Jebel Amman is one hill in the range to the east of the River Jordan. When this area was established as the independent Kingdom of Jordan in the early 20th Century, it lacked a major city. The Hashemite monarchs who ruled it decided that the ruins of the Roman city of Philadelphia in the valley just below Jebel Amman would become the new capital, Amman.
Amman is, therefore, a modern city, and one might expect it to be planned. One would be disappointed. A brief glance at a map of the city shows that the streets twist crazily, without a trace of a grid pattern. Arrival in the city itself provides an instant explanation - it is built over half a dozen steep-sided hills, and the roads run along the sides of these, with the main thoroughfares in the valley below. About 75% of the population are Palestinian refugees from across the river (Jordan was the only country to offer them citizenship), and many of the suburbs of Amman are still classified as 'refugee camps', though they are not now visibly different from any other suburb of Amman. Jebel Amman backs onto one such Palestinian suburb.
Travelling out from the centre, the layout of the city starts to make some kind of sense. The Downtown area contains the markets, ruins and the largest mosques. Then the city has grown westward, along a series of roundabouts, known as Circles. First Circle is nearest Downtown, and the rest run in a neat line towards the final Eighth Circle.
It's when you turn around to come back in that the trouble starts.
The second most curious thing about the Jebel Amman One-Way System (JAOWS) is that it exists at all. This is a quiet residential neighbourhood. It can't be used as a shortcut to anywhere, and many of the residents cannot afford a car, so traffic is limited to the occasional bus or taxi. There seems to be no need for traffic-control measures.
The most curious thing about the Jebel Amman One-Way System is that there doesn't appear to be any way out. A variety of tricks are needed in order to negotiate this problem.
Trick One - the Entrance
Less than a hundred yards from Downtown, a 'One Way' sign blocks the way. As there is only one other exit from the roundabout, drivers are funnelled towards the JAOWS, and this marks the point of no return. The contribution of this Entry to safe travel is that you should turn back to Second Circle and not be tempted to think that you can take this shortcut.
Trick Two - Blocked Exits
Since the JAOWS sits on top of a hill, the obvious way out is to go downhill at every junction. Therefore the JAOWS' designers have made sure that the downhill option is always either a dead end (usually with no room to turn) or a one-way street (leading the wrong way). To confuse you further, these one-way streets are often unmarked, so you won't know you're heading the wrong way down it until you find an irate driver heading uphill towards you. Those with experience of driving in Jordan will realise that the only certain way to spot a one-way street is that all the cars parked down the sides of it are facing in the same direction.1
Trick Three - the Exit
There is only one exit road from the JAOWS - and this actually runs uphill, passing right over the crest before heading downhill again. You are, therefore, only likely to be able to work out which one it must have been when you find yourself right back at the entrance (one-way, naturally), since it takes approximately 30 minutes to drive around the system, it will probably take an hour for you to get out. Each time you fail to spot the junction, it will take you another half-hour to drive around the JAOWS for another attempt.
Leaving the Jebel Amman One-Way System
Finally, you will find yourself spat out at Third Circle. Do not, under any circumstances, head back to Second Circle, or you will once again be funnelled into the, er... jaws of the JAOWS. Instead, you must brave the incomprehensible and potentially lethal roads of central Amman. Driving in Jordan could have another entire Entry devoted to it, but though you may find crazy, inconsiderate or downright dangerous driving and road design, you are unlikely to come across anything else as frustratingly pointless as the Jebel Amman One-Way System.
For another 'profound' driving experience, click here ...