Visiting Jordan was the realisation of a dream. Petra had long been on my mind but I had only recently read about the Roman ruins of Jerash.
I learnt that Jerash is one of the best preserved sites of Roman architecture outside Italy. It is Jordan’s second most popular tourist site …and it is only a forty five minute drive from Amman!
A little bit of history…
Even though it had been settled earlier, Jerash first became an important town in the third century BC under the rule of Alexander the Great.
When the Romans conquered Syria in 64BC, Gerasa, as it was known then, became one of the ten great Decapolis cities belonging to the Greek- Roman federation. Great economic benefits were bought to the city mainly through trade with the Nabataeans from Petra.
Prosperity peaked in the third century. At this time it was a Roman colony of 20,000 people but in the following centuries trade routes changed, shipping became more important and the town started to decline.
The Persian invasion of 414AD, the Muslin invasion of 636AD and earthquakes of 749AD all added to this and the city shrank to a quarter of its size.
There was a brief occupation by the Crusaders in the 12th century but the city remained deserted until it was rediscovered in 1806 by German traveller Ulrich Jasper Seetzen.
Excavation of this ancient city began in 1925 and continues to this day.
The site covers a large area, so bring your walking shoes. You have a two to three hour walk ahead of you!
Being close to the entrance, Hadrian’s Arch is the perfect introduction to Jerash. The arch was built in commemoration of Emperor Hadrian’s visit in 129AD. Decorated with carved acanthus leaves on the capitals, it was originally twice the height and had three wooden doors.
Just through the arch is the Hippodrome. Built between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the hippodrome covered a large area. It was 245m long and 52m wide and could seat 15,000 spectators but most of the seating has now disappeared. Today, chariot races are held for the tourists.
Keep your ticket as you may need to show it at the South Gate. One of the four original entrances, it is from here that you first start to see Jerash’s columns appear.
The Forum was, for me, one of the highlights of Jerash. The oval shaped plaza is surrounded by 56 columns, each made from four blocks of stone. Limestone slabs pave the plaza, increasing in size from the centre. Lying between the Temple of Zeus and the main thoroughfare, Cardo Maximus, it is easy to see why it was the centre of the social and political life. The best view is from the steps of the Temple of Zeus behind you.
From the Forum, the colonnaded main street, the Cardo Maximus leads you through the centre of the town
The paving is original…you can still see the ruts caused but by the chariot wheels
On either side of the road, remnants of history lie. Crumbling pillars, column blocks and capitals wait like jigsaw pieces to be put back together again.
Guides jump up as you pass, wanting to show you how the pillars move and help you discover the hollow sound of the rocks.
One of the more complete buildings on the road is the Nymphaenum…. the main fountain for the city which is dedicated to the water nymphs. Water used to cascade over the facade and into a large pool at the bottom. It must have been an amazing sight. At the foot of the structure the pink granite water base is still in one piece.
Next door to Nymphaenium is the Cathedral. There is no cathedral, only a Byzantine church rebuilt in the 4th century over the original 2nd century, gateway to the Temple of Dionuysus. During the 4th and 5th centuries, Christianity became a major religion and many churches were constructed. Pagan temples were permitted to be dismantled, as happened here, and many of the pieces were used to build new churches.
Yes, you must wander up the hill, for here you will find one of the two ampitheatres in Jerash. It had been destroyed by earthquakes and dismantled for other projects but what you now see is the result of years of restoration.
Temple 0f Artemis
Built between 150AD and 170AD, this is one of the magnificent sights in Jerash. It is dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunting and fertility. Eleven of the original twelve Corinthian columns are still standing, all topped by capitals decorated with acanthus leaves. The temple can also be reached from the main thoroughfare.
The walk over the hill takes you to the second ampitheatre, the South Theatre with its beautifully decorated stage . We were serenaded here by a Jordanian piper… not quite what I was expecting but it certainly showed how wonderful the acoustics are! This theatre is a bit older than the Northern Theatre, having been built between 81AD and 96AD.
Temple of Zeus
Just below the South Theatre is the Temple of Zeus. Built in 162 AD over an earlier Roman temple, it looks over the entire city. The views are magnificent..over the Forum and down the Cardo maximus thoroughfare to the North Gate.
Jerash was an amazing experience, one not to be missed! Walking around the ruins you are treated to glimpses of life from over 2000 years ago…something I often find hard to absorb coming from a country that was only founded only 225 years ago!
Jerash is open every day from 8am – 4pm in Winter and until 5 pm in Summer.
Do you like to visit historic sites when you are travelling??