11 Historical Sites in Jordan You Have To Visit (And All The History You Need to Know)

Shante Abdo

Amman Citadel

Amman airport is the international gateway to Jordan, with a capacity for more than 12 million passengers annually. Paraphrasing William Faulkner, to understand Jordan, you must first understand a place like Amman. It’s one of the rare national capitals not located on a river or port. The Eastern Mediterranean coast is similar to the Southern California coast. It’s dry, but the coastal climate has high temperatures of 65 in the winter and 85 in the summer, just a little warmer than San Diego but very pleasant. Mountains rise above the coastal plains, and beyond them is hard desert. In southern California, it’s the Colorado Desert, and in the Middle East, it’s the Syrian Desert. Amman is in the highlands above the coastal plain and rivers but above the harsh desert heat, kind of like Julian, California.

Jordon doesn’t have massive fertile river plains like Egypt or Mesopotamia or the Mediterranean trade routes like Greece, Rome, or Istanbul. Historically, Amman controlled overland trade routes and farmed in the highlands when times were good. When trade collapsed, the city often reverted to tribes of semi-nomadic herders. Amman’s survival depended on maintaining complex relationships with some of the most powerful empires in history. Perhaps this is why some people call Jordan the “Switzerland of the Middle East”.

The Amman Citadel is an archeological site at the center of downtown Amman on one of the seven hills that initially made up the city. The Citadel has a long history of occupation by many great civilizations:

  • 1200 BCE – Capital of the Kingdom of Ammon
  • 8th century BCE – Neo-Assyrian Empire
  • 6th century BCE – Neo-Babylonian Empire
  • 3rd century BCE – Ptolemies
  • 1st century BCE – Romans 
  • 3rd century CE – Byzantines
  • 7th century CE – Umayyads
  • 1516-1918 CE – Ottomans

These civilizations left their mark on the Citadel, including the Roman Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace, the Byzantine church, and the Ayyubid watchtower.

I was astounded to find a full-blown historical site surrounded by a world capital. More than anything, I recognized the Greco-Roman architecture immediately, and, judging from the hands, I could only imagine how big the Hercules statue must have been. Of course, I’ve made that mistake before in my youth, so I’ll reserve my judgment😉. 

What I loved most about the Amman Citadel were the nearby museums. The Jordan Archaeological Museum was established in 1951, right in the middle of the Citadel. It contains artifacts chronologically arranged from prehistoric times to the 15th century. It was evident that the museum was too small, so the Jordan Museum was built in 2014. It’s only a 20-minute walk from the Citadel. Inside its 10,000 square meters interior, you’ll find ʿAin Ghazal statues, some of the world’s oldest human figures ever made, and the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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