Amman, the capital and largest city of Jordan is located in the northwest part of the country, on a hilly area between the fertile Jordan Valley and the desert, and has a lot to offer.
The city has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. It was originally known as “Philadelphia” during the Roman period and has been inhabited continuously for over 7,000 years.
Today, Amman is a modern and cosmopolitan city with a population of over 4 million people, with a beautiful blend of modernity and historical landmarks.
The post below will showcase some of the most famous places in the city as well as wonders in the near desert, including beautiful desert castles and Jerash, the “Pompeii of the East”, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world.
Throughout its history, Amman has been influenced by various civilizations, including the Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, and Ottomans. There is therefore a lot to see there so it is worth staying in Amman for a few days before exploring other stunning parts of Jordan. Here are some of the highlights.
The King Abdullah I bin Al-Hussein Mosque is one of the most significant religious and architectural landmarks in Amman, Jordan. It is named after King Abdullah I, the founder of modern Jordan and the first king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
The King Abdullah I Mosque is known for its impressive and grand architectural design. The exterior features a combination of traditional and modern elements, with a distinctive blue dome and minarets that dominate the skyline of western Amman. The design draws inspiration from Umayyad and Fatimid architectural styles. It is clearly a photographer’s dream during sunset.
The mosque serves as an important religious institution in Amman and hosts Friday prayers and other religious ceremonies. It also houses a library and a cultural center that promotes Islamic arts and culture. You can check the prayer times versus the sunset/twilight to ensure you get the courtyard empty to capture marble reflections.
The interior of the mosque is equally stunning. The main prayer hall can accommodate thousands of worshippers and is adorned with beautiful chandeliers, intricate mosaics, and ornate carpets. The walls are decorated with verses from the Quran and calligraphic inscriptions.
Visitors to the King Abdullah I Mosque are welcome, but it’s important to respect Islamic customs and dress modestly. Non-Muslims are typically allowed to enter the mosque outside prayer times and can explore the architecture and the surrounding grounds.
The Roman Theatre is one of the iconic landmarks in Amman, Jordan. It is an ancient Roman amphitheater that was built during the 2nd century CE, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius. It was primarily used for cultural events and performances, including theater productions and musical shows. The theater could accommodate around 6,000 spectators.
Located in downtown Amman, the Roman Theatre is carved into a hillside, offering stunning panoramic views of the city. It consists of three main sections: the stage, the orchestra, and the seating area.
The Roman Theatre fell into disuse and was buried beneath debris until it was rediscovered in the 20th century during archaeological excavations. Since then, restoration efforts have taken place, and the theater has become a popular tourist attraction and a venue for cultural events and concerts.
The Roman Theatre stands as a testament to the historical significance of Amman and provides a glimpse into the architectural grandeur of the Roman Empire. The citadel hill(see below) provides great viewpoints for it
Souk al Sukar market
Souk al Sukar Market in the heart of Amman (near the Grand Husseini Mosque) offers a maze of narrow streets filled with shops selling textiles, spices, souvenirs, handicrafts, jewelry, and more.
Walking around that colorful souk is nice.
Grand Husseini Mosque
The Grand Husseini Mosque, also known as Al-Husseini Mosque or Al-Husseiniya Mosque, is one of the most prominent and historic mosques in Amman, Jordan. Located in the heart of downtown Amman, it holds great religious and cultural significance.
The construction of the Grand Husseini Mosque dates back to the 1920s when it was commissioned by King Abdullah I, the founder of modern Jordan. As it was in full reconstruction during my visit, I do not have a lot of images there 😢
The Amman Citadel, also known as Jabal al-Qal’a, is an ancient hilltop archaeological site located in downtown Amman, Jordan. It is one of the most significant historical and cultural attractions in the city.
The Citadel has a long history that dates back to prehistoric times, with evidence of human habitation in the area as early as the Neolithic period. It was subsequently occupied by various civilizations, including the Ammonites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Umayyads.
The Citadel’s strategic location on top of a hill offers as well panoramic views of Amman and its surroundings.
It houses numerous ruins and archaeological remains that showcase the city’s rich and diverse past. Here are a few specific landmarks.
One of the most iconic structures within the Citadel is the Umayyad Palace, also known as the “Palace of the Umayyad Caliphs.”
This 8th-century palace complex was once a grand residence and administrative center.
Visitors can explore its architectural remnants, including the audience hall, colonnaded courtyard, and the domed audience chamber.
The Temple of Hercules is, as well, one of the prominent structures within the Citadel complex and holds historical and archaeological importance. It is believed to have been constructed during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), although some elements might predate that period.
It is dedicated to the mythological figure Hercules, who was widely revered in the ancient Roman world. The temple was originally a large and imposing structure, but today only a few columns and fragments remain. These remnants give an idea of its former grandeur.
The temple was likely surrounded by a vast courtyard and featured an inner sanctuary, where a statue of Hercules would have been housed. Unfortunately, the statue and many other elements of the temple are no longer intact.
The Temple of Hercules location within the Citadel offers panoramic views of Amman and its surroundings, enhancing the overall experience.
One of the most beautiful moments is sunset, that some months might be a stretch vs the closing time of the archeological site, but you’ll be able to get the magic sunrays there …
Constructed between 162-166 CE during Marcus Aurelius’ Roman occupation of Amman’s Citadel, the great temple is larger than any in Rome itself. but was never completed, for reasons history has yet to reveal. There is however a hand of a gigantic Hercules statue.
The best guess is that, in its original state, the statue would have measured upwards of 40 feet high, which would have placed it among the largest known marble statues to have ever existed.
Citadel city view
The Citadel’s strategic location on top of a hill offers panoramic views of Amman and its surroundings.
Again, the evening golden hours are when the magic will happen there, so it is advised that you visit end of the day and stay up to close.
If you get bored waiting for the sun to go down, you can observe locals in houses on the hill working with their pigeons.
The art of Arabian pigeon keeping (dating from 1150 when the Sultan of Baghdad established a pigeon-post system) is still visible in the Amman sky in the evening.
Twilight from the citadel hill
While the archeological citadel site will close, you can stay on the hill on the “public side” longer to witness a beautiful twilight over Amman city.
The colors, and lights combined with the prayers sound from the mosques should make this a magical moment.
Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate
The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Amman, Jordan, is the headquarters and administrative center of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Jordan. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world and has a significant presence in Egypt and various other countries. It is situated nearby to the King Abdullah I Mosque.
The best time for photography is as well golden hours around sunset.
An opportunity to capture again a few more pictures of the beautiful King Abdullah I Mosque 😊.
JERASH, the Pompei of the East
Jerash, is an ancient city located in northern Jordan, approximately 48 kilometers north of the capital, Amman. It is one of the best-preserved and most impressive Roman provincial cities in the world, often referred to as the “Pompeii of the East.”
The history of Jerash dates back over 6,500 years, with evidence of human settlement from the Neolithic period. However, it reached its peak during the Roman rule from the 1st century CE to the 3rd century CE. The city flourished as a major center of trade and commerce, known for its prosperity, well-planned streets, and impressive architectural monuments.
Today, visitors to Jerash can explore the extensive ruins that showcase the city’s grandeur and magnificence. The archaeological site covers a vast area. The landmarks below are a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the wonders to discover
At the entrance of the site is a monumental gateway built to commemorate the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Clearly, if you want photos without tourists, I advise you to arrive in Jerash for the opening and start with some of the northern monuments (which are better-lighted mornings as well). Hadrian Arch is well-lighted in the afternoon, so a mission impossible to get it without people 😢
Oval Plaza of Jerash, Jordan
The Oval Plaza is one of the most prominent features of the ancient city. This is a large public square located in the heart of the city and is considered one of the finest examples of Roman urban planning and architecture.
The Oval Plaza measures approximately 90 meters in length and 80 meters in width, making it one of the largest open public spaces in Jerash. The plaza is surrounded by a colonnade, consisting of rows of columns on three sides, while the fourth side is open, leading to the Cardo Maximus, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare.
The colonnade surrounding the Oval Plaza originally consisted of around 160 columns, which were mainly made of local limestone. Today, a significant number of these columns have been restored, allowing visitors to experience the grandeur and scale of the plaza.
The Oval Plaza served as a vibrant center for social, commercial, and political activities in ancient Jerash. It was a gathering place for public events, such as ceremonies, markets, and performances. Again, early morning is the only time you can get that place for yourself 😢.
The Cardo Maximus is one of the main streets in the ancient city of Jerash, Jordan. It was an integral part of the city’s Roman urban plan and served as a vital artery for commerce and movement.
The Cardo Maximus is a north-south-oriented street that runs through the heart of Jerash. It starts at the South Gate (Hadrian’s Arch) and extends to the North Gate. The street is lined with columns on both sides, creating an impressive colonnaded promenade.
Along the Cardo Maximus, there were numerous shops, workshops, and public buildings that were essential for the city’s commercial and administrative functions.
The Nymphaeum in Jerash, Jordan, is a magnificent ancient structure that served as a public fountain and a shrine dedicated to the nymphs, the divine female spirits of Greek and Roman mythology associated with water and natural springs.
Located at the intersection of the Cardo Maximus and the Decumanus Maximus, the Nymphaeum stands as a focal point in the ancient city’s urban layout. It was constructed during the 2nd century AD, during the Roman period when Jerash experienced significant prosperity and growth.
The Nymphaeum in Jerash was built using local limestone and adorned with intricate architectural details. The structure consisted of a semicircular facade with niches, alcoves, and ornate decorative elements. It was designed to impress visitors with its grandeur and to provide a visually striking focal point in the city center.
Temple of Artemis and Propylaeum
The Temple of Artemis was constructed during the Roman period, specifically in the 2nd century AD. It is located outside the city walls, to the southeast of the main ancient city. This location was a common practice for temples dedicated to deities associated with nature and fertility.
From the Cardo Maximus, the Propylaeum (gate toward Artemis temple) provides many photography opportunities.
Don’t miss this courtyard that formed the atrium of the Cathedral and was surrounded by a portico of columns on all four sides.
The courtyard is particularly notable for the hard limestone paving that covers its entire surface and the beautiful square basin that adorns its center, which earned it the name Fountain Court.
Byzantine churches and mosaics
There are some Byzantine elements and structures within Jerash. During the Byzantine era (4th century AD), several churches were built or modified in the city. The Christian community in Jerash thrived, and several churches and religious structures were constructed during this time.
The church’s ruins include mosaic floors and remnants of columns, showcasing the architectural style of the Byzantine era.
Baths of Placcus
The Baths of Placcus are situated between the Temple of Artemis and the Church of St. Theodore and are believed to date from the 5th century AD.
The North Theater is really a beautiful structure not to miss (north of the temple of Artemis Propylaeum).
This large theater could accommodate up to 6,000 spectators and is renowned for its excellent acoustics.
The Temple of Zeus is located on the highest point of the city, known as the Hill of the Temple of Zeus. It dates back to the 2nd century AD and reflects the architectural styles and influence of the Roman Empire during that period.
The temple’s columns were adorned with Corinthian capitals, and the entablature displayed intricate friezes and pediments. The temple’s architectural design and ornamentation are a testament to the skilled craftsmanship and artistic prowess of the time.
That ancient Roman theater could seat around 3,000 spectators and is still used for cultural events and performances. It is very busy by the time I get back there (close to the entrance) so I could not get decent overview pictures beyond some fun groups 😢
So here are some of the main monuments in gorgeous Jerash. Don’t hesitate to look for and photograph the real masters of the city that saw many civilizations striving and then declining …
While Ajloun is not my favorite clearly, I mention it first as it is easy to combine with a day in Jerash. Ajloun fortress (Qal’at Ar-Rabad), is a historic castle on a hilltop overlooking the town of Ajloun and the surrounding countryside.
The castle was originally built in the 12th century by the Ayyubid dynasty, under the leadership of Saladin’s general, Izz ad-Din Usama, and then played a significant role in defending the region against Crusader attacks during the medieval period.
The castle is constructed mainly from local limestone and features a combination of Islamic and Crusader architectural elements. It consists of multiple towers, walls, chambers, and courtyards.
Amra Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the eastern desert of Jordan. It was built during the early 8th century under the Umayyad Caliphate, specifically during the reign of Caliph Walid I (705-715 CE). The castle served as a luxurious desert retreat, likely used by the caliphs and their entourage for recreational and administrative purposes.
The castle’s architecture combines elements of early Islamic, Byzantine, and Sassanian influences. It features a central courtyard surrounded by various rooms, including a reception hall, bathhouse, and living quarters.
The bathhouse is particularly notable for its well-preserved frescoes depicting scenes of daily life, hunting, music, and other subjects.
The frescoes in Qusayr ‘Amra are among the best-preserved examples of early Islamic art. They provide valuable insights into the lifestyle, culture, and artistic expressions of the Umayyad period. The paintings depict a range of themes, including nature, animals, mythology, and even images of rulers.
Qasr Al-Harranah, also known as Al-Harranah Castle, is a historical castle located approximately 40 kilometers northeast of Amman.
Qasr Al-Harranah is an early Islamic desert castle that dates back to the 8th-century Umayyad period. It served as a fortified outpost along the trade routes and played a role in overseeing the eastern territories of the Umayyad Caliphate.
The exterior walls are made of basalt stones, while the interior contains various chambers and rooms.
Qasr Al-Harranah’s strategic location in the desert allowed it to control and monitor the movement of people and goods. Its design and defensive features highlight the importance of fortifications during that era.
Visiting Qasr Al-Harranah provides an opportunity to appreciate the architectural heritage of the early Islamic period in Jordan. It offers insights into the military and defensive strategies employed during that time.
The Azraq Castle (Qasr Azraq), is situated approximately 100 kilometers east of Amman. The castle dates back to the Roman period, but it gained prominence during the Islamic era. The initial structure was built using black basalt stones, which were readily available in the region.
Qasr Azraq holds strategic importance due to its location near the Azraq Oasis, which was a crucial source of water in the desert. Its role in securing water resources and trade routes made it a significant stronghold throughout history.
One of the castle’s notable historical associations is with the famous Arab military leader T.E. Lawrence, popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence used the castle as his base of operations during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
So, I hope that post will engage you to visit Amman and its surroundings If you’re interested in other parts of gorgeous Jordan, you can read my posts around.
the Dead Sea region (LINKS TO COME when articles will be published 😊)