One of the ten megapolis of the Roman empire, Jerash is Jordan’s best kept secret
Jerash or Gerasa of the antiquity is an ancient Roman city dating back 2000 years and was one of the major cities in a group of ten cities called Decapolis on the eastern frontier of the Roman empire. Many tourists skip this wonder, as sadly Jerash loses it’s place under the sun to Petra and perhaps rightfully so. But Jerash is not to be missed. Today, it is one of Jordan’s best antiquities and is one of the most well preserved & restored Roman ruin.
Jerash flourished under the Roman rule till 749 AD when an earthquake completely destroyed the city. It was later occupied by various kingdoms through the annals of history like the crusaders, Ottomans etc till it was discovered in 1806 by a German archaeologist.
About an hour’s drive from Amman, the road passes through orange hued mountains with valleys dotted with olive groves. To cover Jerash, one needs about three hours as there are many things to see and admire.
The very fist sight of the ruin is the Hadrian’s Arch which marked the boundary of the city. Right after the ticketed entrance, the huge spectacular and well preserved gate piques one’s curiosity of what else lies beyond it. Upon passing through the gates, there is a massive, well preserved Hippodrome or the stadium where games such as horse racing and chariot racing were played. Walking through another gate takes one to one of the most spectacular sights of Jerash, the Oval Forum which is bordered by huge standing Corinthian columns and make it a sight to see!
To the left of the forum are two spectacular monuments, the temple of Zeus and the South Theater. The South Theater is a majestic 3000 seater with a restored ornate stage that it used for events even today. Climb up to the the very top for spectacular views of the theater and the ruins beyond.
Walking past the Oval Forum on the left side over a small hillock, one can see spectacular views of the Forum from an elevated level. There are a few byzantine era churches with mosaic floors. A few steps away is the imposing Temple of Artemis with its tall corinthian columns. The columns sways under a gentle shove or wind (they don’t fall!); slip a spoon between the blocks of the column and see it oscillate. The forum with columns and steps in front of the temple that connect it to the north entrance of the city over a bridge are not as restored, but one can imagine the massive structure the temple would have been in it’s heydays.
Walking right to the Temple of Artemis, one can see the North Roman Theater, a smaller cousin of the South Theater and the North Tetrapylon that marked the border of the city. Turning around back, one can come back to the colonnaded street or Cardo Maximus that leads one back to the Forum. One can also spot the intersection of the colonnaded streets running from north to south and east to west parts of the city. Moving leftward, one walk past another colonnaded street that leads to a well preserved Nympaheum, an ornate public water fountain where one can see water channels opening into basins and decorated with lion heads. A short walk from the Nympaheum is the Oval Forum.
To the left is the Jerash museum where one can talk a short walk down the history lane to find nicely catalogued sections of discoveries made in Jerash, dating back to the Neolithic age. The museum displays artefacts from settlements in the Bronze age, Roman, Byzantine, the Umayyid, Abassid & Ottoman era. Most fascinating artefact on display were the small stone tablets that were the tickets to the theatre! Talk about paperless movie tickets now!
How to go to Jerash:
Jerash is app 45kms from Amman and can be reached by road. It can be covered as a half day trip with Amman as base, unless one also wants to go further up north to another roman Decapolis called Umm Qais.