The fabled seven hills of Amman have given way to about twenty, and the magic of the city has grown as well. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the World and has seen most of the many civilizations that have come through the area.
While most visitors only see the modern Amman, one of the enchanting aspects of the city is how a visitor can turn a corner and find a Byzantine church ruin in a busy shopping district, or see the ruins of an Ammonite fortress tower from the windows of a hotel.
Like its Jabals, or hills, the fortunes of Amman have risen, fallen, and risen again.
In about 1200 BC, Amman became the capital of the Iron Age Ammonites, referred to as "Rabbath Ammon". The Ammonites, thought to be the ancestors of Lot, fought many battles with other regional leaders, and finally were defeated after a 10th century siege. Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians ruled the area over a period of several centuries until, in the 4th century BC, Ptolemy II rebuilt the city, renaming it Philadelphia for a former Ptolemaic leader.
Philadelphia, along with much of the region, was absorbed by Emperor Pompey into the Roman Empire in 63 BC. The city became part of the Decapolis and a prosperous trading center. It became known for its enlightened cultural centers and beautiful architecture. The 1700 meter-long walls of the Citadel, originally built during the Bronze Ages, were strengthened under the Romans and the Temple of Hercules was built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD).
The Amphitheater, Odeon, Forum and Nymphaeum were built downtown. Seating 6000, the Amphitheater was built in the 2nd century AD. The structure had three layers of seating, with the rulers nearest the stage, the military in the middle, and the hoi polloi near the top, closest to the statue of Athena which scholars believe graced the alcove at the top of the Amphitheater. A local story says that an underground tunnel runs from the alcove to the top of the Citadel.
Cultural events are now held here, making it a striking backdrop for theater and symphony concerts. The Odeon is a smaller, more intimate theater, seating about 600 people. It had a roof and was used most frequently for musical performances. The Forum is the square between the two theaters, and was once one of the largest public squares in the Roman world.
It was lined along three sides by columns and on the fourth by Amman Stream. The Nymphaeum was a two-story complex with fountains, mosaics and a swimming pool. It was dedicated to water nymphs.
Amman received a bishopric during the Byzantine period, and several churches were built. The ruins of three churches can be found on the Citadel, on Jabal Leweibdeh, and hidden away in the commercial center of Sweifieh.
During the Islamic caliphate in Damascus, Philadelphia changed its name to Amman and continued to flourish. The Umayyad Palace on the Citadel dates from 720 AD. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD and never rebuilt. Amman's fortunes began to decline when the Abbasids moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. As Karak came to prominence during the Crusades, Amman's importance continued to slide, until it was primarily a place of exile.
In 1806, Amman was reported to be uninhabited. However, in 1878, Circassian refugees began to arrive and settled in Al-Balad, what is now downtown. By 1900, there were 2000 inhabitants. To fill a need, merchants began to move in to the area from Salt, Syria, and Palestine. By 1923, Al-Balad area had become crowded and many people were beginning to build their homes on top of Jabal Amman, which overlooks the area. This neighborhood is where King Hussein grew up, and was a nexus of influential families.
By 1948, Amman's capital had risen to 25,000 inhabitants, but after the 1948 war, Jordan's population rose from 400,000 to about 1,300,000 in a year. From 1972-82, Amman grew from 21 square kilometers to 54 square kilometers. After 1991, and the return of 300,000 Palestinians and Jordanians after the 1991 Gulf War, the city grew again. The on-going Iraq War is the latest event to swell numbers in the city.
Today Amman is a city in sections. The working-class area of East Amman tends to be more conservative and more traditional. West Amman boasts villas and multi-story apartment complexes, modern shopping center and 5 stars hotels and restaurants.
At times, walking through Amman can be like looking back wards through a tunnel, with so much history incorporated into so modern a city. But there is nothing more symbolic of Amman than sitting in one of the new cafes on Jabal Amman, listening to the call to prayer and looking out over to the Temple of Hercules on the Citadel.