Sijal House is a testimony to the history of Amman and its broader interconnections with urban centers in Syria and Palestine. The house dates back to the era of the British Mandate (1921-46), when Jordan was known as the Emirate of Transjordan. It was built by a family that had settled in Amman as part of the first wave of merchants arriving from Damascus. These traders sought commercial opportunities in the city’s burgeoning market following its establishment as the seat of the Emirate in 1921 and as the capital of Transjordan in 1928.
Architecturally, the house is a rare gem, built in the style characteristic of the earliest Ammani homes, with distinctive Jerusalemite and Damascene influences. It is made of thick, local limestone with large, sunlit windows. Its layout is archetypical of the era – rooms of equal size on each side that spill into the reception hall in the center of the house. The most striking feature of the interior is undoubtedly the original, intricate tiles covering the floor of each room and lying completely intact to this day. Known as "carpet tiles" (their bright colors and elaborate design are deceptively carpet-like), they were likely brought from Syria or Palestine. A large outdoor balcony extends across the breadth of the building, adorned with two well-preserved fountains.
Attached to the house is a terraced garden tended to in the Jabal Amman tradition, with plants and trees – lemon, olive, pomegranate, and mulberry, among others – native to Bilad al-Sham (or Greater Syria). We strongly encourage our students with an interest in horticulture to contribute to the cultivation and upkeep of our garden, which affords an unobstructed view of Jabal Ashrafieh, the highest hill in Amman. Jabal Ashrafieh’s main landmarks – the Abu Darwish Mosque with its unmistakable checkered tiles as well as the two main churches (the spired St. Paul's Church and the domed St. Thaddeus Armenian Church) – are clearly visible from the garden.
Houses like ours used to dominate Amman’s skyline, as can be seen in old photographs of the city. Sadly, they are an ever-disappearing feature of our cityscape today. The increase in land value and absence of sufficient regulation has driven developers to tear them down to make way for more lucrative properties. We are thrilled to be able to hold our teaching and scholarly activities within such a venue, an increasingly rare experience that contributes to heritage conservation efforts in our rapidly expanding city.
While preserving the original character and features of our historic building, we undertook a meticulous renovation project under the oversight of Matthew Barton, Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Amman’s Applied Science University. The building now houses state-of-the-art facilities: seminar rooms fitted with purpose-designed classroom furniture, carefully allocated study areas, a well-stocked small library, and a comfortable common room whose membership is open to students and visiting scholars. The entire space is covered by the highest speed Wi-Fi connection available in Jordan.
Sijal lies in the heart of the historic Jabal Amman neighborhood, minutes away from Rainbow Street, its main artery. Jabal Amman (literally “Amman Hill”) is one of the seven hills on which Amman was originally built. Abdul Rahman Munif was raised in the house next door to Sijal. One of the great authors of the 20th century, Munif was born to an Iraqi mother and a Saudi father in 1933. The tales of our neighborhood and its original residents are preserved in his memoir Story of a City: A Childhood in Amman. Numerous other cultural icons lived nearby, including the renowned Jordanian novelist Ghalib Halasa and the prominent Palestinian historian Aref al-Aref.
Today, our neighborhood remains the site of many of Amman’s iconic institutions, and it is widely recognized as the city’s paramount cultural district. Amman’s leading theaters - the Rainbow Art House and the Al-Balad Theater - are located here. The Royal Film Commission, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the Royal Documentation Center, and the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation and Public Library are all in close proximity. The presence of these large institutions is complemented by the recent flourishing of art galleries, including Nabad, Sararash, Jacaranda Images, Salam Kanaan, and Wadi Finan. A wide range of cultural activities are also hosted in the local 7iber Village. Our neighborhood is further home to the oldest schools in the country, including the Al-Ahliyyah Girls School, the Bishop’s School for Boys, and the Islamic Educational College, the first non-missionary private institution of its kind in Amman. More recently, the new campus of the German Jordanian University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment was established in the area.
Besides its cultural and educational significance, Rainbow Street hosts the most diverse collection of culinary establishments in the Jordanian capital. Its pedestrian-friendly character has resulted in the rise of a lively café culture. The renowned Books@Café is located directly opposite Sijal House, featuring a bookshop and a relaxed lounge atmosphere. Smaller third wave coffee houses are within close walking range, and so are numerous traditional qahwas offering coffee, tea and argheeleh. A plethora of upscale and mid-range restaurants and bistros operate nearby, serving Arab, Continental, American, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Armenian, and Chinese cuisines. For lovers of simpler comfort options, some of the best street food in the Middle East can be found in the vicinity: the legendary Al-Quds Falafel Shop, Shawarma Reem, and Abu Jbara Houmous are all within a 20-minute walk from Sijal House.
Last but not least, our neighborhood is an entertainment and shopping hub. Bustling with bars, lounges and nightclubs, it has a vibrant nightlife. It boasts Amman’s most famous Turkish Bath (Al-Pasha), and it hosts the weekly Souk Jara, a flea market of antiques and crafts held every Friday during the summer months. The souks, bazars, and Roman ruins of Amman’s downtown center (Al-Balad) are only a short walk downhill.
For international students seeking to experience life in a bustling Arab capital, Amman is a superb location. With a growing population of more than 3 million, it is the center of Jordan’s political, commercial, and cultural life. It enjoys an excellent infrastructure, contemporary amenities, diverse shopping options, numerous entertainment venues, and advanced hospitals. Nevertheless, the city has ancient roots going back as far as the 8th millennium BCE. For the historically inclined, there are fascinating sites to be discovered, including the Ammonite ruins on Jabal Al-Qalaa (“Citadel Hill”) and the impeccably preserved 6000-seat Roman amphitheater.
Consistently rated among the urban areas with the highest quality of living in the Middle East, Amman is widely recognized as safe, clean, well-administered, politically stable, and tourist-friendly. The city is a renowned regional educational center, home to 14 universities and a plethora of colleges, institutes, and research centers. As such, it has a student-friendly vibe, and a large population of youth.
Amman’s moderate climate affords its residents an experience of the four seasons without the undue hindrance caused by the extremities of coldness or heat. The local dress code is liberal and relaxed, and the general atmosphere is characterized by openness. This is reflected in the large number of music and film festivals, concerts, and other cultural events hosted in the city throughout the year.
Students benefit greatly from Amman's location in the heart of the Arab Mashriq. It is an ideal base from which to explore the region at large, and its central setting has left an indelible mark on the Arabic spoken in it. Instead of being a product of extremely localized development, its dialect is characterized by outward-looking exposure, arising out of the mixed background of the city's inhabitants and their constant interaction with others in the region. This makes it particularly well-suited for learners of Arabic. Moreover, due to the instability afflicting other traditional centers of Arabic instruction, the city has now established itself as the most attractive location for the study of this major tongue, spoken by hundreds of millions of people across the world and recognized as one of the six official languages of the United Nations.