Until the early 1920s as-Salt was the only town of any real significance in Jordan. Thanks to its good water supply and agricultural land, it had been settled at least since the Iron Age. It has been identified with Roman Gadaron; and in the Byzantine period it had its own bishop its name (Latin: saltus means wooded valley) is said to be the origin of the word ‘sultana’, from the famed sweetness of the local grapes.
In 1220 the Ayyubid Sultan al-Malik alMu’azzam built a fort on the ancient citadel hill, using earlier foundations. Destroyed by the Mongols in 1260, it was quickly rebuilt by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars. After the 1516 Ottoman takeover, when as-Salt became the regional capital, trade with Palestine brought increased wealth. The fort was destroyed again in 1840 by Ibrahim Pasha, and 30 years later was replaced by the Ottomans with a barracks. It is now the site of a large mosque.
As-Salt’s greatest prosperity was in the late 19th century when wealthy Nablus traders settled here. They built large and elegant houses on the steep slopes of the main wadi that bisects the town, using the distinctive local yellow limestone. When Amir ‘Abdullab chose ‘Amman as his capital the- fortunes of As-Salt declined. But its charming architecture remains, and the air of a quiet country town; and the houses (as seen by an early traveler) still rise ‘one above another like a succession of steps and terraces’