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While most visitors only see modern Amman, one of the enchanting aspects of the city is how a visitor can turn a corner and find a Byzantine church ruin in a busy shopping district, or see the ruins of an Ammonite fortress tower from the windows of a hotel. Like its jebels, or hills, the fortunes of Amman have risen, fallen, and risen again.
The largest Neolithic settlement in the Middle East has been uncovered not far from Amman at Ain Ghazzal, on the Zarqa road, dating back to about 6S00 BC Bronze Age tombs have been found at Citadel on Jabal al-Qala'a which date to about 3300-1200 BC A 1994 excavation uncovered homes in the Amman area from the Stone Age, dating to approximately 7000 BC Amman's temperate climate and water sources like Seil Amman (Amman Stream) made this a good place to live, with fertile plains and game.
In about 1200 Be, Amman became the capital of the Iron Age Ammonites, referred to as "Rabbath Ammon". The Ammonites, thought to be the ancestors of Lot, fought many battles with other regional leaders, and finally were defeated after a 10th century siege. Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians ruled the area over a period of several centuries until, in the 4th century Bc, Ptolemy II rebuilt the city, renaming it Philadelphia for a former Ptolemaic leader.
Philadelphia, along with much of the region, was absorbed by Emperor Pompey into the Roman Empire in 63 BC The city became part of the Decapolis and a prosperous trading center. It became known for its enlightened cultural centers and beautiful architecture. The 1700 meter-long walls of the Citadel, originally built during the Bronze Ages, were strengthened under the Romans and the Temple of Hercules was built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD).
The Amphitheatre, Odeon, Forum and Nymphaeum were built downtown. Seating 6000, the Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century AD. The structure had three layers of seating, with the rulers nearest the stage, the military in the middle, and the hoi polloi near the top, closest to the statue of Athena which scholars believe graced the alcove at the top of the Amphitheatre. A local story says that an underground tunnel runs from the alcove to the top of the Citadel. Cultural events are now held here, making it a striking backdrop for theatre and symphony concerts. The Odeon is a smaller, more intimate theatre, seating about 600 people. It had a roof and was used most frequently for musical performances. The Forum is the square between the two theatres, and was once one of the largest public squares in the Roman world. It was lined along three sides by columns and on the fourth by Seil Amman. The Nymphaeum was a two-story complex with fountains, mosaics and a swimming pool. It was dedicated to water nymphs.
Amman received a bishopric during the Byzantine period, and several churches were built. The ruins of three churches can be found on the Citadel, on Jebel Weibdeh, and hidden away in the commercial center of Sweifieh.
During the Islamic caliphate in Damascus, Philadelphia changed its name to Amman and continued to flourish. The Umayyad Palace on the Citadel dates from 720 AD. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD and never rebuilt.
Amman's fortunes began to decline when the Abbasids moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. As Karak came to prominence during the Crusades, Amman's importance continued to slide, until it was primarily a place of exile. In 1806, Amman was reported to be uninhabited, although there were a small number of transient inhabitants. However, in 1878, Circassian refugees began to arrive and settled in al-Balad, which is now downtown.
Primarily farmers and artisans, the Circassians built three mills and several rough roads along Seil Amman within a few years of their arrival. It is said that they reintroduced tea and the wheel to the area. By 1900, there were 2000 inhabitants. To fill a need, merchants began to move into the area from Salt, Syria, and Palestine.
When the Emir Abdullah arrived in Transjordan, most people thought that Salt would become the new capital. However, he chose Amman, perhaps with encouragement from the Saltis. In 1923, construction began on the Hussein Mosque and in 1925, Raghadan Palace was built. The first telephone directory appeared in 1926 and by 1927 the city enjoyed two different newspapers. By this time, the alBalad area had become crowded and many people were beginning to build their homes on top of Jabal Amman, which overlooks the area. This neighborhood is where King Hussein grew up, and was a nexus of influential families.
By 1948, Amman's capital had risen to 25,000 inhabitants, but after the 1948 war, Jordan's population rose from 400,000 to about 1,300,000 in a year. Amman's population similarly changed. Roads could no longer be known by the name of the most prominent person who lived there. In 1967, Amman's population of 433,000 inhabitants jumped after over 150,000 Palestinians sought refuge in Jordan following the war and their subsequent dislocation. From 1972-82, Amman grew from 21 square kilometers to 54 square kilometers. After 1991, and the return of 300,000 Palestinians and Jordanians after the 1991 Gulf War, the city grew again. The ongoing Iraq War is the latest event to swell numbers in the city.
Today Amman is a city in sections. The working-class area of East Amman tends to be more conservative and more traditional. Abdoun boasts villas and multi-story apartment complexes, while Sweifieh is a commercial center, with shops ranging from the long-lived Jordanian Istaqlal Library to global newcomers like Starbucks. Historical neighborhoods like Jebel Amman are being revitalized with an eye to preserving their historic luster, and even al-Balad will soon have a walking tour to increase tourist interest and dinars. At times, walking through Amman can be like looking backwards through a tunnel, with so much history incorporated into such a modern city. But there is nothing more symbolic of Amman than sitting in one of the new cafes in Jabal Amman, listening to the call to prayer and looking out over to the Temple of Hercules on the Citadel.