scroll, and a prophetic text, found in the Jordan Valley, from the same Balaam who appears in Numbers 22 - 25.

Like Philadelphia, the main part of the city after the Muslim conquest was below, but it has been built up over time. The Grand Husseini mosque is visible, however. It is said to have been erected in 640 by the second caliph of Islam, Omar ibn al-Khattab, though what we see today was redone in the 20th century.

During much of Ottoman rule (1517 -1918), the sultans were busy elsewhere, and Amman suffered from the same neglect as did the land west of the Jordan. Earthquakes also took their toll, and by the 19th century it had dwindled to a village surrounded by ruins. In 1878, however, the Ottomans relocated to Amman a large group of Circassian Muslims who had been forced from the Caucasus by Russia. These refugees revitalized the city. So did an Ottoman decision to make it a major stop on the Hejaz Railway, connecting Damascus with Medina. Once again Amman was commercially important.

After the Great Arab Revolt during World War I, Emir Abdullah I, the founder of the Hashemite dynasty, made Amman his new capital, moving his power base away from the traditional capital of Salt to a city without tribal connections. At that time, there were no palatial residences or government offices in Amman, so the new king ran his realm from a train car at the station. Since that time, the city has grown in great spurts, especially after the influx of refugees from Palestine in 1948 and 1967, from Kuwait in 1991, and from Iraq since 2003. The population has swelled to 2.5 million, 42% of Jordan's 6 million. This enormous increase has put tremendous strain on infrastructure, including Amman's eternal nemesis, the water supply.