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

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

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

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. 


Luxury living at Dubai’s five-star Palazzo Versace

Updated 21 November 2020

Luxury living at Dubai’s five-star Palazzo Versace

Luxury living at Dubai’s five-star Palazzo Versace
  • The five-star hotel is just as opulent as you’d expect from the Italian fashion house

DUBAI: If you wanted a sneak peek into Donatella Versace’s mind, a stay at Dubai’s five-star Palazzo Versacein Al-Jaddaf Waterfront is the closest thing. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the luxurious Italian designer — opulent and borderline-ridiculous in its luxuriousness.

On entering the hotel, you are greeted by a massive, 3,000-kilogram crystal chandelier imported from the Czech Republic, flanked by a 1.5 million-piece mosaic of Medusa set into the Italian marble floors. The interior of the lobby is decorated with sofa chairs — upholstered in Versace silk — and plump cushions, evoking a wealthy woman’s posh (or, depending on your taste, gaudy) living room. The high ceilings top a corridor lined with framed sketches of supermodels sporting Donatella’s couture creations, limited-edition Versace urns (there’s only four in the world), and rich purple carpets handcrafted from New Zealand wool.

The Versace brand is omnipresent, as you’d expect; from the hand-painted friezes in the lobby to the delicate china used to serve your coffee as you wait to check in. If you’re looking for something even a little modest, the Palazzo Versace is not it.

On entering the hotel, you are greeted by a massive, 3,000-kilogram crystal chandelier imported from the Czech Republic. (Supplied)

Each suite features polished parquet flooring and Versace homeware — silk-printed sheets and drinking glasses with the Medusa insignia carved into the bottom. In fact, the mythological figure is peppered throughout the interior, whether overtly — on the towels — or subtly, such as the knobs on the drawers. 

I was lucky enough to stay in the Grand Suite, a luxurious 130-square-meter room with sweeping views of the Dubai Creek. I entered into a spacious living room that was separate from the bedroom — the latter an ultra-Instagrammable place that includes a plush king-sized, baroque-style bed dressed in salmon-pink and golden linen (yes, with Versace patterns).

As one of Dubai’s most luxurious hotels, it’s unsurprising it’s home to one of the most luxurious bathrooms, too (or the ‘powder room’ as it's coyly referred to on the touch-sensor light switches). Between the Versace-branded toiletries lining the marble tub and counters, mosaic murals on the walls and Carerra marble flooring, the suite is worth booking for the bathroom itself. 

Each suite features polished parquet flooring and Versace homeware. (Supplied)

After settling in, I decided to unwind at La Piscina swimming pool. But there were no sun loungers available. Fortunately, the hotel has two other pools to choose from, so I made my way to Capri Lagoon, which was definitely more chilled out than La Piscina. It’s a sprawling infinity pool in which you can float above another Medusa mosaic.

If, like me, swimming plays havoc with your hair, the hotel spa also has a hair salon, so you can get yourself a quick blow dry before heading to dinner.

The hotel has a wide selection of restaurants to suit all taste palettes. There’s international cuisine at Giardino; Persian restaurant Enigma — headed by Iranian-born Michelin-starred Mansour Memarian — and Italian venue Vanitas. I opted for the latter, a cozy yet luxurious space that is equally fit for an intimate dinner date or a feast with friends. 

The hotel has a wide selection of restaurants to suit all tastes. (Supplied)

I had the Bruschetta Burrata served with tomatoes, mashed avocados and basil handpicked from the hotel’s garden for starters and the Tagliata di Wagyu — Wagyu Striploin served with a side of black truffle mashed potatoes and sautéed mushrooms — for my main. Naturally, everything was served in Versace tableware. 

While the food was good, it was not especially memorable. The portions were a good size, however, as they left room for dessert: Tiramisu, which was undoubtedly the highlight of the meal. 

Having returned to my suite, I was slightly disappointed to see the ultra-luxe bedding had been swapped for a generic white duvet and pillowcases. However, housekeeping was kind enough to grant my silly request to change the bedding back. While a better night’s sleep wasn’t fully guaranteed by the upgrade, it did provide an extra level of comfort. 

All in all, guests can expect excellent service from the moment you enter the Palazzo Versace until you check out. With staff always available and happy to help, you can be sure you’ll want for nothing during your stay, except maybe an extension.