The ancient Roman city of Jerash (also known as Gerasa), and the current modern city by the same name, are located about 48km north of Amman, Jordan. The area was inhabited as far back as the Bronze Age, around 3200 BC – 1200 BC. But the city of Gerasa itself was founded either by Alexander the Great, or his general Perdiccas, as sort of a retirement home for old Macedonian soldiers. The city is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Near East, and it was just one of the amazing archaeological sites we visited on our Egypt/Jordan trip in 2008.
The size of the site is really spectacular, and the level of preservation was even more impressive. Gerasa is often referred to as the Pompeii of the East, even though the city was never destroyed by a volcano eruption. But the amount of preservation is comparable.
Jerash experienced several periods of growth and prosperity. The Emperor Trajan had roads built throughout the province in 106 AD, which brought more trade into the region. (The stone roads still have the deep grooves of chariot wheel tracks in them.)
The Oval Forum, below, is a somewhat unique design, and the only one of its kind in the Middle East.
The Forum was used for numerous activities, including elections, civic speeches, and criminal trials.
In 129/130 AD, the Triumphal Arch, or Arch of Hadrian, was built to celebrate his visit to the city. There’s still quite a lot of detail remaining.
Of course, no ancient Roman city could be without an amphitheatre, to showcase political satires and tragedies. Jerash had two theatres, North and South. This is the South Theatre, which could seat around 3,000 people.
The city of Jerash was invaded by the Persians in 614 AD, which caused Jerash to decline, though it persevered through to the Umayyad period. An earthquake hit in 749 AD, however, which destroyed much of the city. Luckily, excavations and restorations have been fairly continuous since the 1920s, so we’re able to understand the lay of the land, as it were. For example, the floor plan for the Temple of Artemis:
And even then, the ruins and columns still standing are really awe-inspiring. The Temple of Artemis as it appears today:
Artemis was the patron goddess of Jerash, so it makes sense that the temple devoted to her was built on one of the highest points in the city. The temple was converted to a fortress in the 12th Century by the atabeg of Damascus (an atabeg is like a governor, subordinate to a monarch. I had to look it up). The King of Jerusalem, King Baldwin II captured and burned the fortress in 1121-1122 AD. Luckily some of the structure was saved.
Needless to say, the city has had quite a lengthy history. If you feel so inclined, you can even take in a mock gladiatorial battle or chariot race at the hippodrome.
There is no doubt more here yet to be uncovered too; even as we were walking we noticed mosaics still on the ground underneath the fine layer of sand. Jerash is really a highlight of any trip to Jordan and we highly recommend the side trip. Allow 3-5 hours to explore the site fully, there’s a lot to see here!