The capital since 1921, Amman contains about 1 3rd of the population. It was formerly the Ammonite capital of Rabbath Ammon and later the Graeco-Roman city of Philadelphia.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘white city’, Amman was originally, like Rome, built on 7 hills which still form its natural focal points. With extensive modern building projects, Amman is now very well equipped with brilliant hotels and tourist facilities, especially in the jabal (hill) areas.
The central market (souk) is lively, interesting and supplies a taste of a more traditional city. Remains from Roman, Greek and Ottoman Turk occupations are dotted around the city, the main attraction being the Roman amphitheatre from the 2nd century AD in the centre of the city.
There is also the Jebel el Qalat (citadel) which accommodates the Archaeological Museum, the National Gallery of Fine Arts and the Popular Museum of Costume and Jewellery.
Owing to Jordan’s small size, any destination within the country may be reached by road from the capital, Amman, in 1 day.
Once the Biblical ‘Gilead’, Salt is now a small town set in the fertile landscape west of Amman, preserving much of its old character as a former leading city of Transjordan.
Filled with the sights, character, sounds and aromas of an old Arab town with its narrow market (souk), its numerous flights of steps, and its donkeys and coffee houses, it has a friendly, tolerant, oriental atmosphere. 24 kilometres (15 miles) from Amman is Iraq al-Amir, the only Hellenistic palace still to be seen in the Middle East.
Less than 1 hour’s drive north of Amman through the picturesque hills of ancient Gilead is Jerash.
A magnificent Graeco Roman city on an ancient site, beautifully preserved by the desert sands, Jerash is rightly famous for the Triumphal Arch, the Hippodrome, the great elliptical forum, the theatres, baths and gateways, the Roman bridge and the wide street of columns that lead to the Temple of Artemis.
Son et lumière programmes run in 4 different languages (English, Arabic, French and German), whilst other languages can be catered for upon request.
In the far north of the country, Umm Qais, the Biblical ‘Gadara’, governs the area around Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). Once a city favoured by the Romans for its hot springs and theatres, it has weakened to a small village by the time of the Islamic conquests.
The ruins, however, are still impressive, the Acropolis built in 218 BC, the forum, the colonnaded street with still visible chariot tracks and the Nymphaeum and remains of a large basilica.
Elsewhere in the North
Irbid, to the south east of Umm Qais, is 77 kilometres (49 miles) from Amman and is a city of Roman tombs and statues, and narrow streets with close packed shops and arched entrances.
Alternatively, return along the north west border from Umm Qais to Jerash through the lush scenery of the Jordan River Valley, stopping at the town of Al Hammeh, in sight of the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, a town known for its mineral waters and hot springs.
Visitors can otherwise stop at Pella, once a city of the Roman Decapolis, now being excavated, and the hilltop castle of Qalaat al-Rabadh built by the Arabs in defence against the crusaders.
The scenery in this unexpectedly fertile part of Jordan is often very beautiful, especially in the spring when the Jordan Valley and surrounding area is covered in flowers.
East of Amman
Towards Azraq and beyond is the vast desert which takes up a lot of Jordan. Within this dry landscape are the fertile oases of the Shaumari and Azraq Wetland Parks, now run with the help of the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Wild animals once native to Jordan, such as the oryx and gazelle, are being re-established, while the wetlands are visited by 1000's of migratory birds each year. The Shaumari was opened in October 1983 in an attempt to protect Jordan’s dwindling oryx population.
There are plans to open a further 10 wildlife reserves which will cover more than 4,100 square kilometres (1580 square miles). The project is being organised by the Jordanian Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a body which has recently stepped up its efforts to protect the country’s wildlife and to avoid pollution affecting the very busy port of Aqaba. Severe fines are forced on anyone contravening Jordan’s strict laws on these matters.
Also in the east lie the desert Umayyad castles (Qasr) of Al-Kharanah and Amra. Built as hunting lodges and to protect caravan routes, these are well preserved with frescoes and stunning vaulted rooms.