A medley of cultures

Different cultures and historical time periods exist shoulder to
shoulder in Amman, discovers
Sudhamahi Regunathan

I can never forget my first lunch at Amman. It was a gourmet spread including the pita bread, the fantastic hummus, baba ghanoush, fattoush and tabouli salads. But the best was the dessert, Baklava, a tasty pastry holding nuts and gentle flavourings that also symbolises the essence of Amman.

Visitors can have a birdís eyeview of the city of Amman from the platform of the temple of Hercules
Visitors can have a birdís eyeview of the city of Amman from the platform of the temple of Hercules

 The awe-inspiring huge Roman theatre, built in 2nd century AD, could
The awe-inspiring huge Roman theatre, built in 2nd century AD, could hold 6000 spectators

There is great order in the planning of Amman with most of the buildings in pale cream colour

The baklava is a sweet with a history. It originated from Mesopotamia and travelled into the kitchens of Greece. The Greek seamen and traders then took it around the world with the Armenians adding their special touch of cinnamons and cloves while the Arabs added rose water and cardamom and the Romans made it a part of their daily menu.

Even while I describe how the sweet baklava has come to be, similar combinations have made Amman too. Different cultures and historical time periods, living shoulder to shoulder add that exotic touch to life in Amman.

Charming and persuasive Jordanian salesmen, carrying huge cans strapped to their chest, are a typical example of that exoticism. They have a little tap in the cistern on their "frontpack" which opens to give you something known as mint tea. A little too sweet at times, it is delicious and said to be a digestive. Hot mint tea in hand we entered the Roman theatre built in the times of Marcus Aurelius, 2nd century AD. The awe-inspiring huge Roman theatre could hold 6000 spectators.

I wondered how the acoustics worked at this enormous theatre. It was then that our self-styled guide, a short paunchy man with a moustache and a deadly voice gave us a demonstration. He made us go right to the top while he stood in the middle of the orchestral area and welcomed us to Amman in a deep theatrical voice, which he said he just about whispered. It came loud and clear to us. But if you move away from that particular area, the echo is not there. He also told us that if you whisper into stonewalls below the first row of seats from any corner of the orchestral area, you would still be heard.

On either sides of the stage are two museums. They are actually housed in the vaults beneath the auditorium. One is called the Folklore museum and the other the Jordanian museum of popular culture.

The Folklore museum shows the daily life of the common folk of Amman over time, be it their agriculture, or their animal rearing or other crafts, not to mention their way of living. Distinct from the Roman theatre outside, this visual spread brought home the lives of the people Amman is home to. The theatre complex has a modern garden all around it and seems to be a favoured picnic spot of the time.

The citadel hill, where we went from the theatre complex claims to have found material dating to 6500 BC, in addition to legends associated with the place. Amman was once called Ammonities (as occurring in the Bible) and later in the 4th century BC called Philadelphia after its Ptolemic ruler Philadelphus. In the second century AD, Roman Empire built its evidences and today as the capital of Jordan it has its distinct culture.

All along the drive up to citadel hill, even though one is aware that Amman is built on hills, the impression that stays in your mind is of straight lines. There is great order in the planning of the city. Even the buildings are all of a pale cream colour, no other colour and again built with more uniformity and straight lines than curves.

Nothing prepares you for your first glimpse of the very majestic temple of Hercules. A walk on uneven rubble ground brings you closer to the six pillars standing facing east. The pillars are in varying heights, the tallest two being 33 feet tall. The visitors can have a birdís eye view of the city from the platform of the temple. The theatre looked very majestic from this aerial view.

On the other side was Jordan Archeological Museum. The Jordan museum houses artefacts from 10,000 years ago to 400 years ago. A fascinating exhibit at the museum is the Dead Sea bronze and copper scrolls written in Aramaic characters. Some scrolls are also in Greek and Hebrew. They date to the end of the 3rd century BC.

Some very interesting scrolls in copper strips, it is believed were hidden here during the second Jewish revolt in 135 AD. These scrolls give details of treasures hidden in Palestine, like 10 tonnes of gold, 80 tonnes of silver and so on. Time and again people have excavated the whole country but not found the treasures. Some scholars believe that this is perhaps a fable with symbolic significance.

There are some other buildings on citadel hill; all of equal importance, but the watchman pestered us to leave before dark. His take on it was, "So much history means so many memories and so many memories means so many unfulfilled desires. At night they all come here, from Herakles downwards to dance and sing to the beautiful Arabian sky."

We rushed out as no threat could have made us, we did look up at the sky no wonder they inspired the Arabian Nights!