Citadel (Jebel al-Qala'a)
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Citadel (Jebel al-Qala'a) information
Lonely Planet review
The area known as the Citadel sits on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al-Qala’a (about 850m above sea level), and is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon. Artefacts dating from the Bronze Age show that the hill was a fortress and/or agora (open space for commerce and politics) for thousands of years. The complex is surrounded by 1700m-long walls, which were rebuilt many times during the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. The Citadel ticket office is on the road leading up to the Citadel’s entrance. The Citadel’s most impressive series of historic buildings is the UmayyadPalace, which stretches out behind the National Archaeological Museum. Believed to be the work of Umayyad Arabs and dating from about AD 720, the palace was an extensive complex of royal and residential buildings and was once home to the governor of Amman. Its life span was short – it was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749 and was never fully rebuilt. Coming from the south, the first major building belonging to the palace complex is the domed audience hall, designed to impress visitors to the royal palace. It is the most intact of the buildings on the site and is shaped like a cross because it was built over a Byzantine church. After much debate as to whether the central space had originally been covered or left open to the elements, consensus came down on the side of the ceiling dome, which was reconstructed by Spanish archaeologists. A courtyard immediately north of the hall leads to a 10m-wide colonnaded street, lined with numerous arches and columns, and flanked by residential and administrative buildings. Further to the north is the former governor’s residence, which includes the throne room. East of the audience hall is the Umayyad Cistern, an enormous circular hole with steps leading down to the bottom, which once supplied water to the palace and surrounding areas. The small disc on the floor in the centre once supported a pillar that was used for measuring water levels. Back towards the museum to the south is the small Byzantine Basilica, most of which has been destroyed by earthquakes. It dates from the 6th or 7th century AD, and contains a few dusty mosaics. About 100m south of the basilica are the remaining pillars of the Roman Temple of Hercules. Once connected to the Forum, the temple was built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–80). The only obvious remains are parts of the podium and the columns, which are visible from around town. Nearby is a lookout with sweeping views of the urban sprawl. There are information boards in English and Spanish at a few places around the Umayyad Palace, though they can be a little confusing to follow. Guides (up to JD5, depending on the length of time and number of people) may approach you when you arrive (or you can ask at the museum), and can really enhance your visit. The National Archaeological Museum, just northwest of the Temple of Hercules, has a good collection of items spanning all eras of Jordanian and regional history, ranging from 6000-year-old skulls from Jericho to Umayyad-period artwork. It also boasts some examples of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran in 1952, a copy of the Mesha Stele and assorted artefacts from Petra and Jerash. Most exhibits are well labelled in English. The crown jewels of the collection are three of the Ain Ghazal statues, dating back to 6500 BC, and some of the world’s earliest sculpture. Finds from the Citadel itself include the head from a statue of the Greek goddess Tyche and some Egyptian-style carvings. Note that there are rumours that this collection might one day be shifted to the new National Museum, though at the time of writing, there was little evidence of this happening soon. The only access roads to the Citadel are from Al-Malek Ali bin al-Hussein St. It’s better to hire a taxi for the trip up (less than JD1 from downtown), though it’s a nice walk if you’re headed downhill. Steps lead down from east of the Citadel complex, past a viewing platform to Hashemi St, opposite the Roman Theatre.