Amman Citadel: Being new among the old

I grew up in a young nation. The First Australians inhabited and stewarded the land for millennia, but urban record (as Europeans think of it) really dates only back from British colonisation (from 1776 onwards).

So, until I was 25, I had no real exposure to ‘old stuff’.

Visiting Amman Citadel was thus my first real encounter with an ‘old’ urban landscape. In my home town, Melbourne, properties from 1950 are considered old! By contrast, Amman Citadel has an archaeological record spanning from pottery Neolithic peoples through to the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods.

Amman Downtown

In my first visit, I was amazed at the length of the period of occupation, the scale of the site and the varied architecture.

Having since undertaken some additional study in archaeology, and visited it again a few times, I understand the features of the site better than I did then. I can appreciate better its strategic elevated location, the fortifications, the record of building and re-building; the use and re-use of materials… and the crucial focus on preserving water.

But nothing compares to that first visit, fresh from a ‘young’ urban tradition, placed deep into the middle of an old one. A few highlights for me are always the following.

Temple of Hercules


Nobody could subjugate a city like the Romans could subjugate a city. You can imagine how the population must have felt about the might of Rome whilst looking the immensity of this temple atop the raised portion of the city.

Byzantine Church

The Byzantine Church dates to 550CE. While I stood in the ruins of the church, I was struck that I was standing in the very spot where, over a millennia ago, fellow believers had stood (or knelt) and worshipped in the same tradition that I do. Imagining the practicalities of services in that building (and its annexes) was a real joy.

Umayyad Palace

The entryway to the place is a beautiful cross-shaped entry hall with a stunning roof reconstruction, opening out into an immense palace (with, of course, water works and a colonnaded street).

Amman Citadel is in the heart of Amman downtown. Entry is 3JD and a visit will take about 2 hours.

On fear, sadness and COVID-19

In many ways, one of the saddest things about COVID-19 is the fear. The fear of each other, the fear of the future and the fear of being without.

I cried a little at Amman airport this morning when I saw two young children wearing face masks. Their parents carried on stoicly, but you don’t cover your children’s faces without being struck by some sort of fear (justified or not). It reminds me of the morning after the Finsbury Park mosque attacks. I was walking to the station and saw little boys and girls accompanied by their tired-looking parents. The children normally walked to school without adult supervision.

The parents were afraid. Literal survival was at stake.

There is something primal about the protection of a parent over a child. And in the case of COVID-19, it’s a risk that they cannot see nor fully comprehend. This event could still be anything and they don’t know how to protect their kin.

I also share in the fear. Today, I was nearly quarantined by flight restrictions. I would have been stuck outside of my home countries, without friends of family. In the hours when that seemed a real possibility, I was afraid. Even as I write this, waiting for the plane to take off, I am anxious.

But what of fear? Fear often comes from a sensible survival instinct, but there is also an element of sadness to it.

There is a sadness to it because a state of fear is your body telling you that something is not normal, is not safe.

Young children with their faces covered is not normal. It is not safe.

And in this case, the non-normal, non-safe state is such an unknown. If a lion is coming towards you, you know what you’re afraid of. In this very strange March 2020, we don’t really know what to be afraid of. Closed borders? Flu symptoms? Running out of bog roll? Each other?

Being afraid without fully knowing what to be afraid of is unusual.

Either way, this state is not normal. And it is not safe.

Yet we have Hope. “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?”