Monday, 13 February 2012

Amman's Roman Amphitheatre - And A Hidden Treasure

   I stood centre stage in Amman’s Roman amphitheatre feeling the pressure of my own voice reverberating from the stone seating circled around me. I watched Anne as she walked in the flat arena, called out to her. ‘Come up here and try it. It’s so acoustically perfect you can hear a man talking in a normal voice even if you’re sitting all the way up at the back.’
   She looked up at me and smiled. ‘I’ll take your word for it. What’s the equipment behind you? Do they still have concerts here?’
   I surveyed the stage behind me. Beyond the speaker stacks I could see the shabby Eastern city climbing up the hill towards the Citadel, straight stairways set into the tightly packed buildings, reaching towards the cloudy sky.
   ‘Yes. A big Lebanese singer played here over the weekend. Not bad to be using a venue after two thousand years, is it?’
   I jumped down to her and managed to wind myself in the process. Anne laughed and put her arm in mine, her cheeks rosy with the cool autumn air. She had zipped her brown leather jacket up, her red scarf tucked into the top.
Olives, Page 105

Paul’s girlfriend Anne comes to visit him in Amman for a few days, an event that interrupts the growing intimacy between Paul and Aisha and reminds Paul that he already has a relationship with his lover and landlady. Anne’s a high-powered international lawyer, a contrast to Paul who’s a journalist and, if truth be told, a bit of a slob compared to Anne’s smart-set friends.

They go out on a day’s sight-seeing in Amman and no such trip could be complete without a visit to Amman’s Roman Amphitheatre, a marvellously preserved artefact that does, indeed, have the quality of acoustic perfection described in Olives – as do the other Roman amphitheatres you can find dotted around Jordan.

There are a number of Roman remains in Jordan, some of which haven’t even been excavated yet, but the most significant sites to visit are in Amman, Petra, Jerash and Umm Qeis. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Roman Baths in Amman are stunning but still haven’t opened to the public as far as I can tell. We managed to sneak our way in a few years ago thanks to a friendly member of staff, who took us for a private tour around the site, which was undergoing a very leisurely looking dig/renovation at the time.

Jerash has not one, but three amphitheatres. This huge city, the most important Roman ruin in the Near East, is remarkably preserved and has been the subject of excavations for much of the past century.  Every summer it’s transformed by the three-week Jerash Festival, a major cultural event in the Jordanian calendar.

But the Amman Amphitheatre conceals a little secret. The Folklore Museum of Bedouin Life is a tiny but fascinating display of artefacts, textiles and weaving from the remarkably rich Bedouin culture of the Jordanian desert.  It’s a neat little wonder, this place, I never tire of wandering around it and admiring the intricate, colourful kandouras and the head-dresses of jangling silver coins and tokens, the goat-skin water carriers and camel-hair tents.
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