Anyone who has paid any attention over the last several months knows that 2009 is the year marking Amman’s centennial. Banners, flags, and special events have pointed to this fact all year. 2009 also happens to be the 10 year anniversary of HM King Abdullah II’s ascension to the throne, so all-in-all it truly is a banner year.
Festivities were in full swing this past Friday as both milestones were celebrated with a parade. (Centennial website here, Parade website here) Special VIP seating had been being constructed for over a week along a main road near the Amman Municipality building. Streets were blocked off and there were rumors of marching bands, camels, floats, and maybe even an appearance by the King himself! Of course we had to check it out, but before I share some pics and thoughts – one question.
Amman turning 100 years old? Huh!?!?
If Amman were only 100 years old, I kind of imagine her having a conversation like this if she showed up at a conference of capital cities of the world walking around in her cocktail dress (or hijaab, I suppose). “Oh hi, my name is Amman. No, no . . . we’ve never met. Well I only just turned 100, so it’s not even possible. Maybe it was my older sister. No, don’t feel bad – there is a slight family resemblance but we don’t really look anything alike. No, her name is Rabbath. That is an interesting name. I don’t know. . . maybe it’s sanskrit or something.”
Only 100 years old?
Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet people! (I’m going to go off on this for a few minutes. If you prefer some pics and a brief report on the parade – scroll down!)
Amman (way) before she turned 100
Of course, I use the term city loosely, but there is apparently archeological evidence of habitation way back in 8500 BC. In more recent history (try 1300 BC – think Moses and the exodus) it was the chief “city” of those wild and crazy Ammonites of Biblical times. Not to be confused with the extinct sea animals or the explosive substance of the same name, these Ammonites were apparently descendants from Lot and prohibited Moses and his band of Losties from passing through Ammonite territory on the way to the land of milk and honey. How rude! Undoubtedly the hilly location of Rabbath Ammon gave the Ammonites a strategic security advantage and they liked to keep it that way.
However, the Ammonites got their comeuppance in spades a few centuries later when King David took note of the city. (Well, he first took note of a certain young bathing beauty. But that is a story for another time.) While King David was dallying in Jerusalem his army was fighting in the Ammonite capital. They would eventually take the city and the territory. David’s son Solomon even married to an Ammonite woman who bore his heir Rehoboam. The rest, as they say, is history. Rabbath Ammon had the good- or mis-fortune of being located at the crossroads of three continents, which meant for the most of ancient history very young men with very large armies, excess testosterone and no access to high-school sports, WWF, or XBOX took turns decimating each other and taking over this and other cities in the region. The Assyrians, Persians, Maccabbees, Nabateans, Greeks, and Romans all had their moments of adding (or trying to add) Rabbath Ammon to their list of conquests and outposts. Good times.
In Greek/Roman times the city became Philadelphia, a prominent city of the Decapolis. After the guys in togas and leather kilts came the Islamic caliphates of the Umayyads and Abbasids. Menswear started coming in longer one-piece options. And then came the Ottoman Turks. During this last period the city languished (I’m no scholar, but perhaps this had something to do with the advent of the Turkish bath and the sudden demise of menswear altogether) until it became a whistle-stop on the hijaz railway from Damascus to Medina. Later, a flood of Circassian Muslims fleeing religious persecution in Russia swelled the ranks of the city in the late 1800s. Large fur hats seemed to be an attempt at recapturing some dignity and fashion sense. However, the city did not begin to return to international prominence until the events following World Wars I and II when the British, French, Americans, Russians and others played a huge game of Risk, reshaping the world with cartographic abandon as the nation-state came into vogue prime and tribal leaders such as Abdullah I were given their chance on the world stage.
It was during this last time period that the modern municipality of Amman was born. The year was 1909. Those were simpler days. Former President Teddy Roosevelt set out on an expedition of Africa, Earnest Shackleton claimed to have reached the South Pole, the Manhattan Bridge was opened, the Montreal Canadiens hockey club was founded, and the first Giro d’Italia bike race was held.
But there were also more ominous signs of the times back in 1909. The US military bought their first aircraft from the Wright Brothers while, in supposedly unrelated circumstances, work began on the first anti-aircraft gun. The US Navy started a base at Pearl Harbor, the Anglo-Persian Oil company (BP) was founded, the leader of the Ottoman Empire was deposed by his brother, and a housewife from Hackensack, NJ became the first female to drive cross-country.
But I digress.
Thoughts on and Pics of the Parade
In 1909 who could have imagined all that would happen in the next 100 years. Around the globe, or here in Amman. What was once a dusty desert outpost with a few palm trees and a bunch of ancient ruins is now a bustling modern metropolis of 2.5 million people! What better reason to celebrate? As I tried to explain to local friends here, we Americans don’t really need much of an excuse to hold a parade. You could probably travel cross country by going to a parade-a-day during the summer in the States.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The first clue is that its kinda hard to pin people down on the exact Arabic word for what we Americans would call a parade. I asked a number of locals and they all gave me a different word for it. And they all disagreed with the other people’s word choice. From my perspective they all seemed to describe varying degrees of public political gathering and expression – from protest march to demonstration to military expo.
This, however was a bona fide American-style parade. There were marching bands and floats and politicians in car and random corporate walkers and clowns and balloons and . . . Romans!
I’m glad to say the parade organizers made a nod to the city’s ancient history and led the parade off with a veritable legion of Roman soldier impersonators. We were very happy to see them progressing towards us in rank and file. The parade started around 3 PM from the Roman amphitheater (how aproppriate), we were about halfway down the route and it was 3:45 before we saw anyone. While we waited another sure sign that parades are infrequent in Amman was the lack of staking out territory. If you live in the MidWest you know what I mean. The night before a parade is the only time Americans will put personal property on the street. It’s like there is an unwritten rule that you just don’t steal someone else’s parade chairs! No lawn chairs here in Amman though – just lots of police and metal barriers lining the route.
You couldn’t even cross the street during the hour leading up to and during the parade. Well, unless you knew a police officer or the right pass phrase. We hadn’t been let in on the secret handshake so were stuck on oour ne side of the barrier. We found a spot where a tall building and a palm tree created some shade and noshed on some snack mix and biibsii while awaiting the Romans.
A crowd began to gather in our section well after the 3 PM start. Fortunately we had metal barrier space. Did I mentioned they were expecting 300,000 spectators? Ok, so it wasn’t really that crowded – don’t think they got anywhere near that amount. But people did start milling about around 3:20 or so – many of them walking up and down the barrier line seemingly unsure of what to do until the parade arrived. However, having staked out our claim in good American fashion we stood firm.
As they say a picture is worth a 1,000 word and as I have already surpassed that amount I should just let the pictures below speak for themselves. Only few more thoughts/comment:
- There was an unusual amount of people on stilts. Including people who were obviously men dressed as women.
- Bagpipers also seemed unusually popular in marching bands here.
- There were in fact 10 floats (1 for each decade) but only one that I remember had people on it.
- When politicians rode by in cars I said, “Huh? I wonder who that is?” just like back home.
- No one was throwing candy to the spectators.
- Amman is infamous for having no lines on the streets to designate traffic lanes. However, they painted two brand-spanking new lines along the entire parade route. The end result is the main drag through the balad now appears to have one wide center lane and two narrow turning lanes on either side.
- Apparently people saw the king at the parade on TV, but I didn’t see him in person.
- After the parade finished there was a huge snarl of spectators following in it’s path and police vehicles try to get them to disperse. I think this has to do with the fact that there is no suitable word for parade as a spectatorial progressing public celebration. Case-in-point: a trusted source had told us she thought that everyone who wanted would be marching to recognize Amman’s centennial.
And in the end why not join in? After all everyone loves a good parade, even if it’s called a “march”, “demonstration”, or “expo.”
(as always on my blog, clicking on a thumbnail below will open up a medium size pic. Clicking on that pic will open up a full-size version if you like that better. Enjoy!)
And as my son said after the parade, “Huh! That was more relaxing than I thought it would be.”
Filed under: American Culture, Amman, Arab Culture, cross-cultural experiences, culture, Jordan, Local Life | Tagged: Amman, Arab Culture, centennial, Crossing Cultures, culture, Jordan, parade | 7 Comments »