Amman’s amazing citadel: A cluster of culture in the Jordanian capital

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Updated 07 July 2018
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Amman’s amazing citadel: A cluster of culture in the Jordanian capital

  • I might not like Amman’s choice of adhan orchestration, but the city’s citadel, smack in the middle of modern Amman and littered with ancient ruins, I do like. 
  • The Umayyad Monumental Gateway once led to a stunning palace from which Islam’s earliest dynasty ruled over Amman. The palace is in ruins now, but the impressive gateway offers a glimpse into the beginnings of Islam’s very first artistic movement.

LONDON: “Listen!” Mahdi Hanini, our guide, has both hands outstretched as the faint cry of “God is Great” quickly increases in proximity and volume, enveloping Amman — the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. 

“Amman is the only city in Jordan where you will hear the voice of just one muezzin,” he says.

We listen, spellbound. Sure enough, a split-second delay is all that separates the same voice calling out the maghreb adhan from one minaret after another, as the sky slowly turns a crimson red with the setting of the sun.

Hanini explains that the call starts at the King Abdullah I “Blue” mosque where the country’s “most-famous” muezzin makes the call, which is then transmitted to every other mosque in the city — hence the fractional real-time delay. The aim is to synchronize the exact time of prayer.

It’s certainly a phenomenal experience listening to the adhan set to a 360-degree-panorama of Amman — as the melodic voice cascades into the valley of houses and bounces through downtown Amman, off the ancient walls of the 6,000 seat amphitheater and odeon, and past the old Roman road, still as straight as an arrow — but I am not sure I like it. I still prefer the chorus of a multitude of muezzins. There’s something magical about the sound of several adhans all imperfectly following one another, something raw, and very real.

I might not like Amman’s choice of adhan orchestration, but the city’s citadel, smack in the middle of modern Amman and littered with ancient ruins, I do like. 

The modest L-shaped mound, the highest point in town, offers the most wonderful snapshot of Jordan’s vast cultural heritage in one tiny area. Much of it has been mapped inside the country’s oldest museum, the Jordan Archaeological Museum, using a host of exhibits and smaller artefacts. It too is atop the citadel, but the real fun is outside, literally on the museum’s doorstep. 

Here three huge, beautifully carved stone fingers — the remnants of a giant hand — and an elbow lie discarded in the shade of several Corinthian pillars that have seen better days. They were once all part of a temple dedicated to the Roman hero, Hercules, The limbs belonged to a colossal statue of him back in the middle of the second century CE. 

Along with the giant oyster-like amphitheater that dominates central Amman, the Temple of Hercules is the most visible reminder of the city’s Roman period, which began in 63 BCE. Before that, Amman, as the name suggests, was the capital of the Ammonites, an ancient race that lived close to the Jordan River. At that time, the city — founded in the 13th century BCE — was known as ‘Rabbath Ammon’ and was a part of the important trading route now known as the King’s Highway.

Few remnants of the Ammonites have survived at the citadel, where the most impressive monument dates from the beginning of the Islamic period.

The Umayyad Monumental Gateway once led to a stunning palace from which Islam’s earliest dynasty ruled over Amman. The palace is in ruins now, but the impressive gateway — dating back to the 8th century CE — offers a glimpse into the beginnings of Islam’s very first artistic movement. Byzantine inspiration is clear in the cross-shaped layout of the hall and carved arcades with geometric patterns held aloft by romanesque pillars on the walls — an early take on the horseshoe arch synonymous with Umayyad architecture across the globe. The greatest Christian legacy though, is a reconstruction of a huge wooden dome over the hall. This acknowledges the Umayyads were the first Muslims to experiment with the dome in their designs, a feature that would dominate later Islamic architecture but traces its roots back to Christian monuments.

Close by are the ruins of an actual Byzantine church and later Ottoman buildings. Both are a part of Amman’s fascinating cultural makeup, as is much of this hilltop where visitors can also hear one of the most unique adhans anywhere in the Muslim world, even if they don’t necessarily like it. 


Five historic mosques to be restored in Asir province

The historic mosques will be restored and renovated so that they can receive worshipers again. (SPA)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Five historic mosques to be restored in Asir province

  • Abdullah bin Ali Al-Asmari, a 100-year-old resident, said that he had served and supervised the mosque’s services 40 years ago and ascertained that according to some books, the mosque was built 400 years ago

JEDDAH: Five mosques in Asir have been added to the first phase of a SR50 million ($13 million) project to restore historic places of worship in the Kingdom.
The mosques have been added to the “Mohammed bin Salman project for Developing Historical Mosques” project, which includes 30 historic mosques in 10 of the Kingdom’s regions.
The historic Asir mosques will be restored and renovated so that they can receive worshippers again.
They have been abandoned in recent years as worshippers became used to visiting modern mosques in the light of urban development in the Kingdom. Some older mosques have been neglected and destroyed despite their historical value.
The historic Al-Mudfat in Abha is one of the mosques included on the list of buildings to be restored. Abdullah bin Ali Al-Asmari, a 100-year-old resident, said that he had served and supervised the mosque’s services 40 years ago and ascertained that according to some books, the mosque was built 400 years ago.
Al-Asmari said that the mosque consisted of a musalla that was six meters wide and 20 meters long, standing on five pillars of juniper trees; 92 branches of juniper trees were used to cover the ceilings.
The musalla has an entrance on the southern side, and an outdoor guest room with an old minaret where the muezzin stands. The lake was removed during previous restoration works and replaced by a modern water tank, he said.
Saudi resident Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Asmari said that the mosque is characterized by the ablution spaces, like the rest of the area’s historic mosques.
The second mosque to be renovated is the archaeological Sadreid Mosque in the north of Al-Namas governorate. The mosque’s features are very similar to those of the rest of the mosques in the area, but it is characterized by historic inscriptions. Saudi resident Mansoor bin Saad Al-Aajlan said that these inscriptions show that it is one of the oldest mosques in the Arabian Peninsula, built in 728, according to credible historical sources.
The Al-Sarou is the third mosque that will be renovated in Asir. Residents said that the history of the mosque remains unknown but that it is very old.
The Aaqisa Mosque in the old village of Asir is also on the list. This mosque is situated near an old fortress and houses and is considered to be very old, according to information from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
The mosque occupies an area of 72 square meters with an outdoor space and a lake for ablution.
Al-Nusb Historic Mosque, the fifth on the list, is situated in the center of Abha city.
A local resident, Bandar bin Abdullah Al-Moufarreh, said that the mosque was built in 1744 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Moufarreh and later restored in 1841 by his grandson Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Moufarreh, and again in 1897 by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Moufarreh.