Archaeology in Amman: Visiting the Citadel and Roman Theatre

!مرحباً

Amman is an ancient city with a host of archaeological sites, where you can find the traces of different civilisations spanning thousands of years. In many ways, parts of the city feel like a time capsule, offering a glimpse back to civilisations long gone but not forgotten.

The Citadel

The Citadel is located atop of Jabal Al Qala’a in the downtown area of Amman. Sat 850m above sea level, it overlooks the old city and you get a good picture of what the city skyline looks like. You get a great view of the Raghadan Flagpole. Once the world’s tallest free-standing flagpole, it towers 126.8 metres (416 ft) over the city. It flies a 60-by-30-metre (200 by 100 ft) flag. On a good day, it’s visible from 20 kilometres (12 miles) away!

A view of Amman from the Citadel. The Raghadan Flagpole is visible in the top left.
Map of the Kingdom of Ammon and surrounding kingdoms. Source: wikimedia.


The Citadel is home to a number of historic landmarks, including a 1700 meter wall that dates back to the Bronze Age, the iconic Temple of Hercules, and the Umayyad Palace.

Its original name was “Rabbath Ammon” and was the royal city of the ancient Ammonites, an Iron Age nation who lived around modern Amman. The Citadel itself is older than this and dates back to the Bronze Age, though due to the number of consturctions and reconstructions, very little of the original Bronze Age citadel remains today.

The Temple of Hercules

The temple of Hercules, Amman Citadel

Arguably the most well-known structure in the Citadel, the Temple of Hercules is a remnant from the Roman occupation. An inscription dates the temple to the reign of Geminius Marcianus as governor of the Province of Arabia (AD 162-166). The temple is about 30 by 24 m (98 by 79 ft) with an outer sanctum of 121 by 72 m (397 by 236 ft). The portico has six columns, each around 10 m (33 ft) tall. There are also the remains of a statue of Hercules; today, only the hand has survived.

In Roman mythology, Hercules is the son of Zeus, ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus and all the mortals on earth, and Alcmene, the granddaughter of the hero Perseus. He was tasked to perform 12 heroic labours as pennance for murdering his wife and two children. The hand that remains is a symbol of Hercules’ heroic strength.

Other remains of the temple include two complete pillars along with the ruins of four other pillars.

Byzantine Church

You probably wouldn’t know it at first glance, but the Citadel is also home to a 6th century Byzantine church. Not much is known about it, but it’s captiviating to imagine the worship and prayer that happened here around 1600 years ago.

Ayyubid Watchtower

The Ayyubid Watchtower

One of the first structure that you come across as you walk around is the Ayyubid watchtower. Perfectly placed to overlook the city, the tower had a room 9.45 by 7.55 m with single arrow-slits on three sides.

The Ayyubids were the founding dynasty of the medieval Sultanate of Egypt established by Saladin in 1174 after abolishing the Fatimid Caliphate. They ruled Egypt, Syria-Palestine, parts of northern Mesopotamia (the Jazira) and Yemen between 1169 and 1260.

Map of the Ayyubid Sultanate CE 1193. Attribution: Ro4444, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Umayyad Palace

Umayyad reception hall

The best preserved section of the Citadel is by far the Umayyad palace complex. The most striking of the buildings is the reception hall. Its beautiful domed roof was degined to impress visitors. Other Umayyad structures include remains of a mosque, the cistern used to transport water, and residential buildings.

The Umayyads were the first Muslim dynasty, established in 661 in Damascus and succeeding the leadership of the first four caliphs—Abū Bakr, ʿUmar I, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī. It was established by Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān, a native of Mecca and a contemporary of the Prophet Muḥammad.

The Roman Theatre

The Roman Theatre

Located at the foot of Jabal Al-Joufah, the theatre was probably built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138–61). There are three tiers of seats with a total capacity of 6000: the rulers sat on the first, military leaders in the middle, and the general public sat at the top. Accoring to Lonely Planet, “theatres often had religious significance, and the small shrine above the top row of seats once housed a statue of the goddess Athena, which is now in the Jordan Museum, who was prominent in the religious life of the city.”

Restoration of the theatre began in 1957 and non-original materials were used, meaning the restoration is partly inaccurate. Nevertheless, the theatre is stunning and there are great views from the top!

The Nymphaeum

The Nymphaeum. Fountains like this were very popular in Ancient Greece and Rome.

The Nymphaeum is a partially preserved Roman public fountain built in the 2nd century CE, during the same period as the nearby theatre and odeon. This nymphaeum is believed to have contained a 600 square meters pool which was three meters deep and was continuously refilled with water.

When I visited, it wasn’t open to tourists – perhaps because it is currently being restored by students from the University of Jordan, Petra University and the Hashemite University as well as professional technicians, funded by the U.S embassy.

The exterior of the Nymphaeum

There are so many historical sites to see in Amman! In the space of a few hours, you can travel through thousands of years of history and discover the remnants of legendary empires that were once present in the city. If you travel to Amman, it’s well worth taking a day to explore the Citadel and Roman ruins in the city.

Tomorrow, I’m visiting Ajloun Castle – another historic site in Jordan, this time an hour and a half north of Amman. Come back to find out more about that trip!

! مع السلامة

Read more about my year abroad:

Street Art in Amman

Something I’ve noticed recently is that Amman is covered in street art. You can find a lot of it around Jabal Amman and Rainbow Street. Keep checking back here as I’ll update it regularly with art that I find … Continue reading Street Art in Amman

Ajloun Castle

! مرحباً As I mentioned in my blog about Amman citadel, Jordan is a country filled with historical monuments that offer a glimpse into the region’s rich history, and today’s trip was a prime example of this. About 45 … Continue reading Ajloun Castle

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