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Jerash Jordan

About 1 hour’s drive north of Amman is Jerash, the best-
preserved Roman town outside of Rome. The site is

massive, for anyone who has the opportunity to explore
Ephesus or other Roman towns, this site blows them all
out of the water! From colonnaded streets to theatres to
the massive Hadrian’s Gate, it can take a couple of hours
to have a quick walk through the site.

Visit Highlight:

• Hadrian’s Arch.

• Temple of Artemis.

• Oval Plaza.

. Colonnaded Street.

• Temple of Zeus.

• South and North Theaters.

• Hippodrome.

• The Jerash Archaeological Museum that displays artifacts excavated from the site.

About 1 hour 48 K.m drive north of Amman is Jerash , the best-preserved Roman town outside of Rome, during the hellenistic period Jerash is the site also referred to as “Antioch on the Golden River”  and during the Roman period earned the nickname of “Pompeii“ of the East. It was one of the decapolis “Gerasa”.

Little History 

The earliest evidence of settlement in Jerash is in a Neolithic site known as Tal Abu Sowan, where rare human remains dating to around 7500 BC were uncovered and it was called Jerasho.

In the 3rd Century BC the army of Alexander the Great invaded the area from the north to control the trade route between Damascus and Egypt and Called it “Antioch on the Golden River”. Today  you can see remains of it in the Oval Plaza.

 In the 63 AD Roman period  the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the province, and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130. The triumphal arch or (Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit.

During the Byzantine period The city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square meters within its walls.  Beneath the foundations of a Byzantine church that was built in Jerash in AD 530 there was discovered a mosaic floor with ancient Greek and Hebrew-Aramaic inscriptions.

The city flourished during the Islamic period. It had numerous shops and issued coins with the mint named “Jerash ” in Arabic. It was also a center for ceramic manufacture; moulded ceramic lamps had Arabic inscriptions that showed the potter’s name and Jerash as the place of manufacture. The large mosque and several churches that continued to be used as places of worship, indicated that during the Umayyad period Jerash had a sizable Muslim community that co-existed with the Christians.

  Jerash flourished during the Greco and Roman periods until the mid-eighth century A.D, when the 747 earthquake  destroyed large parts of it.The site is massive, for anyone who has the opportunity to explore Ephesus or other Roman towns, this site blows them all out of the water! From colonnaded streets to theaters to the massive Hadrian’s Gate, it can take a couple of hours to have a quick walk through the site.

What you will see there:

• Hadrian’s Arch.

The Hippodrome

Mariano’s Church and Tomb’s

The Southern Gate (Philadelphia Gate).

Temple of zeus.

Oval Plaza

Colonnaded street ( the cardo Maximus).

The Agora (The Market).

The Nymphaeum (The Fountain).

The cathedral and churches.

Temple of Artemis

The Northern and southern  theater

The Roman Bath.

The Northern Gate (Damascus Gate).

The City wall (5 Km.)

The Cathedral and churches

Who Needs Rome when you can visit Jordan’s Jerash

It was hot. Clothing-sticking-to-your-body hot. But I was not going to let that deter me from exploring the ancient colonnaded streets of Jerash, the best preserved Roman city outside of Rome and located less than an hour’s drive north of Amman the capital city of Jordan. While thousands of visitors flock to the red rose city of Petra or visit Mount Nebo on a quick religious stop in the country, many do not stay in Jordan long enough to explore one of the most impressive remains of the Roman Decapolis, Jerash. 

Known in Roman times as Gerasia, Jerash is a worthwhile stop in any Jordan Itinerary, as you do not just see a small ruined site, it is an entire city that you can walk through, and its state of preservation is amazing. 

Enter Jerash from the south via Hadrian’s Arch and you get a glimpse of what was once a bustling city. The arch, a 13 meter high, triple arch, was built in 129 AD to commemorate the visit of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It consists of a main central arch, and two smaller arches flanking each side. At one time, huge wooden doors would have hung under the main arch. 

After a drink of water under the shade of Hadrian’s Arch,  I continued to Marianos funeral church to see a beautiful mosaic flooring and tombs surrounding it. Then we entered the Hippodrome where the horses and chariot races.then we walked to get into the main entrance of the city Gerasa, the southern Gate of Damascus gate. Through that gate to the left side we saw an olive press underground. We walked to the oval forum that was only recently discovered in 1970 by Jordanian Army forces, who were setting up tents in what was an ideal campsite, a flat location in an area full of hills. It is an impressive sight not only because of its sheer size, but because of its design of limestone laden stones, getting larger as you move away from the center of the oval and its 56 corinthian, honey-colored columns, decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.

This discovery of the oval forum became one of Jerash’s highlights,  as the forum once served as a marketplace and was the center of social and political life for the residents of Gerasia. Waking through the giant forum, I imagined peddlers selling their wares, women gossiping about local news, and announcements being made above the bustling noise of a vibrant city. Despite its status as a Roman city, the columns in the oval forum were carved in the Greek style.

Beyond the Forum Cardo lies the Cardo Maximus, a once flat colonnaded street which is now bumpy and wavy on account of the earthquakes that once rattled the region. While I walked towards the Northern Gate of the city, close examination of the stones bears marks from wheeled carts. The stones lay in such a way that the carts would not bump over each stone, but could travel smoothly across the road. 

The Cardo Maximus was built in the 1st century AD and included manholes and allowed for underground drainage. The level of sophistication in 2000 year old structures still amazes me. It is intersected by the “tetraphylla” East-West running Decumanus, noted by the remains of four towers, one on each corner of the intersection. As I continued along the Cardo Maximus, barren stalls on either side of the street were once full of goods for sale, as shopkeepers supplied this buzzing city with goods. Plenty of Roman structures lie on either side of the street, from the cathedral entrance, western baths and the Nymphaeum, the main fountain in Jerash. 

The Nymphaeum is a huge two story structure, which once had a half dome roof. During its glory, water cascaded from the head’s of seven carved lions into a basin on the street below.

It gives clues to what the ancient city looked like, as some original plaster and paint still remain on the upper level of the fountain. The entire city was once ornately painted, yet only small remnants exist to show how it once was.

Few meters away to our left, the Artemis temple eastern entrance led us up the steps to get into the temple which is located on the highest hill of the ancient city. 

On the eastern side of the Cardo lie the earthquake-stricken remains of the Western Baths. Dating from the 2nd century AD, the baths were once an impressive complex of hot (calidarium), warm (tepidarium) and cold (frigidarium) baths. In Roman times, public bathing fulfilled the role of a social club and attracted a wide variety of people, who gathered to exchange news and gossip as well as to enjoy music, lectures and performances.

The Western Baths represent one of the earliest examples of a dome atop a square room.

From there we get into the Northern gate or Damascus gate, the main entrance to the city. Built in about AD 115, the North Gate is an impressive full stop at the northern limit of the Jerash ruins. Commissioned by Claudius Severus, who built the road to Pella, it still makes a fine, if somewhat neglected, frame for the cardo maximus which stretches in all its glory along the entire length of the ancient city.

If you’ve reached the North Gate, you deserve a pat on the back because very few visitors bother to walk this far.

Then we walked to the North Theater, which was built in 165 AD. In front is a colonnaded plaza where a staircase led up to the entrance. The Theater originally only had 14 rows of seats and was used for performances, city council meetings, etc. In 235 AD, the Theater was doubled in size to its current capacity of 1,600. The theater fell into disuse in the 5th century and many of its stones were taken for use in other buildings.

Up the hill from the theater the temple of Artemis appear, this temple been remodeled in Roman times and huge columns with corinthian style capitals were added on the top of it in the second century AD. It has been built on a bed of lead under the temple to keep it softer in case of any earthquakes, which explains why several of the columns are still standing until now, the temple designed to be earthquake resistant.

The portico around the cella was designed with six by eleven columns, of which only eleven columns in the pronaos are still standing, 13.20 m high. The Corinthian capitals are very well preserved and bear the signature of Hygeinos, the contractor in charge of carving the bases, shafts and capitals of the columns. The portico and the cella stand on a podium built by a system of parallel vaults surrounded by a corridor, both accessible by two separate staircases from the cella. Two more staircases lead to the roof of the temple, a flat terrace probably used by the worshippers for rituals.

The interior of the cella was cladded with polychrome marbles, as proven by the clamps’ holes in the walls and fragments of marble slabs from the floor. At its back is the thalamus, an arched niche hosting the statue of the goddess.

In front of the steps of the temple, 18 m far, the moulded base of the altar has been identified under the structures left by the Byzantine and Early Islamic occupation of the terrace. The altar has a square plan 12 m side and it was built north of the central axis of the temple. From scarce reused in later buildings it was reconstructed as a tower-like structure with a plain base and half columns in the upper half.

Jerash Cathedral was raised on the ruin of the Roman temple to Dionysus, which itself was built on the site of a temple to Dushara, the Nabataean god of the, The remains of the Roman temple were removed to the level of the podium shortly before the start of construction of the new building of the Cathedral, and its architectural elements, such as columns, were reused as material for the masonry of the church.

When I emerged to see the South Theater, its size took my breath away. And well, standing on the edge of an ancient theater with rough crumbing rock edges is a little terrifying as well. I was careful as I climbed up to the top, taking a view from one of the best seats in the house at the colorful stage below. Built between 81 and 96 AD, this 2000 year old theater once sat over 5000 spectators. Now empty, but remarkably preserved, it is easy to imagine what it would have been like to see the residents of this city seated in the theater.

Wandering to the highest point of Jerash, I gazed over at Zeus’ Temple. Intricate and delicate greek carvings amongst massive blocks are still prominent in this religious site. Fifteen churches also lie in the historic site of Jerash. When Christianly became the official religion in the Empire, churches and cathedrals became the priority, as cities competed to build elaborate structures. Mosaic’s of animals, grape leaves, olive trees and daily life for the Romans can still be seen in Jerash today.

The ancient city of Jerash was hidden for centuries, buried under the sand. It was rediscovered in 1806 by a German traveler “Ulrich Jasper Seetzen”, then the Jordanian government started the excavation 1925, lots to discover in Jerash and more to come. 

Gerasia was a bustling Roman City, its importance, in part due to the rich soil in the region and its ideal climate for growing fruits and vegetables. In the 3rd century AD, it is estimated that its population boasted 15000 to 20000 inhabitants. The city is also home to a second temple, the Artemis Temple, two hamams and a second theater which now has daily shows reenacting some of the Roman entertainment that would have existed in Gerasia.  

An earthquake in 747 AD caused the initial decline of the city, and it eventually became deserted for many centuries, with only brief occupation by the crusaders in the 12th century. Despite Jerash’s grandeur, it is not UNESCO protected. This is because the inhabitants of modern day locales  have built their homes and their businesses within the ancient city walls and it is impossible to move a whole city out of an ancient Roman site. The current population of Jerash is over 50 000 people.

While the hot Middle East sun beat down on my shoulders as I walked away from the oval forum, I could still imagine the Roman inhabitants of Gerasia filling the streets and the forums of this once bustling city. I am glad that I did not rush to Petra and skip Jerash. It is well worth a visit and I feel now that I understand so much more about the Roman Empire without yet having visited Rome and competing with the 4 million annual visitors to that city. In comparison, Jerash receives less than 200 000 visitors annually and on some days, like the day I visited, you can have most of the site to yourself. 

Things to Know:

Despite its location in the Middle East, Jordan is known as a safe destination. You can read more information on Safety in Jordan.

Entrance to Jerash costs JD10 (USD14) and local guides are JD25 (USD 35) If you have a Jordan Pass entrance is  included in the pass

For an additional fee there is a daily scheduled show lasting about 30 minutes, reenacting a typical Roman performance from the second century. Check on arrival for the cost and show times.

Expect to spend 3-4 hours at the site.

Bring plenty of water, as there is little shade.

Snack Shops and Toilets are available on site. 

In the winter and spring months temperatures can be cool, around 10 degrees Celsius and in the summer and early fall, the daily high will likely be 30 degrees Celsius.

Lots of local restaurants in and around the site for good food.

How to Get To Jerash

There are a few different ways to get to Jerash, whether by car, by bus or on a tour. You can find more information on this Amman to Jerash post. You can get there by public transportation, which will cost you around 1 JOD, from Amman Northern Terminal. A taxi From Amman for the day will cost around USD100- 150 round trip, You are better off renting a car.

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