The Roman Theater Amman is one of the most beautiful heritage sites in Jordan.
My first view of this lovely Roman Theater was from the hill on which Amman Citadel is located. As I roamed around the Amman Citadel, traversing eras in its various parts, this beautiful theater appeared like a scooped out yet beautifully sculpted piece. It appeared like a precious stone has been taken out of a piece of jewelry. On a closer look, however, you realize it is a giant theater that can seat thousands of people.
Roman Theater, Amman
After soaking in its top view, it was logical to drive down the hill and visit this ancient piece of history of Amman city. We parked in front of the theater and realized that the preparations were on for an upcoming musical concert. Organizers were setting up things and the scene just looked perfect. An ancient Roman Theater and a musical event happening there – how I would have loved to attend that event. Of course, the modern day event that uses far too many types of equipment and entertains a large number of people had to take place on the grounds outside the ancient Roman Theater. This Roman Theater worked as a perfect backdrop. Cascading layers of steps leading to the new age stage was a beautiful juxtaposition of past with the present.
We passed through a row of columns with what appeared to me – Corinthian capitals. Through a rectangular gate, I got the first close look at the semi-circular steps that we collectively call a Roman Theater. A security guard sat against the ‘No Smoking’ board and the larger than life portraits of the Kings – the present, past & future smiled at us. Must say made me feel welcome!
History & Architecture
Our guide explained to us the history and architecture of the Roman Theater.
It was probably built in the 2nd CE during the reign of Antonius Pius or the Roman Period.
A small shrine to the goddess of theater Athena used to be there on top of the last rows – though away from the stage the sound could be perfectly heard there owing to the excellent acoustics design of this Roman Theater.
Ruler or the Royalty sat on the front seats – closest to the stage. Middle rows of the Roman Theater belonged to the military. Rest of the public sat in the top rows. The division between these three areas is clearly marked in the design of the Theater.
Roman Theater can seat roughly 6000 people. I wondered if that would have been the total population of Roman Philadelphia – as Jordan Amman was then known.
The theater rests against a hill or it cuts into the north face of a hill. This formation minimizes the impact of the harsh sun on the audience. Even today you can see that stage is full of sunlight while the seating area remains pretty much in shadow.
The best part of the Theater is its acoustics. You can stand at the center of the stage and your voice will echo. The person sitting on top of the last row would be able to hear you clearly. People at opposite ends of the orchestra can talk to each other through the semicircular stone wall below the first row of seats. I wonder how they designed the whole acoustics in an open-air theater.
The steps leading to the top are steep but worth all the effort that takes to climb them. I spoke to some school girls sitting there and chatting away to glory as teenagers do anywhere in the world. Both them and me, we were amused with our animated talk – trying to understand each other’s world.
The Roman Theater as we see now is recently restored. It is open for public performances. I am told that Amman Book Fair also takes place here. What a lovely way to keep the heritage living.
Is it a Roman Theater or a Greek Theater?
Our guide argued that this Roman Theater that sits against the hill is actually a Greek Theater and not a Roman one as commonly believed.
To explain this he gave her three features of Greek theater:
- Greek theaters are always against the hill while Roman theaters stand on their own foundations. Roman Theater is against a hill.
- Athena – whose shrine was located on top of this theater is a Greek Goddess and not Roman.
- There is a place marked for the Royal family which was done in Greek theaters and not in Roman theaters.
Architecturally, the Roman theaters are an exact semi-circle while Greek ones are a little more than 180 degrees and tend to surround the stage. The seats here definitely extend beyond a semi-circle.
Out guide believed that a Greek Theater existed in this place before the Roman Empire and Romans continued to use this theater and later generations came to know it as Amman’s Roman Theater.
I came home and read this paper on Differences between Greek and Roman Theater and yes, it validates everything that our guide told us.
A Roman Theater on its own foundations can be seen at Jerash – The Greco-Roman city not too far from Amman.
Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions
On both sides of this Roman Theater in Amman, there are vaults that I assume would have worked as green rooms in the hay days of the theater. Now they act as museums. I explored the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions located on the right side of the theater.
The ancient vaults add to the ambiance of the displays.
In one long room, there are Mosaics from Madaba. I did visit Madaba after I visited Amman but this was my first introduction to artworks using Mosaic that are so famous in Jordan.
I walked through the room looking at stories that were painted with small pieces of stone. Most of these were biblical stories that unfortunately I am not aware of – but I could still admire the craftsmanship of the artists who made them.
I spotted some usual signs like the Swastika sign and a zigzag pattern I so associate with our Patan Patola or Ikkat Saris. Our ancient civilizations it seems we were really global.
Other rooms had the costumes depicting tribal wear that I would later see at Wadi Rum and at Bedouin Tents cum Jordan Souvenir Shops.
The best part of this museum was the coin jewelry on display. There were all kinds of ornaments made from old coins – it felt as if the old Jordanian tribes wore coin jewelry all over them.
You can buy the coin jewelry in souvenir shops in Jordan, though I can’t say it is all old.
It is like a centerpiece sitting in the middle of Amman Jordan with the city cropping up all around it.
Amman is well connected with the rest of the world through airlines like Qatar Airways.
I would highly recommend a visit to this theater as and when you visit Amman & Jordan.
Recommend you to read following Jordan Tourist Attractions on Travel Blog.