Within a few hours of arriving in Amman, I was weaving through the tiny, traffic clogged arteries of the old city centre, the Ballad. The fluorescent green light of the city’s many mosques, fleck the surrounding hills as dusk falls. The red, white, black and green of Jordan’s national flag hangs from nearly every white-stoned building in the city, with pictures of a smiling King Abdullah II and his glamorous wife Queen Rania, lit up outside all official buildings. This is a big year for Jordan. 2009 marks 10 years of King Abdullah’s rule over the country, as well as Jordan’s 100th year in existence. A country at the cradle of civilization and blessed with thousands of years of history; it is a place where art and culture, both new and old thrive.
Among the ruins of Byzantine Amman which stand alongside the working modern day city, several contemporary art spaces have emerged. One such gallery, is Darat Al Funan, part of the Khalid Shoman Foundation. A 10 minute stroll away from the Ballad, situated atop one of Amman’s seven hills, in Jebel Luwaibdeh, the space was conceived by the family of Jordan’s Arab Bank founder, Khalid Shoman in 1993. The gallery is a recently restored 1920s house, where a free exhibition of both installation and craft art are on display by several up and coming contemporary Jordanian and Palestinian artists. Like many houses in the Jebel Luweibdeh district, the space had until recently, remained un-restored and derelict. The house was been built on original Byzantine ruins, which are excavated and on display in the gardens. The space is also used by visiting resident artists, and is a world away from the bustle of the city centre. It is only the distant murmur of the city centre that belies the almost utopian setting.
Yet the real gems of the country’s history lie outside Amman. Approximately a one hour’s drive away, are the immaculately well preserved ruins of the Greco-Roman city Jerash. Situated atop a hill in the middle of rural Jordan’s rocky Mediterranean landscape, in high summer, we count approximately five other groups of four or five French and German tourists – in total. As I glide through the shade of the admission office and head up a hill – in the stark sunlight, the ruins appear eerie, as they stand in their splendid almost completely intact glory. A welcome breeze sweeps through the empty plaza. Cobbled streets complete with chariot wheel markings are lined with shop fronts carved into the surrounding rock, manholes dot the roads, further evidence of Jerash’s status as a working, busy metropolis during Roman rule.
Conquered by the Romans in 400 AD, the city continued to blossom until the enormous earthquake of 750 AD which shook much of the Middle East. In its current state, Jerash boasts a 6,000 seater arena, Hadrian’s Arch, two large temples (to Zeus and Artemis), an oval Forum, a long colonnaded street, two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre), two baths, a scattering of small temples and an almost complete circuit of city walls. Despite the largesse of Jerash’s ruins, it is estimated that nearly 75 per cent of Jordan’s ruins remain unexcavated, an explanation for Jerash’s superb condition. Furthermore, unlike the Forum in Rome or the Acropolis in Greece, there are no queues, nor are there any proximity restrictions. It is not however, recommended to take local guides, as their English skills are often poor and their speeches tend to be difficult to understand. Yet in a place like Jerash, bask in its quiet, and let your mind take you back to the ages of old when Jerash was thriving.
Rather than its richer, oil-bearing Arab neighbours, this year explore Amman and its many surrounding ancient sites for a unique cultural and spiritual indulgence. Meanwhile, beat the queues of other world famous ruins, and let your mind take you back to a time before Western civilization had even been thought of.
Photos by Jacqueline Beach
Jacqueline has a Masters in Global Journalism from the University of Melbourne and is currently working as a copywriter and journalist and is based in Melbourne, Australia. Prior to living in Melbourne, she lived in the UK for 5 years where she attended the University of Kent at Canterbury, and completed a BA Hons in European Studies and French. She spent a year abroad at the University of Avignon in France, which pushed her through the language barrier. Prior to living in the UK, she lived in Switzerland for three years, Singapore for four years and also spent a year in Jordan.
She is fluent in French and German, and in her free time enjoys photography and yoga.