As-Salt: Jordan’s City of Generosity

Within our theme of discovering the unknown, what better place to start than As-Salt! Situated beyond the outskirts of Amman, As-Salt is a city rich in history albeit reluctant to leave the shadows of the capital; few know that As-Salt, also known as Saltus at the time, was once the capital in all but the name. According to the Salti locals, the tale tells of the beautiful Salti women who drew water from the rivers and attracted the attention of prominent men, which alarmed the Saltis whom in turn refused to instate As-Salt as Jordan’s capital. This protective nature over their land and people makes for a unique paradox as we’ve recently come to discover the Saltis’ welcoming and hospitable way of life. By the end of our journey in Salt, we unearthed it to be, as the locals know it, Jordan’s ‘city of generosity’.

Road 443 Viewpoint

A serene atmosphere with a majestic view, overlooking the Jordan Valley and the hills of Nablus, Palestine. The view was a palpable reminder of a borderless time between the two countries, which formed part of ‘Belad el-Sham’ (Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon). We learned that the birth certificates of the older generation of Saltis had ‘Nablus’ written on them, as the city fell under the province of Nablus at the time.

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This spot is a lesser-known viewpoint in Jordan, but undoubtedly worthwhile with its wide stretching landscape and variety in plains, that range from a steep green valley with hints of civilization to remote sandy hills in the distance. Breath in the view, but our advice, grab a coffee first at one of the roadside stands and chat to the locals nearby. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a viewpoint regular who’ll be more than willing to show you the best spots in Salt. Take it from us!

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Ottoman Memorial

Situated in and by the Salt Castle in Jabal el-Qala’a, Khandaq, there lies a museum, cemetery and memorial for the Ottoman lives lost in Salt against the British troops during World War I (1918).

Forgetting that Friday is a resting day in Jordan when everything is closed, the guards were kind enough to open the museum just for us to show us the old tombstone, which represented the fallen Ottoman soldiers. The fortress of the castle, where the Turkish flag was flying high, was a reminder of Ottoman rule and Islamic influence. This is definitely a go-to for you History lovers!

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Salt City Centre

Explore the old cobbled streets, the steep steps leading past the old quaint white houses and the narrow market alleys. This area was reminiscent of a miniature Italy. The reason? The Roman Empire’s influence on architecture and this city’s hilly terrains, much like some of Italy’s landscapes.

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While strolling down the enchanting streets of this city, we stopped by the oldest Café in Salt and learned about the city’s evolving history. Two witty yet wise old men described to us how this street was once dotted with trees and fields and that passersby’s often picked the olives, peaches, figs and apples that grew in abundance and sipped on the freshly-made wine. As-Salt was home to a predominantly Christian population, hence its numerous beautiful churches. Now, the city has become host to many mosques in light of the shifting religious influence in the region. Like much of Jordan, it offers a glance into what was and what is with its churches and mosques presented side by side, all the while the minority Jordanian Christians still breathe life into their cherished architectures making them ever-so relevant and revered.

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Al-Moghrabi, the Oldest Café in Salt

A favourite spot for Salt’s senior citizens and card-game players – a perfect reflection of its revolutionary visitors who calculated the risks of a nationalist Jordanian movement and discussed Pan-Arabism with states like Palestine, Syria and Iraq. At its prime, it was the hub of political discussions and debates and with the recent passing of Jordan’s independence day, this café marks the materializing of such aspirations for Jordanian freedom and self-governance.

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Ask for a classic chai and let a local draw you into the history of the city. You might hear about Salt’s nomadic and tribal roots, religious heritage, the oldest secondary school in the country, and no doubt receive a chorus of agreement on Salt’s unique hospitality.

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Masjid Shu’ayb

Take a journey through Wadi Shu’ayb (the Shu’ayb Valley) to gain a taster of the region’s Islamic heritage. Visit the eminent Masjid Shu’ayb (Shu’ayb mosque), named after the Prophet who lies buried within its walls. Outside the mosque’s gates, wander past the families having picnics under the sun and gaze upon the valley’s aperture leading down towards the Dead Sea.

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The masjid is another site where the locals’ kind spirit and witty humor is likely to surprise you, as it did us: as the mosque was another unexpected stop on our tour of Salt, one of us did not have a scarf to cover her head upon entry. The guard apologetically explained that we could not enter the mosque without covering our heads, so we opted to turn back around. Seeing the disappointment on our faces of possibly missing out on this notable site, the guard swiftly moved into action and went out of his way to find us a substitute hijab, which resulted in him asking an oblivious family, enjoying a picnic, to spare us one of their hijabs! After our bursts of laughter and what seemed like forever in dragging the old guard away, we settled for a compromise – the guard offered the mat he was sitting on as the headscarf! We accepted out of desperation and the guard appeared to be smiling from a distance when we entered the mosque, perhaps indulging in his generous act or still laughing at the sight of us…

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River café

At the base of the Wadi runs a winding stream and a succession of hidden cafés dotted along the road and water, sites where families stop on their journeys to bathe their feet in healing water and to satisfy their palate for argeeleh (shisha). Immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere, order a fresh juice and pick your favourite argeeleh (lemon and mint is always a hit) while the sun goes down and the fairy lights go on. Finish your journey here, or like the many other families dining at the river café, move on to the next destination on your journey of discovering Jordan.

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On leaving As-Salt, the locals, who spent their entire day showing us around, imparted on us an old Arabic proverb “معرفة الناس ذهبٌ لا ينفى”, translated as: “Getting to know people is like gold that is never satiable ”. Being a reflection of our experience in Salt, we thanked our hosts for the laughs, adventures and this truly enriching experience, but most of all… their spontaneous hospitality. It is worth mentioning that we found friends in strangers and for that, promised that this will not be the last time we visit Jordan’s ‘city of generosity’.

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