A Date With the Gods

Seeking out Amman’s ancient deities

By: Riana Lagarde

I stood in the hot Jordanian sun on the steps of a Byzantine basilica in Amman in search of Pagan gods. I decided to have a peek inside the Temple of Hercules, which has been turned into the archaeological museum. After perusing the Dead Sea Scrolls, I exited the museum and perched on top of the Citadel like a gargoyle. I could see what looked like Zeus in the amphitheater down below in the center of Old Amman.

I scurried downhill, all the while observing that Amman is the oldest continuously inhabited city and is full of swank houses and five-star hotels with every amenity and convenience of the West. Amman contrasts sharply with the old town in the valley full of ancient amphitheaters, crumbling Roman columns, minarets, markets bustled with activity, kebab stalls with roasted meat and craftsmen sipping on rich Arabic coffee.

I elbowed my way through the crowded streets and snacked on exotic sweets along the way. Distracted by the treasures in the souks, I bought some quilted pillowcases and a brass Samovar. By the time I got there, the 2,000-year-old amphitheater was closed and the golden sun was setting behind Amman’s 19 hills.

The full moon began to rise, and I found myself at a quaint cafe, checking my e-mail. A handsome man in a black T-shirt and jeans brought me a strong vodka and lemon juice, and I asked him if he was a Greek god.

He said, “Sugar, if you want to find a Greco-Roman god, you have to go north to Jerash where Artemis [Goddess of Hunt and the Moon]has a temple.”

I watched the moon rise as big as a brass Jordanian platter over, I believe, the sixth hill of Amman. It is no surprise to be drinking alcohol in a Muslim country because Jordan like Egypt, Turkey and many Asian Muslim countries does not have a ban on alcohol, leaving this as a matter of choice to citizens and visitors. I chose to have another and talk to the Adonis in designer jeans.

Jerash, a city once buried in sand and perfectly preserved is over 6,500 years old and located about 30 miles north of Amman among the mountains of Gilead. It is one of the largest and most well-preserved sites of Roman architecture in the Near East.

Jerash is full of ornate towers, a long colonnaded street, a hippodrome, an oval forum, limestone arched city gates, magnificent baths and a faultless sewer system dating back to the Neolithic age.

However, no gods or goddesses were hanging out. Word is that they were vacationing with Aphrodite at the Red Sea.


Amman Amphitheatre: Located on Quraysh Street

Amman Citadel: Jabal al-Qalaa; open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (winter), 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (summer); Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Books@Cafe: This trendy hot spot offers an Internet cafe, bookstore, restaurant and disco. Located at Jabal Amman, 1st circle
Open 9:30 a.m.-midnight, daily

Jordan Folklore Museum: open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Museum of Popular Traditions: open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays.

Jerash Visitor’s Center: Open daily 7 a.m. until dark. From July-October a sound and light show takes place every evening.

Jordan Tourism Board