Urban Guide to Amman, Jordan

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Urban guide to Amman, Jordan by Roba Al-Assi, as published in Gulf Life. A part of a series of three, covering three areas: Jabal Amman, Abdoun, and Weibdeh.


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    Roba Al-Assi muses on Amman at

    www.andfaraway.net and runs the popular

    pan-Arab blog www.itoot.net

    www.andfaraway.net www.itoot.net

    Not the regions most historical city, and often overlooked in favour of its imposing neighbours Damascus and Cairo, Amman gets an unfair rap. Here, Gulf Lifes Amman corre-spondent uncovers all thats great about the city she loves

    1 city, 3 neighbouRhoods






    Roman heatre








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    Gulf Air flies 9 times weekly between Bahrain and Amman. For schedules and to book flights, car hire and hotels, visit gulfair.com gulfair.com . 9

  • Above: the Film House puts on outdoor screenings every summer


    In any other Middle Eastern city, Jabal Amman would probably be regarded as the modern quarter. But in Amman, one of the regions newest

    capitals, the Jabal is the nearest thing the city has to a historic heart. It boasts none of the colourful souqs or old pashas residences of places like Cairo or Damascus, and its easier to find an espresso than an Arabic coffee or a rooftop bar than a mamluk mausoleum, but dont take that to mean that it's lacking in character.

    A good place to take the pulse of the neighbourhood is along cobblestone-clad Rainbow Street the road signs used to say Abu Bakr Al-Sideeq Street, until the residents voted to change the official name to match the one everyone calls it by, after the Rainbow Cinema.

    On a corner along here is a modest bakery, easy to miss if it wasnt for the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread that wafts out of the doorway. Its known as Abu Ghosh [1] (Rainbow St, near First Circle), after the owner, who works his red-brick furnace from early morning until he closes in the late afternoon, taking raw dough from stacks of wood racks and turning it into thick, baguette-like kaak, which is baked to order only. On a battered wooden table are DIY fillings: a plastic bag of thyme, a box of cream-cheese triangles and the bakerys speciality, grilled eggs. There is no better breakfast in Amman.

    A little way down the road, peaceful Viewpoint Park [2] is the ideal location in which to eat your sandwich. The view takes in the downtown chaos in the valley below and the

    Roman Citadel on the hill opposite. If its chilly, you can always warm up with a hot cup of cinnamon caramella from the nearby branch of Cups & Kilos [3] (Rainbow St), which is Ammans most popular homegrown coffee chain.

    While not everybody is interested in buying the organic herbs and hand-crafted jewellery it sells, the Wild Jordan Centre [4] (Othman Bin Affan St, +962 6 463 3542), designed by local star architect Ammar Khammash, is a stunning structure and definitely worth seeing. It has a basement caf with terraces that offer more fine views, not to mention one of Jordans only organic restaurants.

    The centre is the home in Amman of the Royal Society of Conservation for Nature, one of a number of worthy organisations that have headquarters locally. A short walk away, the Film House [5] (5 Mango St, +962 6 464 2266) is home to the Royal Film Commission, which has turned an attractive 1930s villa into a hub for audio-visual arts, with regular movie screenings. The films are shown in an outdoor amphitheatre against a mountainous backdrop.

    If there is one element that definitively characterizes Jabal Amman, it is stairs. A snakes-and-ladders-like profusion of corkscrewing staircases connects the neighbourhood to the lower districts of Amman. There is a beautifully crumbling flight of stairs right next to Wild Jordan. Dont be concerned that it appears to lead to a private home many do, crossing backyards, passing front doors and descending beneath

    G U L F L I F E 7 97 8 G U L F L I F E

    Below: drop in at Abu Ghoshs

    self-named bakery for authentic,

    fresh-baked kaak

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    Philipp Dennert has lived in Jabal Amman ever since he moved to Amman from Germany to work at Syntax, a local design house.

    Why Jabal Amman?It has soul. You feel that people love this neighborhood. It has a familiarity that I prefer over the coldness and anonymity of other areas.

    What are your favorite spots in the area?My old house with its two lemon trees, seven cats and blue door. Theres a restaurant called Abu Omar (Mutran St), which I love for the mutabbal, and Abu Khaleel, Ammans oldest Chinese restaurant (Rifaah Al-Tahtawi St).

    Is Jabal Amman too popular for its own good?The franchise restaurants and tourist-oriented places are moving in, and these threaten the authentic spirit of the neighborhood. A balance has to be found that doesnt cause Jabal to burn out but keeps it as an asset for the city that tourists and residents alike can enjoy.

    Q&A Philipp Dennert


    . . . . . . .



    First Circle

    Al-Pasha Turkish Bath




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    Mango Street

    King Faysal St


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    Below: local chain Cups & Kilos has an innovative range of

    flavoured coffees


    It's the most popular hill in the city, and with good reason:there's plenty on offer in this Jordanian gem

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  • The modern stone villas built into the hillside of the Lweibdeh district are small and tasteful, with none of the kitschy additions that mar much of the

    contemporary architecture in other parts of Amman. Breaks of pine trees offer the dwellings natural shade from the summer sun and scent the air with a delicious woody smell in the rainy winters. The neighbourhoods little corner shops, family-run patisseries and earthy vegetable stores belong to a time before supermarkets and chain stores. There is a feel of authenticity about Lweibdeh: no frills, no props, no Ammani teenagers playing it cool.

    The laid-back nature of this part of town has traditionally led to it being favoured by artists and the galleries that represent them. It's not a bohemian art scene, though, but one of good taste and high culture. One of the art centres here, Darat Al-Funun [1] (down the hill from the Luzmila Hospital, +962 6 464 3251), or the little house of the arts, is perhaps the most beautiful spot in all of Amman. Its actually three houses, all dating from the 1920s and set in beautiful gardens, at the bottom of which are the remains of a small sixth-century Byzantine church that the centre uses for open-air movie screenings and exhibitions. The house caf, set amidst evergreen trees with sweeping views of the surrounding hillsides, is a fine spot for afternoon tea.

    While Darat Al-Funun and the nearby Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts [2] (Hosni Fareez St, +962 6 463 0128), the countrys premier showcase for contemporary Arab and Islamic art with a 2,000-strong collection of works, represent the artistic elite, Lweibdeh is also home to many smaller, more experimental art venues. Notable among these is Makan [3]

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    Prince Mohammed St

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    The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts houses the countrys biggest public art collection

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    Darat Al-Funun is a workshop and gallery as well as offering some of the best views of Amman

    The slopes overlooking Downtown are home to some of Amman's most exciting artists

    Another day, another hill looking out from Lweibdeh, across Downtown to Achrafieh


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    Tamer Al-Masri and Michael Makdah are the founders of Jo Bedu, an arts community that organises cultural events. They also have a Jo Bedu Store on Lweibdeh's Khayyam Street.

    Why did you choose Lweibdeh as a base for Jo Bedu?Were a brand that thrives on creativity and culture, both of which are a big deal in Lweibdeh.

    What are your top three spots in Lweibdeh?Jo Bedu Store, Jo Bedu Store and Jo Bedu Store. Just kidding! That would be Paris Square, Darat Al-Funun and Khayyam Street.

    How popular is Lweibdeh with Ammans youth?Not very; its still mainly older residents and the artistic crowd that youll find up here. As more cafs open, it will hopefully attract some younger Ammanis thats the only thing thats missing here.

    Q&A Tamer Al-Masri & Michael Makdah

    (Nadim Al-Mallah St, +962 6 463 1969); housed in a small villa behind Al-Saadi Mosque, this alternatively minded venue often showcases work deemed too daring for more established galleries, such as Diala Al-Khasawnehs 2008 exhibition The First Bra Boutique, which told the stories of different women and their first bras.

    Once youve had enough of art, head for pretty Kuleyet Al-Sharia Street. Running from the Sharia Mosque to Paris Square, this is the heart of Lweibdeh. It is where youll find Al-Khal [4], a falafel shop that aside from the regular repertoire of deep-fried chickpeas also does Ammans best mfaraket beid (our local version of an omelette). Automat [5], on Paris Square, is a great old manaqeesh snackbar. Running off the square (its actually a circle) is whats known locally as Butchers Street,

    Paris Square is the heart of the Jabal Lweibdeh


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    Al-Khal may be known for its falafel, but it alsomakes the citys best mfaraket beid omelette

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    There was a time when driving round and round Abdoun Circle in Amman was the coolest thing ever. So what if there wasnt an awful lot to do if you

    pulled over and got out of the car, except perhaps look in at the Prana nightclub or hang out at the then-hippest branch of McDonalds? It was the 90s, after all.

    More than ten years on and Abdoun is still cool, with new attractions including, just down from the Circle, the super-illuminated Abdoun Bridge, referred to locally as Jisr Al-Nogeifeh (Slingshot Bridge) because of its uncanny resemblance to a rubber catapult. The centre of attraction has shifted though, and the BMWs and other smart kids cars now cruise down the road in New Abdoun.

    One of the first draws at this end of town was the restaurant Blue Fig [1] (Al-Ameer Hashem Bin Al-Hussein St, +962 6 592 8800), renowned for its striking post-modernist architecture (it is designed by one of Jordans top architects, Khalid Nahhas) as well as for its chic and sophisticated ambience: work by local artists on the walls, fusion and world music on the decks. The place is still hugely popular, with a menu that is sufficiently accomplished and inventive to invite repeat visits. Shame the chairs are so uncomfortable.

    The trail blazed into New Abdoun by Blue Fig has since become well trodden. Bunzy Buns [2] (off Al-Ameer Hashim


    Abdoun Circle

    Abdoun Bridge


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    Its star may have faded, but Abdoun is still the ideal spot for a bit of retro chic

    Hip restaurant Blue Fig was

    one of the first businesses to open

    in New Abdoun

    Bin Hussein St), which opened a few blocks down, staked its claim with plush purple couches and a serve-everything-in-a bun-including-soup food menu gimmicky to be sure, but it works. American restaurant Bennigans [3] (Abdo Shammoot St, +962 6 592 0769), a popular tavern-themed diner back in the US, quickly filled up with Abdounis drinking mocktails and eating burgers. Aping real-world geopolitics, the Canadians

    Pan-Arab brand Tch Tch (below) opened its first branch in Abdoun


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  • With its legendar...