Things to do in Amman Jordan: The Oldest City in the World

By Abi King | Jordan

Jan 29
Things to do in Amman Jordan Oldest City on earth

Things to do in Amman Jordan Oldest City on earth

Great Things to do in Amman, Jordan

Visit The Citadel

The citadel is to Amman what the Statue of Liberty is to New York: a city-defining icon (although that is where the similarities end.)

Instead of a tall green fire-bearing maiden, Amman's citadel involves crumbling stones and walkways through scented gardens and a curiously large hand.

The grounds are fairly spread out but more manageable than Jerash and key points to catch are the Byzantine church, Umayyad Palace and the temple of Hercules as you are walking around.

The best time to visit is just before sunset when the crowds are thinning, the air turns peachy-pink brushed with twilight and the calls to prayer mingle with the sounds of the blare of car horns as commuters try to get home for the day.

Eat Hot Knafeh on the Street

As described above! Probably the easiest spot to find knafeh is at Habibah Knafeh on Al-Hazzar Street.

Walk Down Rainbow Street

The marmite experience of Amman, you'll either love Rainbow Street. Or hate it.

Beloved by visitors and bursting with ice cream, this area that runs from the First Circle to Mango Street decorates its pavements with small shops and optimism (or cynical capitalism, depending on your point of view.)

Take A Traditional Cooking Class at Beit Sitti

Learn how to make traditional Jordanian food with your own bare hands under the careful tuition of Maria, a life force to be reckoned with.

Nestled into a quiet street with a beautiful view across Amman as the lights flicker at night, I enjoyed this so much, I went there twice.

Feel Intellectual at Jabal Al Weibdeh

Wander around one of the oldest and most atmospheric areas of Amman in Jabal Al Weibdeh, the city's hub for artistic, linguistic and musical machinations. As befits such a district, you'll find plenty of coffee shops in which to soak up the literary atmosphere.

Wealth poured into this area when Amman became Jordan's capital in 1946 and many of the buildings from that period have been renovated into artsy creative areas instead. Check out Fann Wa Chai, for example, a renovated old house that now works as an art gallery and creative space instead.

When in the area make sure to see the famous landmarks including Khalid Shoman, Paris Square, and Darat Al Funun.

Amman: the oldest city in the world?

Now, London, and even New York, have influenced world history over the centuries but they're spring city chickens when compared to Amman in Jordan. As one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, in one of the spiritual hot spots of the world, Amman's family tree kicked off over 9000 years ago and it's never let's up.


It's like an Old Testament line up: Ammonites, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians and Nabateans before we even catch up to around 2000 years ago and the entrance stage right of the Romans.


Architecture abounds, as do the legends, scattered across the sands and through the fertile valleys that reach the Red Sea.


Yet for all the architecture, the woven threads and glinting coins in the museum beside the amphitheatre; the hilltop citadel with the fallen hand of Hercules and the monumental Greco-Roman city of Jerash...what stood out on this particular visit was hot, orange and came served on a paper plate...


Knafeh.

 

The Story Behind Knafeh, Amman

Everywhere has them, I suppose. The naughty but nice hot streetside foods that define a city, to my tastebuds at least.In London, it's roast chestnuts, steam smoking into the winter sky while amber embers blaze. In New York, it's bagels, my first plaited bread sticks studded with cubic salt. Singapore surprised with the ice cream sandwich and in one of the oldest cities in the world, it was knafeh.

Knafeh in Amman 

Knafeh, like the stone and sand of Amman itself, has a deliciously rich history (and flavour, but we'll come to that in a minute.)

It's claimed across the Levant (a term that broadly incorporates modern day Jordan, Israel, Syria and the Lebanon) and it's often bright orange.

It's also delirious with calories as a butter-soaked slab of cheese rolled or pressed between syrup-soaked angel hair and sprinkled with rosewater and chopped pistachios.

Piping hot, it's butteringly eye-wateringly delicious, (though the taste decays as it cools.)

Still, that doesn't matter. It's a snack to be shared on the run in the nooks and alleyways of the city as workmen and city men, veiled women and those with bouncing curls congregate for fleeting moments in the oldest city in the world (more or less.)

See, that's what I love so much about knafeh, roast chestnuts, bagels and even currywurst.

They're all flavours of great old cities that are still very much alive.

Disclosure

I travelled to Jordan as part of iAmbassador’s #GoJordan project in partnership with Visit Jordan. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like and eat what I like. And I did like that knafeh. Mmmmm...

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Having just been to Lisbon it has to be pastel de nata but I’m off to Dubai on a food themed trip soon and my taste buds are already doing somersaults with delight just at the thought.
    Back to Amman, what a thrill to explore such an ancient and fascinating city. I hope you’ll be writing more from here soon.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, yes! Plenty more. Such an incredibly rich – and friendly country.

  • Corinne says:

    I loved Jerash. Gorgeous site. Really, all of Jordan is pretty awesome!

    • Abi King says:

      Yeah, I agree! Jerash was incredible – it was just so BIG! Unfortunately, at the time I had trouble walking still after surgery so I couldn’t get around it all. But simply the parts I saw were staggering.

  • Daniel says:

    Yum, I assume you went to Habibeh for the knafeh. :). Thanks for sharing about your Jordan experience, people need to hear how friendly the people are and how wonderful the food is!

    • Abi King says:

      Yes! Oh, thank you so much for providing the name. I was a little jet lagged and lost at this stage. Cheers. Yes, very friendly people – and amazing food!

      • Daniel says:

        Ha, yeah, the one in the alley downtown? I went a few weeks ago and the line was out all the way onto the street. All the best.

      • Abi King says:

        Yep, that’s the one! And a sneaky google image search under the name confirms it. Thanks a lot – love the idea behind your tours by the way.

      • Daniel says:

        Thank you. I’ve been following your travels for awhile, since your first trip to Jordan! All the best.

  • I love how you you describe Jordan…makes me want to go….I will never forget the winter chai milky cinnamon sweet tea of India..drinking it while sailing in a simple row boat on the holy Ganga river. is a lasting memory. A risotto I had in Rome has not been surpassed…and lomo saltado in Peru according to the recipe of a friend of mine in Ollantaytambo gained me much respect when I recreated it back home in Ireland.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah…well I’ve loved my time in Jordan so I’m keen to encourage you to go! You’ve really brought back some memories with that talk of chai…I never made it to the holy river but I remember shivering in Delhi, waiting for a train to Jaipur (foolishly, I’d assumed it would be hot and had nothing suitable for the frost and snow that covered the region.) Then someone walked along, calling out “chai! chai!” I was so grateful, it was so sweet. Congrats on recreating flavours back home. I try, but let’s just say it hasn’t been a strength of mine so far!

  • Sophie says:

    I love the Middle East; the stark, unforgiving, yet ever so weirdly appealing landscape – somehow reminds me of winters in Norway, only at the other end of the temperature spectrum.

    Then there’s the city life, the food, and not least, the people: I’ve met the most hospitable, warm and generous people in the Middle East. Haven’t been in Jordan since my uni days, too long to contemplate….

    • Abi King says:

      So lovely to hear so many people having such good experiences in terms of warmth and generosity – because that’s not the reputation that’s spread about the news! Interesting to hear your perspective on Norway as the other end of the temperature spectrum. I’ve actually still yet to go but I’m toying with the idea of a big Scandi trip this year (finances allowing and fingers crossed!)

  • Alicia says:

    What packages would you recommend in booking to see Petra and Amman? I am dying to go! I love the Middle East and Jordan has always been on my list

    • Abi King says:

      Hi Alicia. I would say that you don’t need a package or guide for Amman (although you’ll probably get more out of the history of the citadel and beyond to Jerash if you do. Plus, you’re more likely to find the knafeh ;-) ) As for Petra, the Dead Sea and on to the Red Sea, it probably would be a good idea. Unfortuantely, the guide I’d DEFINITELY recommend for the whole shabang is moving on to other things…I asked him for some recommendations and this is the link he sent: http://international.visitjordan.com/VisitorToolbar/TourOperators.aspx I hope that helps and I hope you get there and have a great time. It’s such an interesting country – love it!

  • Ramzi Karam says:

    I thought Jericho was the oldest inhabited city

    • Abi King says:

      Yes, so did I! And it turns out that it probably is. You raise an interesting question and one that I spent half a day rummaging around in before deciding to move on for reasons I’ll explain. When in Jordan, I heard a lot of people tell me that Amman was the oldest city in the world, and many others said it was Jericho. When I got home and got to researching, I found many other claims for many other cities. As I tried to drill down to each piece of scientific evidence and finding, it became obvious that

      a) We will probably never know
      b) There is a lot of interesting research about this
      c) Some of the greatest minds in archaeology are still grappling with the question
      d) I am not one of the greatest minds in archaeology
      e) What I really wanted to talk about was how interesting and alive Amman is now (like London, New York and Berlin) with the fragments of its past as a backdrop and the flavours serving as a connection to the past and the present (plus, the knafeh really is good…)

      Hence, the use “one of the oldest cities” instead.

      What fascinates me the most is how we are all so fascinated by superlatives – the best, the oldest, the highest etc. But then that started to head back down into some neuroscience and psychology research and I had to remind myself that people tend to come here for the travel ;-)

  • Ramzi Karam says:

    Great answer Abi ,excellent comments.
    You do get the point across very well
    Keep up the good work. Thanks

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