Panoramic views , pretty streets and plenty of mansaf , these are just some of the great things you’ll find in Amman. FACT’s Shabana Adam takes in the beautiful architecture, the city chaos and all the great Middle Eastern traditions on a weekend trip to the Jordanian capital…
Beirut, Dubai, Damascus, Jeddah, – for one reason or another, I’ve heard (and even visited some) of these vibrant Middle East cities, but when it comes to Amman, not so much. Jordan’s capital city is not one that has really ever been on the radar, and certainly wasn’t even in the top 10 on my travel bucket list. However, when soaring above the beautiful desert and mountainous landscape, scattered with greenery, into Queen Alia International Airport, I quickly learned that this was going to be an interesting introduction to Jordan.
In all my time spent in the Middle East, I have never quite seen a city that looks like this. Aptly called The White City, Amman is dotted with mostly whitewashed buildings, interspersed with a few brown ones here and there. The skyline is, very obviously, missing the modern skyscrapers that you might be used to seeing elsewhere in the region – this is a refreshing and welcomed scene. “This is because you were not allowed to build more than seven floors high until recently,” explains Mohammed, our local taxi driver. There’s something beautiful about the uniformity in such skylines, and with Amman being a city with many steep streets and twisting walkways, not to mention that it has 56 mountains, you’re always guaranteed a spectacular view.
When in Amman, get stuck in! Start at the citadel, the site of the ancient Rabbath- Ammon, home to striking historical structures like the Roman Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace. The citadel sits on Jebel al-Qala’a, the highest hill in Amman, so expect some pretty magnificent views. Head to the lively downtown for an experience of chaos and culture; there’s a shop for everything. Fresh fruit and veg markets, souvenir stores, traditional Jordanian dress boutiques, thrift shops with vintage trinkets, weird and wacky accessories, furniture, and, literally, everything in between. Most Jordanian women in downtown Amman are wearing the hijab, and though Western women are not expected to cover up at the same level, there will be a few stares if you’re in a dress, but no more than what you’d expect in, say, Souq Waqif. It’s the most traditional part of the city, and the most overwhelming. But, locals are incredibly friendly, you can pick up a bargain, and the street food and juice stalls are some of the best I’ve encountered. THIS is the Middle East – and I love it!
Jordan’s location is an interesting one. To the north is the strife torn Syria as well as Lebanon. To the west is Egypt and Israel, whilst Saudi Arabia lies south and to the east is Iraq. Jordanians are very much aware of what’s happening in their neighboring nations, unafraid to talk about and acknowledge the different situations.
However, one thing that was surprising and heart-warming is just how friendly and peaceful the Jordanian people and their country is. Five days travelling there, meeting the locals and experiencing true Arabian hospitality with real traditions, I can confidently say that I felt completely safe during this magical journey in Jordan.
“…the sensation is that of something so different that you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into another world.”
My first real insight into Petra was the British television programme An Idiot Abroad. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant decided to send their good friend – and typical “little Englander” – Karl Pilkington to visit the Seven Wonders of the World, albeit with a few surprises of local culture thrown in. The episode in Jordan was the first time I saw more of Petra, more than it being just a location used for films like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, The Mummy Returns, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, to name but a few. Karl spent the night in a cave, under the stars, and, surprisingly, enjoyed it!
No matter how many times I’d watched this episode, or Google searched Petra before our weekend trip to Jordan, nothing really prepares you for this monumental place. The second you enter the site and stroll down the winding walkways, cloaked by huge wild rocks, and when you first lay eyes on the Treasury through the Siq, there really are no words to describe what’s in front of you. I remember trying to think of as many hashtags as possible for a photo of our day trip – #beautiful #amazing #stunning #magical – there was just no word strong enough to do justice to the beauty of this site.
Petra is rich in history and tradition. From its archaeological importance as the capital city of the Nabataeans, to its biblical significance that dates back to 7000BC, you can learn all about its intriguing past at the brand new renovated museum located at the site’s entrance. The track into Petra sprawls downhill from the little village of Wadi Musa. First impressions are strange yet spectacular. Weathered rocks, in deep reds and browns tower above you like domes; occasionally you’ll pass the façade of an old tomb in a side valley or come across caves built into the rocks – the sensation is that of something so different that you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into another world.
You absolutely need one whole day to take in every corner of Petra. Hike up the cliff to the monastery; stop by a Bedouin camp for bread and tea; ask a local Bedouin to show you the springs and river, along which they have little vegetable gardens, or get them to put some traditional eyeliner on you – made by collecting the ashes of a burnt tree and mixing these with olive oil – this eyeliner humidifies your eyes and has a soothing effect, allowing Bedouins to protect their eyes from the sun without the need for sunglasses (the makeup industry really should catch onto that one!).
Like most tourist destinations, be prepared for a little bit of heckling from young children selling postcards and trinkets, as well as people trying to give you the “best price” for a horse, camel or donkey ride. A polite “no thank you” will suffice and you’ll be left alone. The best way to explore Petra is on foot, so make sure you’re dressed appropriately – fitness wear or loose-fitted trousers and a shirt, with walking boots or sturdy trainers will do the trick. Keep a bottle of water at hand too (there are plenty of little shops and Bedouin-style cafes inside Petra that sell hot and cold refreshments). If you’re going in the warmer months, take sunscreen and a hat to protect your face, and, of course, don’t forget your camera!
I’d recommend doing plenty of research on Petra before you arrive – it’s an enormous place with plenty to see and do, and you’ll definitely want to make the most of stepping back in time, if only for one day.
GO: Petra is a 3.5 hour drive from Amman. Entrance fee into Petra is JD50. Creative Tours provides return transfers from your hotel in Amman, with professional and qualified drivers. Visit www.creative-tour.com for more information.