The Roman Amphitheater is one of Amman’s well-known archaeological attractions. It was originally built about 2000 years ago, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, a peaceful Roman emperor. The amphitheater is located at the foot of Jabal Al-Jofah, opposite Amman Citadel and the Temple of Hercules Ruins, which rest on Citadel Hill, the highest hilltop in the city.
Emperor Pius “encouraged philosophy, fine arts, and science,” ushering in a culturally rich era. At that time, “Amman was known as Philadelphia, capital of the Roman Empire“. The city was named after Ptolemy Philadelphus, son of Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra VII of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and Roman Triumvir Mark Antony.
The Roman amphitheatre is “physically cut into the side of a hill,” and the complex includes an Odeon and two museums – Jordan Folklore Museum and Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions. In 1957, the Jordanian government implemented restoration of the ancient site.
The two excellent museums provide cultural insight into the era and contain impressive artifacts – traditional clothing, headdresses, weavings, jewellery, agricultural and craft tools, and household utensils. Exhibitions date back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and represent life in the desert and rich Bedouin, Jordanian, and Palestinian heritage.
I visited the theater on a hot day, when there were few tourists. The experience was reminiscent of theaters explored in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. As in Athens, the ancient theater in Amman is a popular venue for special cultural events, concerts. and theatrical performances. It accommodates 6,000 spectators and is said to have excellent acoustics.
After the Roman Theater, I decided to visit nearby Souk el-Khodra. The souk features local produce and is famous for its friendly vendors. Souk el-Khodra is one of many colorful souks in Amman, including:
- Souk Jara – Friday market near Rainbow Street featuring local art and artisans
- Farmers Market – Saturday market with bakeries, artisan cheeses, organically grown fruits and vegetables, handmade soaps, pottery, olive oil, and handicrafts
- Souk el-Sagha – crafted gold and other jewelry
- Nour al Barakah – ethical, sustainable products
- Souk Mango – bridalwear, clothing, linens, and accessories
Downtown markets near the Roman Theater were as crowded as those I’ve experienced in India and Morocco. It was fun, but a bit disorienting in the heat. Souk el-Khodra was brimming with animated vendors and harried locals, browsing through endless racks of spices, nuts, fruit and vegetables, fish, and meat. Souk prices are substantially lower than supermarkets. I bought avocadoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and strawberries for half the price at the supermarket – wanted to buy a watermelon, but even the smallest one was too heavy to schlep back to the apartment
As I walked home, the streets kept buzzing with frenzied consumers buying anything and everything you could possibly imagine, including clothing, pigeons, chickens and chicks, kittens, roosters, and more. It was a mad scene, and there were no visible escape routes!
Hot and thirsty, I looked for a place to grab a cold drink, and then remembered that cafés were closed. During Ramadan daytime eating or drinking in public is forbidden or “haraam” in Arabic. Sometimes I get the words haraam and halal (something permissible) mixed up.
“Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days of Shawwal, it will be as if he fasted for a lifetime.” Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) – Muslim
To confuse matters, Eid al-Fitr lasts one day only, but it’s the first day of Shawwal. Shawwal is the “month after Ramadan that holds opportunities of great reward for worshippers”. During Shawwaal, it’s permissible to fast and make up for a missed Ramadan fast day or as a voluntary fast – but I’m digressing…
The plan was to walk to the Roman Theater and back home afterwards, mingling with locals along the way and enjoying downtown Amman. On the way home, I succumbed to the heat and crowds and called an uber.
Ramadan ends today, and the Muslim adhān (call to worship) from a nearby mosque sounded different this morning. Some Muslims “spend the last ten days of the holy month in seclusion (i’tikaf), focusing on “worshipping Allah, reflecting, and refraining from involvement in worldly affairs”. Clearly, those with me in the souk were of a different ilk.
The translation of Eid al-Fitr – the last day of Ramadan – is “festival of breaking the fast”. It’s a public holiday in Jordan and a day off for the general population, schools, and most businesses. After a month of fasting from dawn to dusk, it’s the first time Muslims can eat during daylight hours. It’s a happy time when people visit friends, give presents, wear new clothes, and place flowers at the gravesites of relatives.
This is my second “firsthand experience” of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. In June 2017, I remember spending Eid al-Fitr in Istanbul, and taking a Bosphorus ferry to the Princes’ Islands. The ferry was overloaded with Muslim families celebrating. I’ve learned that marking the end of Ramadan is one of the most important celebrations on the Islamic calendar.