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Jerash-Romans Ruins Remain

An amazing blend of Greco-Roman and Oriental influences

Jerash - Jordan

Aclose second to Petra on the list of favourite destinations in Jordan is the ancient city of Jerash, which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. A great place to visit during the spring with its beautiful rolling hills and lush greenery, Jerash has a rhythm not seen anywhere else in Jordan. Also, every year Jerash hosts the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, a three week summer program filled with folk dance, music, and theatrical performances.

Jerash, located 48 km north of Amman and nestled in a quiet valley among the mountains of Gilead, is the grandeur of Imperial Rome being one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the World outside Italy.

To this day, its paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theaters, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates remain in exceptional condition.
This fascinating city of Jerash makes a great day-trip from Amman, particularly in spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. The drive will take you less than an hour, but will transport you 2000 years back in time.

Within the remaining city walls, archaeologists have found the ruins of settlements dating back to the Neolithic Age, indicating human occupation of this location for more than 6500 years. This is not surprising, as the area is ideally suited for human habitation.

Jerash has a year-round supply of water, while its altitude of 500 meters gives it a temperate climate and excellent visibility over the surrounding low-lying areas.

The history of Jerash is a blend of the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient. Indeed, the name of the city itself reflects this interaction. The earliest Arabic/Semitic inhabitants named their village Garshu.

The Romans later Hellenised the former Arabic name into Gerasa, and at the end of the 19th century, the Arab and Circassian inhabitants of the small rural settlement transformed the Roman Gerasa into the Arabic Jerash.

Jerash - Jordan
GERASA

It was not until the days of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC that Jerash truly began to develop into a sizeable town. But it was during the period of Roman rule that Jerash, then known as Gerasa, enjoyed its golden age.

The first known historical reference to Jerash dates back to the 2nd or early 1st century BC. This reference is attributed to Josephus, a historian from the Holy Land, who referred to it as the the place to which Theodorus, the tyrant of Philadelphia, removed his treasure for safe keeping in the Temple of Zeus. Shortly afterward, Theodorus lost Jerash to Alexander Jannceus, a religious priest.

Soon after Rome took control of Syria, Emperor Pompey, in 63 BC, named conquered Jerash as one of the great cities of the Decapolis League. This brought great economic benefits to Jerash and trade flourished with the Nabataean Empire based in Petra.

In 106 AD, Emperor Trajan annexed the wealthy Nabataean Kingdom and formed the province of Arabia. This brought even greater trading riches pouring into Jerash, which enjoyed a burst of construction activity. Granite was brought from as far away as Egypt, and old temples were rebuilt according to the latest architectural fashion.

The city received yet another boost in stature with the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD. To honor its guest, the citizens raised a monumental Triumphal Arch at the southern end of the city. Jerash’s prosperity reached a peak in the beginning of the 3rd century, when it was bestowed with the rank of Roman Colony. During this “golden age”, Jerash may have had a population of 20,000 people.

The ancient city preserved today was the administrative, civic, commercial and cultural center of this community, while the majority of the city’s citizens lived on the east side of Jerash Valley.

As the 3rd century progressed, shipping began to take over as the main route for commerce. Jerash fell into decline as its previously lucrative trade routes became less traveled and therefore less valuable.

By the middle of the 5th century, Christianity had become the major religion of the region and numerous churches were constructed in Jerash. Many churches were constructed of stones taken from pagan temples – and the remains of several can be seen today.

Jerash was hit further by the Persian invasion of 615 AD and the Muslim conquest of 636 AD. A series of earthquakes in 749 AD did serious damage to the city and hastened its decline, and its population sank to 4000.

The Crusaders described Jerash as uninhabited, and it remained abandoned until its rediscovery in 1806, when Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveler, came across and recognized a small part of the ruins. The ancient city was buried in sand, which accounts for its remarkable preservation. It has been gradually revealed through a series of excavations, which started in 1925, and continue to this day.

Believe it or not, there is only one hotel in Jerash, the Hadrian’s Gate Hotel, just opposite to Hadrian’s Arch! This is a very small and simple hotel – although there is a terrace on the roof with a great view. Otherwise the closest hotel is a delightful one : the Olive Branch on a hill about 15kms or 10 miles away. See www.olivebranch.com.jo. 

JERASH FESTIVAL FOR CULTURE & ARTS

The Jerash Festival usually takes place during the end of July and beginning of August .
It showcases a wide array of singers, musical and folklore troupes, poetry readings, symphony orchestras, ballet, Shakespearean theatre, handicrafts, and art shows.

The colonnaded streets, plazas, and theaters of Jerash all provide unique venues for these acts, under the balmy summer skies of central Jordan.

While performances take place in the different arenas, thousands of visitors also enjoy strolling through the ancient streets and monuments of the city, shopping for handicrafts, taking in art and book exhibitions, enjoying a casual meal, or simply absorbing the powerful drama of East and West meeting in a great cultural jamboree.

Skilled craftsmen and women display Bedouin rugs, jewelry, embroidery, glass, wood, metal, and ceramic objects, and also demonstrate on the spot how they create their wares.

One does hope rather wistfully that the spectacular chariot racing in the Jerash Hippodrome will continue! It’s looking good.

JERASH FESTIVAL FOR CULTURE & ARTS
Main attractions in Jerash

To see in Jerash

Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian's ArchBuilt to commemorate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to Gerasa in 129 AD, this splendid triumphal arch was intended to become the main southern gate to the city but the expansion plans were never completed. One unusual feature of its construction is the wreaths of carved acanthus leaves above the bases of the pillars.

Hippodrome

Hippodrome

The massive arena, 245 m long and 52 m wide (only part of which has been restored) could seat 15000 spectators to watch athletic competitions, horse races, chariot races, and other sports. The exact date of its construction is unclear; between the mid-2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

City Walls & South Gate

City Walls & South GateApproaching the city from the Visitor’s Center, you see the impressive city walls, built at the beginning of the 4th century, most probably by Emperor Diocletian, and repeatedly expanded afterwards. The present walls are Byzantine and had a total length of 3456 m. The South Gate through which you enter Jerash, dates from 130 AD and has a characteristic carved acanthus-leaf decoration. The open area inside the gate was used as a marketplace, and a 2nd century olive press is visible behind a wooden screen.

Oval Plaza

Oval PlazaThe spacious plaza measures 90 x 80 m and is surrounded by a broad sidewalk and a colonnade of 1st century Ionic columns. There are 2 altars in the middle, and a fountain was added in the 7th century AD. This square structure now supports a central column, which was recently erected to carry the Jerash Festival flame.

The Cardo -Colonnaded Street

The Cardo -Colonnaded StreetStill paved with the original stones – the ruts worn by chariot wheels still visible – the 800 m Cardo was the architectural spine and focal point of Gerasa. The colonnaded street was remodeled in the late 2nd century AD, probably after 170 AD. The Ionic columns were replaced by more elaborate Corinthian columns. On either side was a broad sidewalk with shops, which can still be clearly seen. An underground sewage system ran the full length of the Cardo, and the regular holes at the sides of the street drained rainwater into the sewers.

Macellum

MacellumHalfway up the Cardo, the Colonnade becomes larger and taller, marking the entrance to the Macellum or market place, a building to the left of the colonnaded street. The inscription on the adjacent lion’s head fountain is dated 211 AD.

Umayyad Mosque

Umayyad MosqueA newly excavated Umayyad mosque. Currently under excavation as of Aug 2006!

South Tetrapylon

South TetrapylonThe intersection of the Cardo with the first cross street, the South Decumanus, was marked by 4 still visible pedestals, which supported columns and probably a pyramidal structure.

South Bridge

South BridgeTo the right, the south Decumanus runs east to a 73 m bridge which led to the town wall and residential quarter of Gerasa. Most of this is now buried under modern Jerash, with the exception of the East Baths, which can be seen across the modern road to the left of the mosque.

Umayyad Houses

Umayyad HousesAt the western end of the South Decumanus is an Early Islamic Umayyad housing quarter inhabited from 660 to 800 AD. The south bridge led to the residential quarter and to the eastern gate.

The Cathedral

The CathedralFurther up the Cardo on the left is the monumental and richly carved gateway of the 2nd century Roman Temple of Dionysus. In the 4th century the temple was rebuilt as a Byzantine church, now called the Cathedral, although there is no evidence it was more important than any other church. At the top of the stairs, against an outer east wall of the Cathedral, is the Shrine of St. Mary, with a painted inscription to St. Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Church of Saint Theodore

Church of Saint TheodoreLying above and behind the Cathedral, this large church was built in 496 AD. In between St. Theodore’s and the West Side of the Cathedral entrance is a small paved piazza with a fountain in the center; this Fountain Court was originally the Cathedral atrium. The course of the underground lead pipe which fed the fountain can be seen as a line of obliquely laid stones northeast of the fountain.

Nymphaeum

NymphaeumThis ornamental fountain was constructed in 191 AD, and dedicated to the Nymphs. Such fountains were common in Roman cities, and provided a refreshing focal point for the city. This fine example was originally embellished with marble facings on the lower level and painted plaster on the upper level, topped with a half-dome roof Water cascaded through 7 carved lions’ heads into small basins on the sidewalk and overflowed from there through drains into the underground sewer system.

Propylaeum

PropylaeumThe procession to the Temple of Artemis originally started across the river in the part of Gerasa now covered by modern Jerash. Crossing the Cardo, worshippers approached the impressive entrance to the processional way leading up to the Temple of Artemis. Its massive columns and a carved portico were flanked by 2-storey shops.

Temple Esplanade

Temple EsplanadeThe monumental staircase, originally enclosed by high walls, leads up to a U-shaped terrace where an open-air altar was built, the foundations of which are still visible. A second staircase leads through a colonnade of 22 Corinthian columns and into the Temenos. This sacred precinct, 162 x 121 m, was defined by Corinthian columns on all 4 sides.

Propylaeum Church

Propylaeum ChurchOpposite the Propylaeum, this Byzantine church was built in the 6th century on the site of a colonnaded courtyard which formed part of the processional way. The columns were used as part of the church.

West Baths

West BathsThe massive West Baths, on the right, covered an area of 50 x 70 m and now lie where they fell after the earthquake of January 749 AD. Typical of the 2nd century, the Baths were an imposing complex of hot and cold rooms and other facilities.

North Tetrapylon

North TetrapylonThe second Tetrapylon, located where the North Decumanus or cross street intersects the Cardo, was built during Jerash’s redesign, probably as a monumental entrance to the North Theater. At a later date, it was dedicated to Julia Domna, the Syrian wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, and probably had a domed roof in the 2nd century AD, elaborate carved decoration, arches and 4 sides to allow traffic to pass through.

North Colonnaded Street

North Colonnaded StreetBeyond the North Tetrapylon is a stretch of the Cardo that was never widened, and retains its simple Ionic columns.

The North Gate

The North Gate

At the end of the Cardo, the North Gate was built in 115 AD. Its odd wedge shape was probably necessary to align the gate on the inside with the Cardo, and on the outside with the Roman road, which led north to the Decapolis city of Pella.

The North Theater

The North TheaterJust off the North Decumanus, the North Theater was built in 165 AD. In front is a colonnaded plaza where a staircase led up to the entrance. The theater originally had only 14 rows of seats, and was used as a performance stage as well as the city council chamber; the names of the tribes represented in the council are inscribed in Greek on some of the seats, along with those of several gods.

Church of Bishop Isaiah

Church of Bishop IsaiahLocated on a terrace immediately to the west of the North Theater. It is a triapsidal building, measuring 27.25 (E-W) x18 (N-S) m externally. The floor of the nave, side aisles and chancel area, but excluding the apses, was completely covered with mosaics made, for the most part, of locally available stone (Clark 1986). The excavators uncovered fifteen inscriptions while working on the church.

Temple of Artemis

Temple of ArtemisArtemis, daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, was the patron goddess of Gerasa. This Temple was a place of sacrifice dedicated to Artemis and built in 150. Although small, the temple’s Corinthian columns soar impressively from the hilltop site; 11 of the 12 front columns are still standing. The temple’s inner chamber was originally clad with marble slabs and housed a shrine which probably contained a statue of the goddess

Three Churches

Three ChurchesAt least 15 Byzantine churches have been found in Jerash, and more are thought to remain buried. Three of the finest are grouped together round a shared atrium. At the north, the Church of St. Cosmos and St. Damian, twin brother doctors who were martyred in the 4th century, has the most splendid floor mosaics to be seen in Jerash. An inscription dates the mosaic to 553 AD, and the images include the churchwarden Theodore with his wife Georgia, praying with widespread arms. In the center, the church of St. John the Baptist dates from 531 AD. Its mosaic floor, now damaged, included images of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the cities of Alexandria and Memphis in Egypt. The church of St. George, at the south, was built in 530 AD, and continued to be used after the earthquake of 749 AD. Its mosaics were therefore destroyed when the 8th century Christian iconoclastic movement banned the representation of humans and animals.

Church of St. Genesius

Church of St. GenesiusThe floor mosaic of this church dates back to its dedication in 611 AD, just 3 years before the Persian invasion. A rectangular room, also with a mosaic floor, is located along its southwest side.

Saints Peter and Paul Church

Saints Peter and Paul ChurchSaints Peter and Paul Church”] This church, is located on high ground. It is over 31 m long and was a triapsidal basilica.
A mosaic inscription in the middle of the nave gave the dedication and the name of Bishop Anastasius, the church’s founder. A series of floor mosaics covered the body of the nave and both aisles.
The church’s main entrance is in its west wall.

South Theater

South TheaterBuilt during the reign of Emperor Domitian, between 90-92 AD, the South Theater seats more than 3000 spectators and serves today as the primary venue for the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts. The first level of the ornate stage, originally 2-stories has been reconstructed and is still used today. The remarkable acoustics allows a speaker at the center of the orchestra floor to be heard by the entire auditorium without raising his/her voice.

Temple of Zeus

Temple of ZeusErected in 162 AD, this temple stands on ruins of earlier sacred sites. From the Oval Plaza, a staircase leads up to an esplanade (in front of the temple), which was a Temenos, or sacred precinct. Originally, a rock in the esplanade served as a high place, and was enclosed into a shrine (Naos) in 100-80 BC. This shrine was modified in 69-70 AD and in the 2nd century AD, probably under Emperor Hadrian. From there, another staircase led to the temple, which was originally surrounded by 15 m high Corinthian columns.

The History

Neolithic age

Archaeologists have found ruins of settlements dating back to the Neolithic Age. Moreover, in August 2015, an archaeological excavation team from the University of Jordan unearthed two human skulls that date back to the Neolithic period (7500–5500 BC) at a site in Jerash, which forms solid evidence of inhabitance of Jordan in that period especially with the existence of ‘Ain Ghazal Neolithic settlement in Amman. The importance of the discovery lies in the rarity of the skulls, as archaeologists estimate that a maximum of 12 sites across the world contain similar human remains.

Bronze age

Evidence of settlements dating to the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC) have been found in the region.

Hellenistic period

erash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city support that the city was founded by Alexander the Great and his general Perdiccas, who allegedly settled aged Macedonian soldiers there during the spring of 331 BC, when he left Egypt and crossed Syria en route to Mesopotamia. However, other sources, namely the city’s former name of “Antioch on the Chrysorrhoas, point to a founding by Seleucid King Antioch IV, while still others attribute the founding to Ptolemy II of Egypt.

Roman period

After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis league of cities. The historian Josephus mentions the city as being principally inhabited by Syrians, and also having a small Jewish community. In AD 106, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the cities of Philadelphia (modern day Amman), Petra and Bostra. The Romans ensured security and peace in this area, which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and encouraged civic building activity.

Jerash is considered one of the largest and most well-preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world outside Italy. And is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East” or of Asia, referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation.

Jerash was the birthplace of the mathematician Nicomachus of Gerasa (Greek: Νικόμαχος) (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).

In the second half of the 1st century AD, 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.

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 presence of the Hebrew-Aramaic script has led scholars to think that the place was formerly a synagogue, before being converted into a church.
Jerash was invaded by Persian Sassanids in AD 614. Few years later, the Byzantine army was defeated in the battle of the Yarmouk river by the invading Muslim forces and these territories became part of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Early Muslim period

The city flourished during the Umayyad Caliphate. 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.
In CE 749, a devastating earthquake destroyed much of Jerash and its surroundings.

Crusader period

In the early 12th century a fortress was built by a garrison stationed in the area by the Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus. Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, captured and burned the fortress in 1121–1122 CE.
Although the site of the fortification has often been identified with the ruins of the temple of Artemis, there is no evidence of the creation of a fortification in the temple in the 12th century. The location of this fort is probably to be found at the highest point of the city walls, in the north-eastern hills.

Mid to Late Muslim period

Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Mamluk Sultanate, and Ottoman periods. This occurred particularly in the Northwest Quarter and around the Temple of Zeus, where several Middle Islamic/Mamluk domestic structures have now been excavated.

In 1596, during the Ottoman era, Jerash was noted in the census as Jaras, being located in the nahiya of Bani Ilwan in the liwa of Ajloun. It had a population of 12 Muslim households. They paid a fixed tax-rate of 25% on various agricultural products, including wheat, barley, olive trees/fruit trees, goats and beehives, in addition to occasional revenues and a press for olive oil/grape syrup; a total of 6,000 akçe.

In 1838 Jerash was noted as a ruin.

The Jerash Archeology Museum

The Jerash Archaeological Museum was established in 1923 inside one of the vaults of the courtyard of the Artemis Temple. In 1985, the museum was moved to the renovated old rest house and the first special exhibition there was entitled “Jordan Through the Ages”. The museum is now dedicated solely to discoveries from the Jerash region and its collections span the archaeological periods in the area, from the Neolithic up to the Mamluk period. The displays are in chronological order with typological and functional divisions. The museum houses large collections of pottery, glass, metals and coins, in addition to precious stones, figurines and statues, stone and marble alters, and mosaics. In the garden of the museum, Greek and Latin monumental inscription are on display next to marble statues and stone sarcophagi. Jerash (Gerasa) was one of the cities of the Decapolis. It is considered one of the largest Roman provincial cities, with well preserved Roman temples, paved roads, theatres, bridges and baths. The city also boasts well preserved monumental architectural parts: the Monumental Gate, the Nymphaeum and the Hippodrome. From the Byzantine period there are 18 churches, most of which have mosaic floors. The city wall with four gates is still preserved in many places.

Love Eat Travel

You’ll likely do quite a bit of walking in Jerash, so be prepared to work up an appetite. Lebanese House is an elegant favorite for locals and travelers alike, located just a few minutes stroll away from the center of town. The menu is filled with well-executed international dishes and traditional fare like kibbeh nayyeh. If convenience is your priority, head to Jerash Rest House for a quick bite after getting your fill of the ruins. The buffet is passable, but its real draw is the location – its the only eatery located within the boundaries of the archaeological park.

For an escape from the crowds, pay a visit to The Olive Branch, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant situated in the aforementioned hotel of the same name. Guests will enjoy meals prepared with freshly pressed olive oil and organic produce, all while taking in scenic views from lovely outdoor dining spaces.  Once you’re ready for dessert, Green Salon Sweets is the best place in town for knafeh, baklava, and other syrupy Arabic delights.