Amman, Jordan's capital, will certainly never win any prizes as the most interesting city in the world and, in fact, has only a few attractions. It's a busy, chaotic jumble of traffic and poor planning, but all roads lead to Amman, so you're bound to wind up here sooner or later. At least 5000 years old, Amman is sprinkled with Roman ruins, including a citadel and a forum. Downtown Amman is at the bottom of four of the city's many hills, and its where you'll find cheap hotels, banks and the sights. Flash places to stay and eat and embassies are on the main hill, Jebel Amman. Despite its drawbacks, Amman can be a very pleasant city, and it's certainly one of the friendliest you're likely to visit.The restored Roman theatre, just to the east of Downtown, is the most impressive remnant of the Roman city of Philadelphia. Built in the 2nd century AD, it holds 6000 people and is cut into the side of a hill that once served as a giant graveyard. To the east stands the Odeon, built around the same time and used mainly for musical performances. The city's main fountain, or nymphaeum, is to the west. North of these ruins, on its own hill, is the Roman citadel, the garrison for centurions. Most of the buildings are now rubble, but you can see Roman, Byzantine and Muslim architecture. There's also a National Archaeological Museum on the site.If Roman ruins aren't your cup of tea, you'll find little to excite you in Amman. Give the Folklore Museum and the Traditional Jewels & Costumes Museum, both in the Roman theatre, a try. To the north of the city you'll find the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, which includes a small museum on Jordan's military history.Downtown Amman is thick with cheap hotels, charging from JD1.5 and up. It's also littered with shwarma stalls, cheap restaurants, western-style fast-food joints and the odd Chinese eatery. This is also the area for pubs if you fancy a tipple. Head north-west, out to Shmeisani, if you want genuine overpriced western junk food or pricier cosmopolitan and Arab food. For top-end digs, try Jebel Amman, to the west of the Downtown area.
Whet your appetite with Amman's ruins, then head 50 km north to Jerash, a beautifully preserved Roman city. The area has probably been inhabited since Neolithic times, and at one time was part of Emperor Pompey's Decapolis, a commercial league of ten cities throughout the Middle East. Jerash reached its peak at the beginning of the 3rd century, but went into a decline after a series of Christian and Muslim invasions, followed by earthquakes in 747. Although excavations began in the 1920s, it's estimated that only 10% of the city has been uncovered. The entrance to Jerash was once a Triumphal Arch, but the main entrance now is the South Gate. Inside the city wall you will see a Temple of Zeus and a Forum, unusually oval-shaped. Behind the Temple is the South Theatre, built in the 1st century, which once held 5000 spectators and, running up to the north, a 600m long colonnaded street. The biggest building on the site is the Temple of Artemis, right in the centre.There's nowhere to stay in Jerash, but you can get a fairly expensive meal or a street snack. In any event, it's an easy day-trip from Amman - catch a service taxi or a minibus from the Abdali bus station.
This easy-going little town 30 km south of Amman is best known for its beautiful Byzantine-era mosaics, including the 'Madaba map', a 6th century mosaic map of Palestine. Made of two million pieces, the Madaba map shows the Nile, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can see this mosaic, possibly Madaba's most interesting, in the Greek Orthodox St George's Church. Most of Madaba is now a carefully restored Archaeological Park, including the 7th century churches of the Virgin and the Prophet Elias, and the older Hippolytus Hall. The hall includes a spectacular mosaic depicting scenes from the tragedy of Phaedre and Hippolytus. There are a couple of places to stay in Madaba, or you can catch a bus from Amman.
It's hard to overrate Petra. There's no other sight in Jordan, or perhaps the whole Middle East, as compelling - the locals know it, and they'll charge you accordingly. Once the capital of the Nabateaeans, a 3rd century BC Arab dynasty, Petra is a stunning city carved from a cliff face. Forgotten for 1000 years and only rediscovered in 1812, Petra raised its public profile with an appearance in the movie Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. Since its discovery and up until the 1980s, it was home to a number of Bedouin families who have since been relocated, an arrangement they are less than happy with. Don't expect a serene and contemplative visit: up to 3000 people come here every day.You really need to spend a couple of days here to get the feel of the place, which means paying the JD20 entry fee more than once. Set in a deep canyon and only accessible through a narrow winding cleft (or siq) in the rock, Petra is carved from sandstone that takes on deep rusty hues interlaced with bands of grey and yellow. The most famous ruin is the Khazneh, or treasury, whose beautifully carved facade is the first thing you'll see when you enter from the siq. The monastery is equally imposing, and if you climb to the top you'll get stunning views. Other ruins include an 8000-seat amphitheatre and the Temple of the Winged Lions, still in the process of excavation.The area surrounding Petra is on a very steep development curve. Petra itself and the neighbouring village of Wadi Musa are crawling with hotels and there are plenty more underway. There also plenty of places to eat, ranging from markets through street stalls to expensive restaurants. If you don't want to stay over, you can do the 250 km day trip from Amman, but this option is definitely only for those with very limited time.
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