Jabal Amman: around 1st Circle
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West Amman is too large to attempt aimless exploratory rambling, though if you have a spare afternoon to fill, you might like to take a wander through the leafy streets around 1st Circle on Jabal Amman. When Amman was a small town occupying the Downtown valley floors, this gentle neighbourhood was the preserve of the elite, including royalty, families wealthy through business or commerce, politicians and ambassadors, British commanders of the army, and so on. The quiet streets either side of Rainbow Street are still lined with many fine old villas dating from the 1920s and 1930s.
We’ve outlined a route beginning at 1st Circle, but you could instead pick up a detailed (free) Jabal Amman Walking Trail leaflet at the small information office at 36 Rainbow Street, or at Wild Jordan.
Perhaps Amman’s most famous thoroughfare, Rainbow Street has become known for two things: cafés and traffic. Of the former there are dozens, both on and just off the street: this has become one of the city’s prime spots for socializing. All tastes are catered for – there are traditional coffee houses, zingy contemporary espresso bars, cosy hideaways for organic tea-lovers and swanky DJ venues, alongside antiques shops, craft studios, edgy fast-food hangouts, top-quality restaurants…it’s quite a whirl. All attractions, though, are crammed onto what is effectively a narrow, semi-residential one-way street: traffic on weekend evenings in particular can be disastrous. It can take half an hour to drive a few hundred metres.
On foot, though – cafés, shops and restaurants notwithstanding – Rainbow Street is a window into another Amman. As you head east from 1st Circle, the street (named after the renovated Rainbow Cinema on the right) bustles with activity on the stroll to the walled-off British Council. Beyond here, the road dips sharply; partway along on the left is the Al Safadi mosque, with a fine old minaret. On a minor street to the right, an anonymous-looking townhouse, in a dark shade of plaster and sporting curved Art Deco-style balcony railings, was where King Talal lived for a time before his accession, and where both the late King Hussein and his brother Prince Hassan were born.
Two of the most attractive villas in the area, both well signposted, are beside each other on Fawzi Malouf Street – also known as “Souk Jara Street” after the summer street market here – about 250m east of the British Council. On the Rainbow Street corner stands an elegant symmetrical villa set back from the street and faced in local stone, with a stepped portico and tall, slender windows; it is now used as showrooms for the crafts of Jordan River Designs and Bani Hamida. Alongside it is a one-storey villa – once home to Major Alec Kirkbride, the first British Ambassador to Jordan – with a beautiful portico of pointed arches, wrought-iron window-bars, and a lovely garden centred on a star-shaped fountain. Both these houses were built in the late 1920s by Salim Al Odat, an architect originally from Karak.
Just round the corner with Asfour Street is a pair of houses built for Egyptian businessman and adviser to Emir Abdullah, Ismail Bilbaysi, a smaller one dating from the 1930s with a semicircular balcony featuring a lavishly painted ceiling visible from the street, and beside it a much larger villa designed in the 1940s in a consciously medieval Mamluke style, with bands of alternating pink and white stone and pointed arches.
Continuing east past more cafés and crafts outlets down Rainbow Street, you come to the distinctively modernistic Mango House on the right, at the corner with Omar bin al-Khattab Street (aka Mango Street). In smooth, reddish stone with curving, pillared balconies, it was built in the late 1940s by Kamal and Ali Mango, members of one of Amman’s most prominent business dynasties. On the other side of Rainbow Street is a long, low house, the whole facade of which is sheltered beneath an elegant Circassian-style porticoed balcony; its most famous resident was Said Al Mufti, a Circassian who was prime minister in the 1950s and also mayor of Amman. Following Mango Street to the right brings you past more cafés and another fine villa, now home to the Royal Film Commission, before – on the right – the widely known Books@Café, an attractive bookshop and café-bar shoehorned into another historic old house. A few doors further is the print gallery Jacaranda, past which the road climbs to a mini-roundabout; to the right is the Al Pasha hammam, while straight on leads in the direction of 2nd Circle, past numerous shops.
The striking Wild Jordan centre, designed by architect Ammar Khammash for the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), is the headquarters of the RSCN's ecotourism unit, which manages visits to Jordan's nature reserves. As well as information about how to visit the reserves, you’ll find a nature shop (daily 9am–5pm) selling all kinds of pieces designed in traditional style by Jordanian craftworkers. An organic farmers' market, Souq al Shams, is held on site every Friday, and there are often free exhibitions of photographs or art inspired by Jordan's natural environment. The cool, shaded balcony of the excellent café here offers one of Amman’s most spectacular views, looking over the valleys of Downtown and across to Jabal Al Qal’a. Opposite, between the hills, rises a gigantic flagpole with an enormous Jordanian flag fluttering lazily. The pole stands a shade under 127m high, and the flag itself is 30m by 60m – impressive, but no longer a world record.
A few doors along from Wild Jordan on the same street is the beautiful Nabad Gallery, housed in a particularly fine old villa with a secluded rear terrace. This has rapidly earned a reputation as one of the city’s leading art galleries, with a consistently high-quality range of temporary shows. Check the website and Facebook to find out what’s on – or just drop by on the off-chance. Next door is the swanky Urdon Shop, selling upmarket crafts all made in Jordan.
At the bottom (east) end of Rainbow Street, turning right at the T-junction leads into Khirfan Street, an old residential quarter on the slope of Jabal Amman's hill which offers great views out over Downtown towards mountainous Jabal Al Ashrafiyyeh opposite. Several of the buildings along the narrow streets are traditional three-storey villas in the Syrian style, with high balconied walls concealing central courtyards. A few minutes' walk, along stairs beside no. 34 leads to the quirky Love On A Bike craft shop, while the wonderful Ola's Garden handmade jewellery emporium is at no.60.