Capital and largest city of Jordan.
Amman enjoys a special position in Jordan because of its size and population composition, as well as its importance as the capital and the center of communication, commerce, banking, industry, and cultural life. Unlike the ancient capitals of other Arab countries, Amman is a relatively new city. Before 1875, what is now Amman consisted solely of the site of the long-forgotten biblical town of Rabbath Ammon. That town later became the prosperous Roman city of Philadelphia, of which significant ruins, including an amphitheater, remain. Encouraged by the Ottoman Empire, the Circassians started settling the area in the 1870s, and the Circassian village of Amman developed with a minor reputation as a commercial center. In 1905 this role was considerably augmented by the construction of the Hijaz railroad, which reached the vicinity of the village, three miles (5 km) distant. This major communications link connected Amman with Damascus, Constantinople (Istanbul), and eventually the Hijaz—the western Arabian peninsula of Mecca and Medina. The official role of the budding town of Amman was established in 1921, when Amir Abdullah I ibn Hussein, the head of the newly formed Hashimite Emirate (princedom) of Transjordan, made it his residence and his capital.
Although the departments and institutions of government were centered in Amman, its population growth was slow. It reached only about 20,000 in the early 1940s. After 1948 the establishment of the State of Israel and the influx of Palestinians caused the town to experience very rapid growth: 108,000 in 1952; 848,587 in 1979; and 1,864,500 in 1999. While the impetus and sustaining cause for this population growth was the arrival of the Palestinians, refugees and nonrefugees alike, it was also increased by rural-to-urban migration and a rising birth rate. Still, Amman by the 1980s was called the "largest Palestinian city in the world" given its size and the preponderance of Palestinian inhabitants in the city.
By the early 1990s Amman possessed a well-developed infrastructure. From an original small town built on precipitous hills, called jabal s, it has spread to rolling plains in all directions from the city center. Throughout are found the royal palace, parliament, the courts, ministerial and government offices and institutions, numerous parks, sports facilities, schools, hospitals, colleges, and a major university (the University of Jordan). Banking and commerce are a vibrant part of the city, including a stock exchange and the Amman central vegetable market, which sells as far afield as the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Amman is served by a major international airport, a railroad, and major trunk roads to all parts of the nation and to neighboring countries. Radio has long been present; television was introduced in the 1960s. Newspaper, magazine, and book publishing is part of the political and cultural life. Since the 1970s, with the increase in hotels and meeting facilities, Amman has become a much frequented center for both regional and international conferences.
Amman witnessed many changes in the 1990s. During and after the Gulf Crisis (1990–1991), it housed hundreds of foreign journalists and became the port of embarkation for those traveling overland
to Iraq, the only way to reach the country. The city's population swelled; thousands of Palestinians holding Jordanian passports arrived, following their expulsion from Kuwait after its liberation from Iraqi occupation, in addition to large numbers of Iraqi refugees. Wealthy newcomers began constructing palatial new homes for themselves and investing money in construction projects in the city to replace their investments in Kuwait. The 1994 Israeli–Jordanian peace treaty later boosted hopes of increased tourism, leading to another building boom as many large hotels were constructed to accommodate large numbers of tourists (who did not come in the numbers hoped). These trends, combined with the construction of many new bridges and tunnels to ease traffic congestion, led to great changes in the western part of the city by the early twenty-first century, although this was not nearly the case in the poorer eastern quarters.
see also refugees: palestinian; university of jordan.
Gubser, Peter. Jordan: Crossroads of Middle Eastern Events. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1983.
Hacker, Jane M. Modern Amman: A Social Study. Durham, England: Durham Colleges, 1960.
Hannoyer, Jean, and Shami, Seteney, eds. Amman: The City and Its Society. Beirut: CERMOC, 1996.
Updated by Michael R. Fischbach