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Amman: Haven of serenity amid sea of turmoil

Amman, major cultural capital of Arab world, surprises with peaceful environment despite upheaval across Middle East

AMMAN, Jordan

Even through the plane window, Jordan’s capital Amman shows itself to be an arid land, nearly bereft of green.

Bearing the vestiges of many civilizations, Jordan is a young Arab state on a time-worn land.

Until 1918 it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and later fell under U.K. mandate before finally achieving independence in 1946 as a parliamentary monarchy.

Considered one of the most liberal countries in the Arab world, Jordan is not exempt from the troubles affecting the larger region.

But even after many of its neighbors were embroiled in the Arab spring at the beginning of the 2010s, it has long been seen as a relative pillar of stability in a troubled region.

Almost as if to tout their country’s serenity in a sea of turmoil, locals often say: “As things elsewhere go badly, Jordan thrives.”

It does indeed, and Amman is proof of this, with the city clearly free of dire risks present elsewhere in the region as the country’s economic, political and cultural hub.

As one walks down its streets, a feeling sets in not only of safety, but of journeying through history.

Home to archeological sites such as the millennia-old Citadel, perched on the city’s highest hill with a history dating back as far as the second millennium B.C., Amman immerses you in the charm and magic of the ancient world even as hotels, apartments, offices, and commercial outlets of its newer neighborhoods shine as proof of the country’s determination to develop.

Old meets new

Jordan’s largest city, Amman can be divided in two.

On the one hand, a modern metropolis with its modern structures and scenery strikes the onlooker, while on the other, the city sets forth the old world with cornered architecture and sandstone buildings looking much like matchboxes — a unique and authentic texture.

When one looks from a distance, it is the combination of East and West that quickly meets the eye.

Originally, the city was built on seven hills, with the most important sites in the city named after the slopes they lie on.

This is a city where stone plays the leading role, as your eyes long for green, though this is quickly forgotten as you delve into its distinctive beauty.

Street art: Rising trend

Street art has been thriving in Jordan’s capital, with many graffiti artists bringing vivid color to Amman’s gloomy walls.

The city has welcomed up-and-coming graffiti art around the city, its eastern and western parts festooned with animated expressions giving it a new, urban, identity.

Over the past decade, regional unrest along with the country’s worsening economic situation have led Jordanian youth to lay the foundations of an eccentric underground culture.

One renowned Ammani artist, Suhaib Attar, characterized the motive behind his work as “anger management.”
But in this city, street art is not solely related to — peaceful — civil resistance and protest. Even municipal authorities have recognized it as an evolving means by which artists bring color to the city and express positive messages.

Amman street art is no longer a secretive venture and is now becoming common practice, even during daylight hours.

Indeed, it is being backed by the government as well as some NGOs, with many street art projects launched around the city to visualize especially the strong position of women in society.

Welcoming refugees

No article on Amman is complete without mentioning the peaceful environment its inhabitants have created for Syrians fleeing conflict and strife.

Jordan is ranked the third-largest host of Syrian refugees today, after Turkey and Lebanon, with over one million Syrian citizens living in the country. Some 654,000 of these are refugees registered by the UNHCR, according to data from last November.

Though Jordan has been wracked by economic turmoil and high unemployment, refugees have experienced neither a public backlash nor hate speech.

According to Farah Halasa, a resident of Amman, this represents a success, as the relationship between Jordanian citizens and Syrian refugees has been built on inclusiveness and tolerance.

With its foreign population hailing not only from Syria but also Iraq and Yemen, Jordan has received large numbers of refugees since 2011, making Syrian, Yemeni, and Libyan dialects quite common as one walks thestreets of Amman, one of the Arab world’s major cultural capitals.

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