I didn’t anticipate writing a blog on day one of my trip; I spent half the day at the hairdresser so didn’t imagine having too much to say…however, never underestimate a fortuitous choice in taxi driver is the lesson I have learned today!
After my extended visit to Toni & Guy, Amman where I had the vast majority of my hair cut off and went very very blonde, I went to the tour hotel planning to leave my luggage and venture off in search of the Citadel and Roman Amphitheater. The guides I had read online recommended taking a taxi because the Citadel is on top of a hill. “My legs ain’t broke” I thought, and off I trundled in search of ancient ruins on top of a hill. Well, they weren’t lying, and although I made it with no real problem, I did decide that I would do the return journey by taxi!
A 3JOD entry fee was well worth it as I strolled around the ruins where excavations have revealed evidence of human habitation since 1650 BC – the Middle Bronze Age – in the form of a tomb containing pottery and scarab seals. The site was known as ‘Rabbath-Ammon’ during the Iron Age, and there is early evidence of Phoenician writing in the form of an inscription naming the site.
Over time the site came to be occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians prior to it being conquered by the Greeks in 331 BC, when the city was renamed Philadelphia.From the Hellenistic Period, there were not many architectural changes, but pottery provides evidence for their occupation.The site became Roman around 30 BC, and finally came under Muslim rule in AD 661. The Citadel declined in importance under Ayyubid rule in the 13th century, but a watchtower was added to the site during this period.
It was not always clear to me which parts were from when, but I declined the offer of a tour guide to fill in the blanks as he was charging 15JOD for a 40 minute tour – a group may find this a far more attractive offer if you can split the cost. However, I enjoyed photographing ruins and enjoying the many sounds of Amman that could be heard on top of that hill, surrounding by the bustling city streets; call to prayer, bag pipes and drums, further entertainment from the Amphitheatre – there were many a joyful tune being carried on the gentle breeze this afternoon.
So, having spend an hour or so wandering through the remnants of Hercules Temple and Umayyad Palace I looked out over the Roman Amphitheatre one last time before heading for the taxi rank…where I got into a taxi driven by Jordan’s finest! Shawki happens to be listed in the Lonely Planet and thus calls himself ‘Jordan’s most famous taxi driver’. He offered to take me to the Blue Mosque on my way back to the hotel – he would give me a tour and I would pay 15JOD for the journey, tour and safe return to my hotel. Initially I declined the Mosque, but a couple of minutes down the road and the price decreased and I had agreed to the stop-off. He whipped out his old ragged copy of the Lonely Planet to show me:
We were greeted in the street outside the mosque by the little shop owner who took us inside and showed me to a room to don an abaya to enter the mosque. Shawki then took me into the mosque and told me about Islam, their prayer schedule and showed me the intricate hand crafted decorations within. As we left the mosque I was surprised to see a Christian church directly opposite – Shawki explained that there are about 30% Christians in Jordan and they live comfortably as neighbours. He took me to take the photo below – notice the Christian tower that looks as though it belongs to the Mosque?!
Once we went back inside to return the abaya, the shop keeper and his friend were eating and they invited us to join them. They had bread, eggs that had been cooked in the fire and za’atar (a bag of a mix of thyme and other herbs to season the bread). Having been offered food, I took a small piece of bread, but this was not good enough! I was given a whole small loaf and the shopkeeper smashed up the egg, sprinkled the za’atar and I felt obliged to eat the whole thing! He served me tea with fresh mint leaves and we chatted about his visit to London many years ago and how sorry they felt to hear of the attack in London earlier this week. These are the moments I travel for, the reminders that we are all human and that we can share our stories, our food and our hearts no matter where we come from, what we believe or who we are. Needless to say, I am glad we went to the Blue Mosque and I am glad that Shawki was outside the Citadel when I was ready to go this afternoon!