Saturday, February 21, 2015

A King, a mosque, and other ancient ruins

Today we ventured out to discover some of the history of Amman. Obviously, one day is not a sufficient amount of time to do a thorough job but, with the expert guidance of Abu, we tried to use our time wisely!  We visited the Citadel, including the Roman Theater, went to Jerash, and finally to the Dead Sea.  It was a busy day and, once again, full of history and wonder!

We went to the King Abdullah I Mosque in downtown Amman with the hope of getting inside.  It is a beautiful blue-domed building built as a memorial to the grandfather of the late King Hussein.  It can house @7,000 worshipers with an additional 3,000 in their courtyard.  There is also a women's section that can accommodate up to 500 worshipers.  All women are required to cover their hair and everyone must remove their shoes if they plan to enter the prayer hall.  Of particular note:  this is the only mosque in Amman that openly welcomes non-Muslim visitors.  It also houses a  museum.  Unfortunately for us, it wasn't open...the first time we visited the mosque, it was prayer time and closed to to the touring public.  Our bad luck...

From here we headed up to the Citadel, in the center of downtown Amman.  In Arabic it is known as Jabal al-Qal'a and evidence proves that it is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited places.  Like Petra, the Citadel was occupied by many memorable civilizations.  The buildings that we saw were from the Byzantine, Roman and Umayyad periods, this last one being the period of the first Muslim dynasty. The Umayyads were first rulers of the Islamic empire and passed down that power within their family, ruling between 661 and 750 AD.  They were the most powerful empire of that time.  However, their downfall was threefold: they were not direct descendants from Muhammad, their dreadful mistreatment of non-Arab Muslims was intolerable, and their contentious practice of handing down power from father to son soon revealed its influence on their demise.

The views from the Citadel were astounding and divulged Amman's status as a thriving city with a population of over 4 million.  The foundation wall remnants can still be seen surrounding part of the site.

The ancient name of Jordan's capital of Amman, which dates back @7,000 years, was Philadelphia.  Read from right to left to see how the name of the capital city of Amman changed throughout the centuries as leadership of the area changed.

Archaeologist have been working at this historic site since the 1920's.  There is much work to be done, many mysteries to be solved, and connections to be made.  The cost for this work is overwhelming and slow to progress. 

Surrounding the Citadel are the remains of the foundation walls enclosing the heart of the site. There are many areas where repairs and overlays of newer civilizations can be seen.  The drop to the street from the hill of the Citadel is significant.  Notice the iron bar fence protecting visitors from slipping down the ancient hill.

The major buildings at the Citadel are the Temple of Hercules...

Many of the designs on the pillars and walls surrounding the temple were designs from nature.  Our guide pointed out one of the plants whose design was reproduced.  Below is the plant and its recreation on one of the pillars.

The Byzantine Church also claims much of the attention at the Citadel.  It was constructed during the 5th or 6th century A.D.  At this time, Amman was called "Philadelphia" and had been renamed after the Ptolemaic ruler, Philadelphus, in the 3rd century BC.  

The interior of the Umayyad-era Byzantine Church vestibule was painted and plastered in its original form.  The dome has been recreated using wood, as the weight of recreating it in stone was a concern.  

Since 1920, there have been archaeologist from France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and Jordan working on this site.  It is another massive historical project in Jordan and the potential for excavation and discovery are is the expense.

We continued to venture down to the Roman Theater, located near the center of Amman.  It can be seen in its entirety from the hill of the Citadel.  This structure could seat @6,000 people and was oriented to keep the sun from the spectators.  It was also designed so that everyone, regardless of where they sat, could hear the actors in the round. 

The area surrounding the Roman Theater is busy with traffic and pedestrians.  As is true all over in Jordan, large photos of King Abdullah and his son, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, are displayed. The prince is next in line for the throne.

The Roman Theater was the centerpiece of Roman Philadelphia and also the focus of the late 19th century development of Amman. Here we found some original Roman paving and the Corinthian colonnade that provided a space for the market place between the street and the theater, itself.

This structure was built between 169 and 177 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Its design is genius, as there is a spot in the middle of the semi-circle where one can stand, speak in a normal speaking voice and the echo of your voice will be heard throughout the theater.  If you step off this spot, the echo of your voice no longer exists.  While we didn't try it, legend says that 2 people crouching down at opposite ends of the orchestra can mutter into the semicircular stone wall below the first row of seats and can easily hear each other!  

The Citadel could also be seen on the hill from the Roman Theater.

There is so much to tell about Jerash and the Dead Sea that I will continue this day in the next post.  But are my two friends from the ladies room at the Roman Theater.  We found the people of Jordan eternally friendly and helpful...a country full of beautiful people.

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