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Introducing Amman

Amman is a modern Arab city rather than one of the great cultural centres of the Middle East; it has never rivalled Damascus or Cairo as a grand Islamic city of antiquity. For those arriving from Syria or Egypt it can, depending on your perspective, feel either refreshingly or disappointingly modern and Westernised.

Residents talk openly of two Ammans. Conservative and Islamic in its sympathies, Eastern Amman (which includes downtown) is home to the urbanised poor, with vast suburban Palestinian refugee camps on its fringe. Western Amman is a world apart, with leafy residential districts, trendy cafés and bars, and impressive art galleries. It's impossible to gain a full understanding of Amman, or even Jordan, without visiting both areas.

The city's character has been indelibly altered by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and, more recently, 100, 000 Iraqi refugees, most of whom are highly educated and have pushed the boundaries of a cultural life that had been kept under close rein by Islamic conservatives. Along with a young generation of Jordanians, these immigrants have helped to make Amman a tolerant and outward-looking city.

Don't come to the nation's captial with expectations of medieval souqs and bazaars, or wonderful mosques of Islam's grand architectural heritage. Do come to Amman to catch a glimpse of a modern Arab city, embracing an international and culturally diverse vision of the future. Whether you're in the urbane western suburbs, or the earthy, kinetic chaos of downtown, the welcome you'll receive is sure to be warm.