Get Cultured: Amman – Exploring the History and Culture of this Ancient City
We caught up with Luma Qadoumi, co-founder and General Manager of BeAmman.com to learn more about her city’s history, its fascinating sites and to get to the heart of Jordanian culture.
On your first day here, seeing this is a must: The Citadel or Jabal Al Qala’a,one of Amman’s most beautiful sites, sits on top of the highest of the city’s seven original hills and is thought to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places. Dating back 7,000 years, the Citadel is a breathtaking open-air museum that has endured wars, earthquakes and the occupancy of numerous leaders over time. One of the best times to see the site is during sunset, when kids living in the neighborhood are out flying kites. Stop and chat with them, they will tell you more about Jabal Al Qala’a than any tour guide would!
Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”… You must put your walking shoes on and walk around Downtown, check out the gold market, the spice markets, the fruit and vegetable markets, buy a hatta (kuffiyah) — the national head dress that can also be used as a scarf — buy sugar cane juice, Kunnafeh (a local dessert), grab a grilled kebab sandwich or a falafel sandwich, and haggle and negotiate prices for souvenirs and clothing. The buzz of Downtown is the real Ammani experience.
For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: Yellow Taxis. Cab drivers are usually intrigued by visitors to the city and are very helpful. Get ready to hear some stories, their two cents about Amman and the country at large and of course their music! Cab drivers in the city can be quite moody; they may stop and may not, they may accept taking you to your destination, but may not. Make sure not to get too carried away with conversation and forget to tell them to turn on the meter!
You can also hop into a white taxi or Sarvees ““ a word derived from the English word service. This shared cab ride has specific routes and is cheap; just get ready to be crammed in with strangers.
I had my best night’s sleep at: The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea of Jordan, a 40-minute drive from Amman. The Dead Sea is the world’s saltiest body of water and one of the most serene places on earth. Known for being a destination for relaxation and medical therapy, the sea’s natural mud can be extracted from its banks. Be sure to smother on some, as it’s believed to be filled with beneficial nutrients. Then wash it off by floating along the soft ripples of this salty body of water. There is around 8 percent more oxygen in the Dead Sea, due to high barometric pressure ““ so take a deep breath, exhale, and enjoy the beautiful sunset and warmth.
During your time in Amman, stay at either the Heritage Hotel on the buzzing Rainbow Street, Bonita Inn on 3rd circle (home of Las Tapas Latinas bar), or the Al Qasr Metropole Hotel, which is home to three of Amman’s famous restaurants.
The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: It is so difficult to choose a specific spot in Amman — the city is known for its amazing local food. Check out Sufra for true Jordanian cuisine and Umami for Asian fusion. Books@café (Abdoun branch) is great for a light quick meal and try Fakhreldine for true Middle Eastern cuisine. One of my favorite places to have dessert is at a little hole in the wall called Tamreyet Omar next to the 2nd circle. Tamreyet Omar has been around for 35 years, serving Tamreyeh of course, which is fried semolina. I know it sounds weird, but the taste is phenomenal!
Best place to find artisan handicrafts: In Amman’s most touristy sites, it is difficult to find local handicrafts that are not made in China. Instead, check out the numerous initiatives that help empower women and less-fortunate families through handicraft co-ops. Visit The Jordan River Foundation on Rainbow Street, a beautiful showroom in one of Amman’s old homes. Another great spot is Silsal a leading local design house that has been creating tableware, furniture and ceramic artwork for more than 20 years (located next to the 4th circle).
Local celebration not to be missed: Eid Al Fitr, the feast observed at the end of Ramadan (festival of fast breaking) is a time to give back to those in need and celebrate the completion of Ramadan with family and friends. The morning of Eid, people go out to visit family and friends. On Eid, children receive numerous gifts, money and sweets. The city is decorated with beautiful lights and everyone is decked out with their new outfits to highlight the festive spirit.
Favorite pastimes: There are many activities in Amman that don’t involve eating or drinking such as flying kites at Jabal Al Qala’a, riding horses at one of Amman’s many stables, rock climbing (indoor or outdoor), go-karting, discovering new view points and taking pictures of the city — its people and sites — and learning to cook traditional Arabic Food at Beit Sitti. Check out BeAmman.com for more information.
Photo by Mohammad Asfour
For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here: Jordan is a desert, but when we find greenery we get super excited! Amman has a few parks like Ghamadan Park, Sports City trails or King Hussein Park, but the truly beautiful scenery is overlooking the vast mountains and valleys from mountaintops like Tal Al Rumman, Um Qais, Fuhais or Mahis, which are a short drive from Amman.
The art/music scene is alive and well here: Jabal Al Luweibdeh is one of Amman’s up and coming artsy areas, with several different art spaces and galleries. Check out Darat Al Funun, Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Dar Al Anda and Makan House, a cozy art space for exhibitions, film screenings, performances, music and more! Many startups have sprung from Jabal Al Luweibdeh and several artists have set up their workshops on the old hill. Make sure to check out our famous local t-shirt designers Jo Bedu (also located in Jabal Al Luweibdeh).
Photo by Basil Mohammad
Where the locals get tipsy: There are several great lounges and bars in Amman. For amazing views, visit Cantaloupe, which overlooks three of Amman’s seven hills, the Citadel, Downtown and east Amman. (They have great food too!) For a more casual setting, visit La Calle, a sports bar right next door that is loud and grungy and always fun! You can also try The Corner’s Pub on the 2nd circle; 7 Barrels on the 4th circle; Loft lounge on the 2nd circle on warmer days; and O-Six rooftop lounge for great views of the city. For more of a club scene, try flow in Abdoun and Cube on the 2nd circle, known for 80’s night on Wednesdays.
Photo by Piers
If I had only 24 hours to explore Amman I would: Start at 1st circle and walk to Rainbow Street — a block filled with cafes, restaurants and small shops (approximately 1.5km long). Don’t start too early as some shops may not be open; 10 a.m. would be an ideal time. Start off with tea from Turtle Green or Strada Cafe at the first half of Rainbow Street. If you’re hungry grab a falafel sandwich from Falafel Al Quds. Towards the end of Rainbow Street and past Q restaurant you will find The Jordan River Foundation Showroom on your left, an old house built in 1936, which sells different handicrafts. All products sold are part of the Foundation’s community empowerment program. Further down on Rainbow Street you will find Gerard’s which has some amazing ice cream. Keep walking towards the end of Rainbow Street and you will see a sign on an electricity pole pointing towards The Soap House, take a left turn into the small alley and ask for Dina the ethos to hear the story of the Soap house.
Walk back up Rainbow Street and take a right after Duinde Cafe to get to Wild Jordan Café, a stylish and modern café that serves a wide array of healthy meals (organic and local products used for most dishes), and has many vegetarian options. The café has a magnificent view of Old Amman and the Citadel. Stop by their Nature shop before you leave to find some natural products made by locals.
Photo by Baker Stass
From Wild Jordan ask for directions to walk down to Al Balad (Downtown Amman) and stop by Habiba for some traditional sweets of Jordan such as Knafeh, Baglawa, Warbat, or whatever your eye catches! Take a walk over to the Gold Souq (Souq al Dahab) and explore the shops around it that sell clothing, perfumes, spices, olive soaps and other traditional souvenirs. Once you are done with your shopping spree, walk over to the Roman Theater downtown, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138 161 CE) and seats 6,000 spectators. Conveniently, there are two museums next to the theater, one is the Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions and one is the Amman Folklore Museum.
Now set off to the Citadel on Jabal al Qala’a (you can take a taxi, which should be no more than 1JD) or take the stairs across from the Roman Theater and walk up (takes about 10 – 15 min). Around the Citadel, you can find The Jordan Archeological Museum, the Byzantine Church and the Umayyad Palace complex.
By now, you’ll probably be hungry, so head to Blue Fig in Abdoun for some good salads or their pizzas and mana’eesh; Huwara in Khalda; Sufra on Rainbow Street for some traditional Arabic cuisine; or Romero on the 3rd circle for great Italian food.
About Luma Qadoumi
Luma Qadoumi is the co-founder and General Manager of BeAmman.com a website launched in July 2011 that aims to promote the city of Amman to tourists and locals. Prior to BeAmman, Luma worked for 4 years in agriculture and commodities trading at BroadGrain Commodities in Toronto, Canada. Luma graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Business Management in 2006 from the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. During her university years she was highly involved in the Model United Nations & International Relations Programs, she has served for 2 years as Deputy Secretary General of McGill’s Model UN conference and was voted Secretary General of the largest Model United Nations conference in North America. Luma takes pride in being the co-founder of The Amman Model United Nations Conference, a renowned MUN conference in the Middle East. In 2003 Luma graduated from the Amman Baccalaureate School and is a recipient of the El Hassan Gold Award and the ECIS Award for International Understanding. Follow Luma on Twitter: @LumaQ / @BeAmman
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