Got History? Amman Does!

Coming to Amman for the first time, I was curious as to what the city would feel like.  Surely, there would be some good restaurants (all cities have them!) and some nationally important buildings or monuments worth visiting (and photographing!).  I have been to Cairo, close to Amman in many ways beyond distance, and Istanbul which, though not Arab, shared the Ottoman Empire with Amman and other places in the Middle East.  But I figured with Amman being smaller and being in a smaller country would likely feel different.  It was.  Starting with its scale but also in the pace it seemed to have.  It felt more livable, relaxed and manageable.

A Wealth of History in Amman

In terms of scale, while it does not have structures that compare with the Hagia Sophia or the Pyramids of Giza (how many places do??), the depth of the historical “record” it has on evidence took me by surprise.  And I like this type of surprises!

I am a history buff but I am more informed about some places than others.  About Jordan, I knew how the country came out of colonial rule in the 20th century, I knew Petra and its history, and had some notion of the Arab Revolution in which Lawrence of Arabia had a hand (thanks Hollywood).  Amman surprised me by the incredible record of civilizations past that it holds and here is some of what I discovered in my visit to the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom.  One of those things is that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places town in the world!

The Citadel of Amman

The Citadel is a great example of the amazing historical record available for the visitor to Jordan.  The Citadel not only has amazing ruins to visit and a great small museum but it offers amazing views of the city that surrounds it, all hills!

Amman city view flagpole flag Jordan hills photo Canon EOS Rebel

A city of hills with the massive Raghadan flagpole in the background (3rd tallest free-standing in the world)

As the visitor is reminded by the signage, there has been settlements in current day Amman since thousands of years before Christ past the Bronze and Iron Ages through Persian, Greek, Nabatean, Roman and Byzantine periods.  It also has navigated through various names.  Rammath-Ammon is one of the oldest but did you know the city was also named Philadelphia in ancient times?  Yep, it was.

Among the ruins I explored at The Citadel were the ruins of a Byzantine Church and the Temple of Hercules.

Citadel Amman Jordan Roman ruins columns Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the Roman ruins in The Citadel

temple hercules roman statue, big hand, citadel amman jordan canon eos rebel

The Temple of Hercules as backdrop to the hand of a colossal Roman statue that once stood at The Citadel

Roman Colossus Statue Hand at the citadel in amman jordan canon eos rebel

Close-up of the big ole hand!

A key site at The Citadel is the Umayyad Governor’s Palace from the 8th century built on old Roman ruins.  The Umayyad was a dynasty that ruled Amman for a few centuries but who ruled, at its peak, a vast caliphate from modern-day Pakistan to Spain.  Who knew, right?  Not covered in my ancient history class in high school…

Umayyad Palace Citadel amman jordan dome ruin Canon EOS Rebel

Umayyad Palace

Dome blue sky Umayyad Governor Palace citadel amman jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the palace’s dome

Umayyad governor palace amman jordan flag architecture detail Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the exterior of the Umayyad Palace

"Architectural detail" amman jordan umayyad governor palace citadel Canon EOS Rebe,

Detail of the interior of the central room of the palace

"Architectural detail" Umayyad Palace in the Citadel architecture amman jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the central room at the Umayyad Palace at The Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Ruins Umayyad Mosque palace The Citadel Amman, Jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Ruins from the old Umayyad Mosque by the palace

Artifacts from The Citadel's archeology museum Amman Jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Artifacts from The Citadel’s archeology museum

Archeology museum artifacts Canon EOS Rebel

Artifacts from The Citadel’s archeology museum

The Roman Theater

Amman also has a Roman Theater built in the mid 2nd century A.D. by Emperor Antonius Pius.  It is in the middle of Amman and is a popular place for local young adults to go visit, if my time there was any indication!  Some in my group struck good conversations with locals whilst some of us climbed all over taking pictures!

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan viewed from The Citadel Canon EOS Rebel

The Roman Theater viewed from The Citadel

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan

Approaching the entrance to the Roman Theater

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan Canon EOS Rebel ruins

Detail of the front of the theater’s stage

Roman Theater Amman Jordan modern spectator ruins Canon EOS Rebel

Is that a Roman spectator still hanging around??

As you can see, Amman has some incredible testimonials to ancient history in The Citadel and the Roman Theater.  Petra, Jerash and Mardaba are example of other great places to witness history and will be the topic of a future post – stay tuned!!

Unexpected Opportunities in Bulgaria: the Rila Monastery and Plovdiv

Going to Bulgaria and only seeing Sofia is a crime, in my book – Plovdiv and the Rila Monastery prove my point.  Sofia has some of the key sites to see in Bulgaria for sure but it is only but a fraction of what a visitor should experience.  I did not have ample time to travel around Bulgaria but wish I had been able to.  I hear folks in the smaller towns are very hospitable and that the natural beauty of the countryside and the large number of monasteries and churches around the country are worth seeing.  And let’s not forget wineries!

Our time was limited in Bulgaria since we were there for a wedding but was expanded courtesy of the volcano in Iceland that shall not be called by its name.

CNN anchor talking about the volcano – or about to eat Iceland

That presented us with an unexpected opportunity…  So we decided to explore more of this interesting Eastern European country!

Side street in old Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Side street in old Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Rila Monastery

Since our time was limited, we made the Rila Monastery our top priority for being the largest monastery in Bulgaria and being a beautiful one in a beautiful location, about 73 (117 km) miles from Sofia in the valley of the Rilska River and at an altitude of over 3,700 ft (1,100m +).

We got a car and a driver as we did not have time to figure out other logistics given how busy we had been with the wedding events.  This allowed us to recover from the wedding party the night before but also to soak in the scenery.  We drove past apple orchards (I had never seen one) and small towns on our way to enter the Rila Mountains area where the monastery is nestled in.  This part of the drive was simply beautiful full of green and tracking the river most of the way.  With the snowmelt from the mountains, the river was fast and it was a sight to behold.

We arrived at the monastery and seeing it blew us away.  What an incredible structure!  It is not ancient (reconstructed in the 1830s; the tower dates from the 14th century) but the site has been in use for centuries as a monastery.  St. Ivan of Rila lived in a cave about an hour’s walk away from the monastery many centuries before.   One can make the hike to the cave and it surely is a beautiful walk through the forest but we didn’t have time to do that…

Inside the monastery’s courtyard is a beautiful church.  Its architecture seems an interesting mix of what I understand Orthodox church architecture to be but also with elements that reminded me of the Mezquita de Córdoba in Spain (and, thereby, of Arab architecture as in the columns and arcs on the perimeter of the church).

Rila Monastery church in Bulgaria

Rila Monastery church in Bulgaria

Rila Monastery church portico ceiling

Church’s portico ceiling

Old tower at the Rila Monastery in Bulgaria

The old tower

Rila Monastery hallway in Bulgaria

Around the halls of monastery


As we looked into how to spend an our final day in Bulgaria, Plovdiv was brought to our attention as worth seeing so, since it wasn’t far from Sofia (about 90 miles), we decided late that morning to go for it.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city and has a population of over 330,000, was something unexpected to me.  It is a very charming town, with a large pedestrian area in the old part of town.  It has seemingly a different climate than Sofia and I do not mean just in meteorological terms:  it felt happier, livelier.  Not being the capital city, it didn’t seem to have the weight that title may impose.  While there were definitely buildings that carried Soviet-bloc stereotypical architecture, there did not seem to be much of it in the city center – I am glad they did not raze parts of old town, like in Bucharest, for grandiose communist projects!

Pedestrian area in the center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Pedestrian area in the center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Mosque in the center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Mosque in the city center

The city center teemed with life, people were out and about, and the open spaces seemed more inviting and taken advantage of than in Sofia.  To be fair, it rained most of the time I was in Sofia but somehow, I think Sofia is more of a “city” and Plovdiv more of a “town” where I give the town label a more positive meaning.  In the city center (which reminded me of Bratislava and maybe Salzburg, a little bit), there are some Roman ruins, cleverly revealed in the midst of the pedestrian area.
Roman ruins in Plovdiv, BulgariaThe hill (one of 6 around the city; a seventh was removed early in the 20th century) in old town Plovdiv is definitely a must-see.  It has some of the best views of the city but also some neat architecture.  It also offers views to excavations of Roman ruins and a Roman theater near the appropriately named Yellow School.
Ruins of a Roman theater in Plovdiv, BulgariaWhile some of the old buildings need repair, restoration work is evident in many of the structures, which are very interesting architecturally.

Building in need of repair in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Beautiful even it its disrepair

Home on the hill in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Colorful home on the hill in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

I wish we had known about Plovdiv before going to Bulgaria.  I would have really enjoyed an overnight stay to relax in a cafe and watch life go by…  If you go to Bulgaria, do not miss spending some time in Plovdiv!

%d bloggers like this: