Al-Salt (السلط As-Salt ) is an ancient agricultural town and administrative centre in west-central Jordan. It is on the old main highway leading from Amman to Jerusalem. Situated in the Balqa highland, about 790–1,100 metres above sea level, the town is built in the crook of three hills, close to the Jordan Valley. One of the three hills, Jabal al-Qal'a, is the site of a 13th-century ruined fortress. It is the capital of Balqa Governorate.
The Greater Salt Municipality has about 97,000 inhabitants (2006)
Salt was once the most important settlement in the area between the Jordan Valley and the eastern desert. Because of its history as an important trading link between the eastern desert and the west, it was a significant place for the region's many rulers.
The Romans, Byzantines and Mameluks all contributed to the growth of the town, but it was at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire established a regional administrative capital in Salt and encouraged settlement from other parts of their empire, that Salt enjoyed its most prosperous period.
The town's defenses and isolation in a land practically controlled by Bedouin tribes also enabled its inhabitants to ignore the impositions of the Ottoman authorities without consequence. Western travelers in the early 19th century reported that the leader of the town effectively wielded the same authority as any of the provincial governors of Ottoman Syria appointed by the sultan.
In the early 19th century, the townspeople mostly belonged to the clans of Akrad, Awamila and Qatishat. Each clan was headed by its own sheikh, one or two of whom would act as the shaykh al-balad (town leader), who was based in the fort and was in charge of protecting Salt from Bedouin attack. The population consisted of about four hundred Muslim and eighty Christian families. According to the observations of Buckingham in the 1820s, roughly 100 Christians in Salt were immigrants from Nazareth who moved to the town to avoid the exactions of Jazzar Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Acre. Muslim–Christian relations were amicable and the two communities shared the same lifestyles, dress and the Arabic language. Salt was organized into quarters, each controlled by one of three main clans, and contained a number of mosques, a church and about twenty shops during this period. Salt served the surrounding countryside as far as Al-Karak, which lacked a market until the late 19th century, and goods in its market originated as far as Tyre and Egypt. It exported raisins, sumac leaves for the tanneries of Jerusalem, qili (a type of ash, a key ingredient of Nabulsi soap) to Nablus, and ostrich feathers supplied by the Bedouin to Damascus. Nablus was Salt's primary partner, and Salt served as the Transjordanian center of the Nablus-based Tuqan clan. Although most of the inhabitants were farmers, there were also craftsmen and smaller numbers of shopkeepers, the latter of whom were commissioned by merchants in Nablus, Nazareth and Damascus.
In 1834 the townspeople and local Bedouin fought together to drive out the forces of the practically autonomous province of Egypt led by Ibrahim Pasha, the first recorded clash of the Peasants' revolt in Palestine. Ottoman rule in the Levant was restored in 1840, but Salt remained only nominally part of the Empire. In 1866–1867, the governor of Damascus Mehmed Rashid Pasha (1866–1871) extended the imperial Tanzimat centralization and modernization reforms in Transjordan. He led a large force of Bedouin tribesmen from the Rwala, Wuld Ali and Banu Hasan, Hauran plainsmen, Druze mountaineers and regular infantry, cavalry and artillery troops toward Salt, stopping three hours north of the village. From there, he offered to pardon Salt's inhabitants for allying with the Adwan and Banu Sakhr against the authorities. The town organized a delegation of Muslim and Christian grandees who negotiated the unopposed entry of the Ottomans into Salt on 17 August. Rashid Pasha repaired the damaged fort where he garrisoned 400 troops. He appointed the Damascene Kurd Faris Agha Kadru as Salt's first district governor and established an elected administrative council composed of Salt's elite families. Rashid Pasha confiscated huge qualities of grain and livestock from the town as compensation for tax arrears.
Salt's heyday was in the late 19th century when traders arrived from Nablus to expand their trading network eastwards beyond the Jordan River. As a result of the influx of newcomers this period saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a simple village into a town with many architecturally elegant buildings, many built in the Nablusi style from the attractive honey-coloured local stone. A large number of buildings from this era survive .
It is thought that the name Salt was derived from the city Saltos of the Roman Empire.
Wadi Shu'aib (Valley of Jethro) is one of the largest agricultural sites in Salt city, a valley with large agricultural areas. It is named after one of the prophets in Islam (as well as Christianity and Judaism), Shoaib (Jethro), who was the father-in-law of Moses and one of the descendants of Ibrahim (Abraham). Most privately owned farms are located in this valley; the primary crops are grapes, olives and fruit-bearing trees.
These splendid yellow sandstone buildings incorporate a variety of styles. Typically, they have domed roofs, interior courtyards and characteristic tall, arched windows. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Abu Jaber mansion, built between 1892 and 1906, which has frescoed ceilings, painted by Italian artists, and is reputed to be the finest example of a 19th-century merchant house in the region.