Landing somewhere after dark always makes getting an accurate first impression difficult. That’s how I felt in Amman.
As I sat in the back of a van driving through Jordan’s capital city, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was dark. I wasn’t even sure what day it was. It was my first time in the Middle East. We drove past brightly lit shopping malls and crowded American chain restaurants. I was confused.
The next day, though, I felt comfortable. I felt at home. I felt like I’d been in this city before. I realized that Amman reminded me a lot of Rome, a city I once called home and will forever call my favorite. I spent the next three days continuously noticing the similarities and by the end of my stay I was convinced.
Rome and Amman are twins who were separated at birth and sent to live on different continents.
Why do these two cities strike me as similar?
Amman once actually was Rome
The first mention of Amman was way back in in the 13th century BC when it was known as Rabbat Ammon. Throughout history the city was conquered by many, including the Romans in 106 AD when it became part of the Decapolis and was known as Philadelphia. So, when you’re standing in the middle of Roman ruins, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in Rome. Because essentially you are.
A mix of (really) old and new
While most of Amman was destroyed in an earthquake thousands of years ago, the city is still home to some impressive ruins, much like Rome. The rest of the city has grown up around these ruins in distinct neighborhoods.
Western Amman is the new part of the city, home to the shopping malls and leafy European-style streets. Eastern Amman is older and more traditional. Central Amman, or al-Balad, is home to the Citadel, Roman amphiteatre, and busy souks. Similarly, Rome’s different neighborhoods offer a mix of ancient history, more recent history, and modern buildings.
An abundance of good food
If Jordanians and Italians have one thing in common, it’s that they take a great pride in their cuisine and that they want you to eat a lot of it. When I lived in Rome as an au pair my host family was constantly feeding me. No was not an acceptable answer when asked if I wanted a second helping, and they were constantly buying me food items they thought I’d like.
I felt similarly full in Jordan. Every meals started with an elaborate mix of mezze and as soon as I was too full to eat anymore the main course was brought out. After stuffing myself with something meaty, it was time for dessert. And a post-meal tiny cup of coffee, similarly Italian.
Perfect spring weather
Turns out Jordan isn’t one huge desert. Amman, located in the northwest of the country, experienced a Mediterranean climate that is very similar to Rome’s with four seasons and, gasp, sometimes even snow!
The weather in early April was beautifully springlike- mostly sunny, highs in the 60s or low 70s, with a slight breeze. There were flowers blooming and the sun didn’t set until nearly 7 pm making it the perfect time of year to sightsee.
When people ask me why I love Rome so much, it’s often hard for me to articulate the reason because it’s not something you can see or do. It’s the energy. Romans have a very in your face way of doing things and even though “la dolce vita” it about enjoying life, everything in Rome seems to be crowded and busy in a way to breathes life into the city.
That’s how I felt in Amman. During the day the souks were crowded with shoppers and sellers alike. Women gazing over colorful spices and men hawking their wares whether it was gold and Jordanian rose perfumes. The call to prayer reverberated between buildings making the city seem like it was singing to its people.
At night the city came alive with shisha lounges, coffee shops, restaurants, and even bars overflowing with people enjoying themselves.
Built on seven hills
Amman was originally built on seven hills. The ancient walls of Rome surrounded seven hills that formed the city.
While they’ve both since expanded (Amman is currently built on 19 hills, or jabal in Arabic), learning this little fact confirmed my suspicions.
Rome and Amman are sister cities.
Have you ever found two cities surprisingly similar?
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.