23 July, 2011

Sights from Rainbow Street, Amman

Two years ago, one afternoon in Amman, wanting to go to Rainbow Street, I and my wife waved a taxi. Once we were in the taxi - the driver, a middle aged portly man, asked us why we wanted to go to that street; I told him that I had heard much about it and we would like to see it. He looked at me in a sort of concerned way and said that: as we looked 'dignified' he would advice us 'never' to go to 'that street'. I asked him the reason for his advice. His answer was that the street was 'full of misbehaving young people and scantily dressed girls and women' and was not a place for 'respectable people'. He proposed taking us to several other places which he considered 'respectable'. He looked so concerned and was so determined that we accepted going to another place he had suggested. The taxi driver didn't know that we would not heed his 'advice' and that we very much wanted to see the famous street. Months later, late in the afternoon, we took a taxi and went to visit Rainbow Street. It was an unforgettable visit; not because of the extraordinary street, but mainly due to an incident.

Rainbow Street, officially known as Abubakar As'Siddeeq Street, is near the 1st Circle, and runs up and down Jabal Amman. I understand that the odd name - Rainbow - comes from an old cinema hall in the area. My main reason for visiting this part of Amman, was for books and works of art. I had heard of how the street was an excellent place for getting books and the best paintings in the city.

Once at Rainbow, one unique thing that we immediately noticed was the cobbled, paved streets.

All neat. And most wind up and down hills. Some streets were very quiet. For pedestrians and those who like walking like me, these streets are a some of the most convenient in Amman.

And some were filled with all kinds of people: young and old, Arabs and non-Arabs and many families with children. I very much agree with what I read some times ago: it is not those out-of-place high rise 'skyscrapers' that would help Amman's development; it is places like Rainbow that would. It is cultural and unique places like this that gives this city its authenticity and character.

The streets are very Middle Eastern in many ways, but at the same time there is a strong western influence here. One of the most refreshing things about Rainbow Street, is that, many people here easily smile and are very welcoming.

Here, it seems, like no other place in Amman - there was a variety of automobiles. Many - expensive; very much reminding me of the Royal Auto Museum.

As we moved around, I realized why - maybe - the portly taxi driver didn't want us to come here: there are a number of bars  around, and many people, including women, unlike in most parts of this city  - had a very liberal way of dressing. The taxi driver didn't know that I and my wife were both raised up and spend long times in very westernized, liberal places. He didn't know too, that we come from rather large families that are mixtures of many cultures and religions.

While on this street above, I wondered: could the taxi driver not have wanted to come here due to some of the narrow, winding, congested streets?

In some parts, the streets are filled with many casually dressed young people. In others, there are many small shops and boutiques. Many filled with: dresses, cosmetics, perfumes and artifacts. Many people come to Rainbow Street, too, for the sun-sets; which are truly breathtaking.

There are art galleries and well stocked book-stores here. And a number of very good cafes. For paintings, try the Wadi Finan Art Gallery in the street above; they stock some really fine, impressive paintings and every now and then hold interesting art exhibitions. Internationally, Arab art is very much overlooked; it's only now and of late, that some are taking note of and serious interest in paintings and other works of art from this region. Fine art, that are comparatively cheaper than in most other parts of the world.

Above: a cafe on a roof-top which also serves hookah/sheesha. The view from up here, of other parts of Amman, is truly marvelous.

Many buildings are old; and several are art decoic and very European in look. No where else is Amman's cosmopolitan character so well reflected as in Jabal Amman: Muslims, Arabs and people from different religions and nationalities harmoniously mix here.

No where else in Amman have I seen East meeting West as much and as easily as in this area. Here, you can easily see and find mosques; and at the same time, you will notice churches and Christian influence.

As we walked around the many streets, some - very narrow, I went around taking photos. I had no idea, at all, that around Jabal Amman, were many embassies, consulates and government buildings. In one narrow street, as I was filming, we saw policemen running towards us from two opposite directions, and shouting. At first, we didn't know that my taking photos was the cause of that. Then, my wife, very frightened, shouted at me to stop photographing. Four armed policemen - two in a car and two running, came to us and questioned me at why I was taking photos of government buildings and foreign embassies. I never realized or noticed that, at all. As is always with the Jordanian police, they were firm, but very courteous, understanding and helpful. They advised me very politely to always be careful of what I was photographing: never to take photos of government buildings and foreign embassies; or such structures. After that, we continued walking around the many clean, streets with many trees on the sides; some narrow and some up and down hills. I did not take any more photos. Since then, we have been back, several times to this wonderful, unique part of Amman. Each time we have enjoyed the visits.

+ Read these interesting articles from And Far Away, 360east and in the New York Times
+ Rainbow Street on Flickr 

+ Other Wonderful Places in the Kingdom of Jordan:
The River Jordan
The Dead Sea
The Citadel
The Roman Theater
* Jerash
Kahaf Ahl Kahf