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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 stroll beginning at 1st Circle, but you could instead pick up a detailed (free) “Jabal Amman Walking Trail” leaflet at the small tourist office at 36 Rainbow Street, or at Wild Jordan.

Rainbow Street

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 socialising. 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 recently restored Rainbow Cinema on the right – bustles with activity on the stroll to the walled-off British Council. Beyond here, the street dips sharply; partway along on the left is the Al Safadi mosque, with a fine old minaret, while on a minor street to the right, an anonymous-looking town house, 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.

Fawzi Malouf Street

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.

Omar bin al-Khattab Street (Mango Street)

Continuing 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 past shops towards 2nd Circle.

Wild Jordan

At a T-junction at the bottom end of Rainbow Street – where a set of steep stairs clatters ahead down the hill into Downtown – if you walk left (slightly uphill) on Othman bin Affan Street you’ll come to the striking Wild Jordan centre, designed by architect Ammar Khammash for the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). It is also reachable from 1st Circle by taking the fourth turning on the left (signposted) and following the street round – or by walking down the stairs at the end of the “Souk Jara” street, Fawzi Malouf.

This is the headquarters of the RSCN’s ecotourism unit, who manage 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 – often rural women – ranging from jewellery to painted ostrich eggs and handwoven bags. Also on sale are organic herbs, dried fruits and spices, produced on the reserves. There are often free exhibitions of photographs or art inspired by Jordan’s natural environment. The cool, shaded balcony of the excellent café here – which serves organic food, drinks and smoothies – 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.

Nabad gallery

A few doors along from Wild Jordan on the same street is the beautiful Nabad art 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 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.

Beit Shocair

At the bottom end of Rainbow Street, turning right at the T-junction leads into Khirfan Street, with some great views out towards Jabal Al Ashrafiyyeh. A short stroll along from the corner stands Beit Shocair, an old three-storey villa in the Syrian style, with rooms opening off a central courtyard with a fountain. It’s worth stopping here: the house is full of atmosphere, the terrace has another wonderful view and several artists rent space here or nearby to sell crafts, jewellery and lanterns, including Ola’s Garden. There’s also a highly regarded old-school Arabic café-restaurant upstairs.

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