Lost in Jordan: Amman Mixes Ancient with Modern

City Travel, Hostels, Hotels & Resorts, Jordan, Shopping & Style, Staying There, Tours & Attractions — By on December 21, 2010 at 12:00 pm

By Brittany Gowan, LG Foreign Correspondent

Amman, Jordan is a bustling Middle Eastern city that rises out of the surrounding desert with a traveler’s feast of ornate mosques, historic sights, museums, and modern accommodations. During my recent trip to Jordan, I was in awe of this ancient city, from its amphitheatre and temples to its bustling downtown streets. As an American, I was intrigued by its dramatically foreign culture, language, people, and history. Here are some things to know before you go.

When to visit. To miss the tourist season, spring and autumn are great times to visit the city. When I went to Jordan in October and enjoyed sunny days that ranged from 75 degrees to high 80’s and comfortable evenings in the 60’s. Moderate temperatures made it very easy to get around and sight see. May-July is dry and hot and when many people of the Gulf region travel to Jordan and its capital city Amman. In the winter, Amman experiences icy cold temperatures and snow showers similar to the northern part of the United States.  So pick the time you wish to travel then plan your accommodations.

Where to stay. From the lavish to the moderately priced, Amman’s hotels and hostels fit a variety of budgets.  Referred to by locals as “Jordan’s Hotel”, the InterContinental, with large gates and romantic lighting is very inviting and esthetically desirable. Prices range from a modest $180/night for a standard king size bed to $1000 for decedent suites.  Or to escape the heat and busy streets, plan a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel that combines luxury with picturesque city vistas. Rates start at around $300/night.

West Amman is the newer and more prosperous section of the city where many of the five-star hotels are located. For more affordable rates in a great location try the Shatha Petra Hotel. Double rooms are around $33/night and suites just $10 more at around $44.For travelers on a budget, this hotel is safe and spacious. As a female traveler, I was very comfortable there and would return. For the backpacking mindset, Sultan Hotel in downtown Amman provides beds at $13/night and is centrally located to many of the cities main attractions.

How to get around. Taxis are viable means of transportation for tourists. You can catch a taxi from the airport for around $25 each way. Within the city, cab rides are affordable and shouldn’t cost more than a few JD, $2-$3. For the correct fare, ask the driver to start the meter when your ride begins. Night howls, do note that cab fares double after midnight.

What to do. From the grandeur of its mosques to its eclectic markets and classic Roman ruins, Amman offers a treasure of Middle Eastern history and culture to surround and enlighten the curious visitor. Known locally as the Balad, the downtown area of Amman is where most sight seeing begins. The 6000 seat Roman Amphitheatre built into the hillside is the largest in Jordan. The reward for climbing the staggered theatre steps is magnificent views of Amman’s flat-roofed white homes on the adjacent hillside. Two museums corner the theater; the Jordan Folklore Museum display traditional local life, while the Museum of Popular Traditions shows 6th century mosaics and traditional Jordanian costumes. My visit to the amphitheatre and museum was a time-traveler trip to Jordanian antiquity and culture. The cost to enter the complex is around $2.

Another key historical site in Amman is the ancient Citadel or Jabal al-Qala’a, where excavations have exposed various Byzantine, Roman, and early Islamic remains.  Admission is about $3. The most noteworthy structure of the Citadel is the al-Qasr or “the Palace”.  This building is impressively still intact. The remains of what is thought to be a temple of Hercules stands close by and is now referred to as the Great Temple of Amman. The expansive views from these landmarks show the depth of this modern and historic city.

For must see mosques, start down the street from the Roman Amphitheatre at the King Hussein Ben Talal Mosque, an impressively grand four-minarets structure. Make sure to visit this site during a call to prayer (5 times/day). Regardless of your religion, seeing so many men gathered and praying in such communion is very moving. Also, in this part of town is Amman’s famous Gold Souk, the area between the mosque and the Citadel, that features numerous vendors selling various gifts of gold.

Though not the oldest or most famous, the Mosque of Abu Darwish was my personal favorite because of its alternating black and white stone pattern done in the style of Levantine architecture. This mosque can be seem from other city hills however, while visiting the Citadel make sure to look for a checkered pattern in the distance.

King Abdullah I Mosque is an enormous iconic structure in Amman, which accommodates almost 3,000 faithful during the call to prayer. The blue pattern that adorns the dome is beautiful against the similarity blue sky.

For shopping and street fun, I really enjoyed Souk Jara, located on Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman, an annual event created to raise funds to preserve this historic area. Visitors enjoy live music, food, and local artisans. I found it to be a great place to mingle with locals and sift through handmade wares under a myriad of tents. Souk Jara is open every Friday from May through the middle October.

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