Amman – Philadelphia of the past

Arriving at Queen Alia International Airport gives you the first taste of Amman – chaotic, busy yet friendly. The airport is about half an hour from the city centre. Jordanian Dinar is the local currency.

Indeed, the first sensory impression of Amman is not visual. The sandy houses that dot the 7 hills, on which the city was built, pretty much resemble one another making up the nondescript city. Nothing stands out.

Amman instead makes up for its bland character by making an impression via olfactory and auditory senses. The roads are filled with smells of perfume or itr which men and women douse profusely, sweet smell from the sheesha and the fragrance from the orange blossom tree in the back gardens. The boys from the hood go up and down the streets playing up the music loud and roaring in their cars. Their love for life is palpable.

Jordan is just 45km to the south of Syrian capital, Damascus, 300 km west of Iraq, about 170 km west of Lebanon, 60 km to Nazareth and 70km to Ramallah in the West Bank – This is the cradle of civilisation.

The country has been fought over for centuries by Babylonians, Nabateans, Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, Ottoman Turks, Persians, Mesopotamians, Arabs and even the Mongols (I would have never known Mongols came this far to conquer the world. I wonder what Alexander would have said – he went eastwards; the Mongols came westwards).

And my contribution to the history in motion – pictures from my iPhone.

Hadrian’s Gate

Jerash or Gerasa – the Roman and Hellenistic ruins are about 49 km from Amman. Only partially excavated, the site is in a state of elegant decay, unapologetically staring into its modern counterpart which lie on both sides of the ruins. Jerash is a testament to the grandeur from the bygone era – a stark contrast to what the forefathers of this land could build in the Holy Land. Jerash was a part of Decapolis – a group of 10 prosperous Roman cities – a Rome away from Rome.

The city has baths, Temples, acropolis, acqueducts, amphi-Theatres, wine and olive oil press, hippodrome, a forum, cathedrals, Byzantine church, synagogue, even a “nymphaeum”: a place for the lesser-known goddesses – the nymphs, with a grand fountain where the nymphs could frolic in. It served the propose of sanctuaries and rotundas.

At the gate of Jerash stands the Arch of Hadrian, which led to the city of Philadelphia, the Hellenistic word for Amman. The old city of Philadelphia, built on 7 hills, has vanished without trace.

King Hadrian is known to have visited the city and even staying in Jerash. The arch was erected to celebrate his visit.

Built in honour of King Hadrian

The Corinthian columns seem like they ere stacked on top of one another like building blocks. They were built to withstand earthquakes though it was an earthquake in 749 AD which unfortunately destroyed a good part of the ancient city. A large part of the city still remains covered under the mounds of soil. (I wonder what treasures one would find if they were to explore). The columns are referred to as “whispering columns” and are meant to bounce even the slightest of whispers.


The nymphs frolic when you are not looking


The Nymphaeum with fountains for the nymphs to frolic. Imagine the water spouting from the arches and into the wide reservoir. The nymphs would have had a ball of time.

There was apparently also a Temple of Nemesis – the spirit of divine retribution which was a significant theme in the Hellinic world view.

Temple of Artemis in Jerash is built on the highest point and would have commanded quite a dominant position in the past. Artemis, the patron goddess of Jerash city, was the Daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo. Artemis is known to assist in childbirth.

The colonnaded street or Cardo (meaning heart) led to the Temple of Artemis; now it seems to channel your line of sight towards the modern day city of Jerash; those from the other side would have such a fantastic view into the Hellenistic past. What a stark contrast! Man is capable of excellence and mediocrity.

A flight of stairs takes you to the Temple of Artemis.

The beauty and the beast – the city of Jerash seen from the Temple of Artemis.

Greek letters from it Hellinistic past. I wish someone can translate it for me.

The Corinthian pillars hugging the oval forum which would have been used for gatherings.

The Hippodrome where many a gladiator fights may have been Organised

Bag pipes in the Holy Land? Jordanian soldiers were trained by the British. Jordan was under British protectorate.

The elixir of life – tea; except in Jordan, you can have copious amounts of mint tea. It goes swell with gossip

The acoustically engineered auditorium where a speaker can be heard from the centre of the stage to the seat furthest from the stage.

I couldn’t tell what the tour groups were talking among themselves.


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