Opposite the Husseini Mosque, the building on the corner where King Talal Street begins formerly held Amman’s best-loved coffee house, the grand old Arab League Café – a stalwart here for over fifty years, with its fine balcony overlooking the bustle below. In 2002, after a wrangle between the building’s owners (one wanted to keep it as it was; the other wanted to rebuild), the café was gutted – to the horror of seemingly everyone in the city bar the owners themselves. The site has now been redeveloped.
The area around the Husseini Mosque remains the heart of Amman’s souks. To the east lies a warren of alleys known as Souk Sukkar, where stalls sell everything from dates and spices to soap and mops. Souk Sukkar translates as “Sugar Market” – though some say the area was actually named after 1950s entrepreneur Samir Sukkar, who built the first shops.
To the west of the mosque, the main street funnelling traffic out of Downtown is King Talal Street, lined with stores selling ordinary household goods, fabric and bric-a-brac. A little way down on the left, hidden behind a row of shopfronts, is the city’s main fruit and vegetable market.
The main street parallel to King Talal Street follows the course of the Roman decumanus maximus, which was formed by paving over the free-flowing stream beneath. The street – officially Quraysh Street – is still popularly known as Saqf As Sayl (Roof of the Stream), but these days the sayl is dry, having been tapped upstream. This is Amman’s liveliest quarter, with cobblers, CD stalls and hawkers of soap and toothbrushes competing for space under the pavement colonnades with a secondhand clothes market.
On Saqf As Sayl behind the Husseini Mosque, excavation and restoration work on the Roman Nymphaeum has been going on for years, seemingly without end. It’s very similar in design to the huge nymphaeum at Jerash, which has been dated to 191 AD; at that time, Philadelphia too was at its zenith. The site is fenced and is usually off-limits, though the guardian may not object to you exploring.
However, apart from the immensity of the building (and its newer reconstruction), there’s not much to see. Nymphaea – public fountains dedicated to water nymphs – were sited near rivers running through major cities throughout the Greco-Roman world. This one, facing onto an open plaza at the junction of the two principal city streets, the east–west decumanus and the north–south cardo, was originally two storeys high and must have been quite a sight. Colonnades of Corinthian columns would have drawn even more attention towards the concave building, which was lavishly faced in marble, with statues of gods, emperors or city notables filling the niches all around.