Tracing the history of Amman

Just 33 days.  Unbelievable.

It’s starting to feel more real the more I think about it.  The days seem to fly by with work, studying Arabic & for the GRE before I leave, and I am always wavering between excitement and anticipation, & nerves and anxiety.  Hopefully the more I learn about Jordan & Amman through this blog will help me overcome those feelings of anxiety when I arrive.

So this post will be all about Amman & its rich history.  I learned a lot by writing about this, and I hope it benefits you as a resource for any questions you may have.

Amman’s History

Amman has a long and rich history, which today is traced all the way back to around 7250 BC, when the ‘Ain Ghazal settlement was built and inhabited for the next 2,000 years by about 3,000 people just outside of modern metropolitan Ammanammon.png.  Later, the Ammonites would control the territory, and Amman was their capital, known as “Rabbath Ammon,” from which Amman drew its name.  It was an ideal location for the Ammonites, as it was directly along the King’s Highway, a trade route connecting Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula, Syria, and greater Mesopotamia.  Even today, there are ruins of the Ammonite society throughout Amman.  At this time, the Kingdom of Jordan did not yet exist as a unified entity; instead, today’s modern Jordanian territory was made up of the Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom.

Later, Amman would be conquered by the nearby Assyrian Empire, then the Persian Empire, and eventually by Alexander the Great of the Greek Empire.  The Greeks rebuilt the city with the strong influence of their Hellenistic culture, and renamed it “Philadelphia.”  One such monument to the Hellenistic

Hyrcan palace
Qasr al-Abd.  Source.

influence is Qasr Al-Abd (Castle of the Slave), believed to be built by Hyrcanus of Jerusalem and of the Tobiad family, who left it unfinished after his untimely suicide.  The Tobiads fought the Nabateans (whose capital was at Petra) for two decades, until they lost Philadelphia to them.


After the Greeks came the Romans, who conquered Philadelphia in 63 BC and ruled for 400 years, leaving behind such ruins as the Roman Theatre, the Temple of Hercules, and the Nymphaeum.  Next came the Rashidun army, which integrated Philadelphia into its Islamic caliphate and renamed it “Amman.”  The Umayyad caliphs built many desert castles throughout Jordan – many of which are well-preserved today.  However, Amman was the victim of many deadly earthquakes in the 8th century, which rendered it uninhabitable.  Eventually, Bedouins and others returned to Amman, and it became a city once again.

Crusaders are said to have occupied Amman, particularly Citadel Hill, in the 12th century, though mostly only ruins remained.  From the 13th to 16th centuries, the city was incorporated into Balqa of the Damascus Province, and by the 14th century had become an inhabitable city once again.  Emir Sirghitmish bought the city outright, and financed many renovations to the city.  After his death, Amman changed hands between Syrian and Egyptian princes until tCircassiahe 15th century, when it was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. However, it lay abandoned and in ruins, inhabited only by Bedouin tribes, until 1878 when thousands of Circassians arrived there as refugees from historical Circassia (modern south-west Russia – on the right, in green), and settled.

Amman transformed from a small town, inhabited almost exclusively by non-Arabic-speaking Circassians, into a major city when the Ottomans constructed the Hejaz Railway hejaz railwayfrom Damascus to Medina, through Amman, in 1908.  Amman was a key city during World War I; British forces captured it and used its location along the railway to access Damascus.  Britain’s eventual victory in the Second Battle of Amman led to the British Mandate of Transjordan (see my last post).  In 1921, King Abdullah I designated Amman as Transjordan’s capital, rather than al-Salt.

Over time, Amman has attracted immigrants from throughout the Levant, particularly from Palestine and Kuwait during the 20th century.  In the 1970s, it was a live battleground for PLO and Jordanian forces in Black September; in the 2000s, it has also been a target for attacks from terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.  Since al-Qaeda’s attacks on hotels in Amman in 2005, Jordan has substantially increased its security forces in the city, and no major attacks have occurred since then.

Today, Amman is the capital of Jordan, as well its most highly populated city.  It is the political, economic, and cultural center of the country, as well as a major tourist destination.  Recently, thousands of Syrian refugees have arrived in Amman.


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