The ruins of the ancient city of Jerash (also spelt Jarash) can be found approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Sometimes dubbed the Pompeii of the East on account of its remarkable level of preservation (needless to say, none of which is owed to volcanic activity of any kind) the city is a bona fide historical layer cake.
With evidence of human settlement dating as far back as the Neolithic Age (8500-4000 BCE), Jerash boasts a vast archaeological heritage. Although the main points of interest for most visitors remain its numerous temples, bath houses, and colonnaded streets from the Hellenic and Roman periods, the city’s many ancient treasures also include several examples of Ummayad architecture, along with churches and mosques from different periods.
City Walls – The Roman city of Gerasa was surrounded by a defensive wall whose remains can still be seen all around the city. While the first such fortifications are thought to have been built sometime around the year 50 CE, many of the subsequent phases of construction are still distinguishable.
Hadrian’s Arch – Built to honor a visit by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 129 CE, the triumphal arch still stands to the south of the South Gate, and remains one of Jerash’s main attractions.
Hippodrome – Located just north of Hadrian’s Arch, this oval courtyard seems to have been the Roman city’s main sporting and entertainment center – it would have hosted chariot races and other contests. There remain, however, some questions as to when it was built, and if it was ever finished or used. Today, it hosts the Roman Army and Chariot Experience event (RACE), which consists of reenactments of battles, legion tactics, chariot races, and gladiator duels. It takes place once a day (twice on Saturdays and Sundays) and lasts for about 1 1/2 hours.
|Price: The Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) event at the Hippodrome costs 15JD for foreign visitors, 5JD for Jordanians, and 2JD for children.|
South Theater – This classic Roman theater could seat over 3000 people and is oriented in such a way that prevents the eyes of the audience from being hit by direct sunlight except for brief periods of time. Construction is thought to have been concluded towards the middle of the second century CE, having taken a little over half a century to build.
The Cardo – Built during the first century CE, this wide, colonnaded street is the seam that holds the city together.
Agora – Located on the western side of the city, the Agora served as the city’s marketplace. It is adjacent to the South Tetrakionion and the Umayyad Mosque.
Cathedral – Thought to have been build on the site of the ancient Temple of Dionysus, the Cathedral can be reached from the Cardo throught the Cathedral Gateway.
Temple of Artemis – Artemis, Hellenic goddess of hunt, forests, the moon, and archery, was the patron goddess of ancient Jerash. Her temple is part of a large complex which can be accessed from the Cardo through a monumental gateway and staircase that lead to the altar terrace.
Temple of Zeus – Located at the top of the hill overlooking the Oval Plaza, to which it is connected by a staircase.
East and West Baths – Located on the east side of the Chrysorhoas river and east of the Cardo, respectively, these baths illustrate an important part of life in Roman society. Both are thought to have been built around the second century CE.
North Theater – Smaller than the South Theater, the North Theater is thought to have served, at first, as a meeting place for the city council. Having been built around 165 CE, it was subsequently enlarged around 225 CE, thereby seeing its capacity increased to a little over 1600 people.
North Gate – Thought to have been built around 115 CE, during the time of Trajan. It can be found at the north end of the Cardo.
Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian – One of three churches (along with the those of St. John the Baptist and St. George) which share a common atrium. It is known for its striking mosaic flooring and an inscription which dates it to 533 CE, at the time of the reign of Bishop Paul.
- Ummayad Mosques – There are two known Ummayad mosques in Jarash: the smaller one was built in the northern part of the city, within the atrium of a Roman house; the larger one can be found near the South Tetrakionion and was the site of some of the more recent excavations.
- Ummayad House – Dating to 660 CE, this complex consists of two rows of rooms (of which there are ten in total) separated by a courtyard. There is evidence that foundations of earlier buildings may have been reused, and that the house was remodeled during the eight century.
- The site can be visited without need for a guide. Just be sure you pick up a map from the Visitor’s Center, since the site is poorly signposted.
- If you’re hungry, try the restaurant across the street from the Resthouse. The latter can get pricey and the food is nothing special.
- Don’t forget to visit the Jerash Archeological Museum!
- Car – From the 8th circle in Amman, take the north-west road towards al-Salt (السلط). One must eventually turn north; however, the way to Jerash is well marked.
- Bus – The cheapest option. From Amman, one can go to Jerash and back for around 2-3JD. From downtown Amman, catch the #6 Serviis taxi at Raghadan al-Seyaha station (near the Roman Theater), and stay on until the last stop (Tabarbour bus station). There you can take a bus directly to Jerash; there are several daily bus services. Upon returning to Amman, make it known to the driver that you are going to Raghadan al-Seyaha, since there is another Raghadan station in Amman.
- Taxi – The more comfortable option. Negotiate with the taxi driver how much a round-trip to Jerash will cost you, provided that the driver will wait until you\’ve finished your visit and are ready to return to Amman. Expect to pay as much as 40JD. Remember to be very clear as to the negotiated price, especially that it is meant to be taken as the total, i.e., round-trip plus waiting for all passengers, and not per person.
Although evidence of human settlement in the region goes as far back as the Neolithic Age, Jerash as a city started in the 4th century BCE, after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Syria (which included the northern part of Jordan) and the start of the Hellenistic era in Jordan.
Known by some as the Antioch on the Chrysorhoas (the latter meaning Golden River, in reference to the stream that still cuts through the city\’s ruins), it was one of the region’s “ten cities” – Decapolis – built according to the model of the Greek polis and bounded together by their common culture, language, and spacial proximity.
The region flourished after 63 BCE, during the period of peace and security known as the Pax Romana. Jarash was located at the crossroads of important trade routes connecting Rome and the Mediterranean basin with Arabia, India, China, and other Asian markets. Trade thrived with the Nabatean Kingdom (centered in Petra), until the latter was annexed, in 106 CE, under the emperor Trajan.
The Roman period saw the city greatly expanded and improved, with colonnaded and paved streets connecting both its new and ancient temples, theaters and public spaces.
Jarash’s prosperity peaked at the beginning of the third century, when it was given the status of Roman Colony, marking its golden age. At that time, the city was inhabited by approximately 20,000 people.
Throughout the third century, land trade declined in favor of ocean shipping, and Jarash’s prosperity suffered.
After Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and made Byzantium its capital, Christianity spread through the Levant region. In this period, many churches were built at Jerash.
Jerash eventually came to be occupied by Persians, at first, and lastly by Ummayad Muslim forces. Although the city was not left unscathed by the scourge of war throughout the centuries, no damage was inflicted upon it in the course of the Muslim invasion.
- Many ancient cities and buildings saw their stones reassigned to new construction projects over the ages, which naturally affected their level of preservation. Due to its remoteness, Jaresh largely escaped this fate and remains one of the best surviving examples of Roman provincial settlements in the world.
- A series of massive earthquakes struck the city over the years, until 1927, completely destroying some of the buildings and irreparably damaging many others.
- Jordan is the 4th water-poorest country in the world. The Mountain Heights Plateau, where the city is located, however, benefits from the highest levels of precipitation in Jordan, is more densely vegetated, and offers milder temperatures. Furthermore, its valleys contain various networks of intermittent streams (wadis). In Jarash, the river Chrysorhoas (Golden River) and numerous other springs provide a year-round supply of water – a factor which doubtless contributed to the constancy of human presence in the region throughout the centuries.