Photography and Text
By Heide Van Doren Betz
Heide with a backdrop of excavated ancient shops, doors to commercial spaces, and residences;
the important Temple of Zeus and Roman amphitheater on the hilltop.
Jerash – An Ancient Jewel In The Crown Of The Kingdom Jordan
Walking amongst the ancient ruins of the provincial Roman town of Jerash, in Northern Jordan, it is easy to imagine a life 2,000 years ago. Columns, pillars, pediments and pavements all invoke a sense and time of the bygone. However, the well-preserved ruins allow one, with a little imagination, to see the lifestyle of these inhabitants. The guides, the local visitors, and the vendors are all welcoming and helpful.
Centrally located Oval Plaza, the main gathering point for citizens of Jerash.
Although this area has been inhabited since Neolithic times due to its fertile soil and relatively easy accessibility, it became a thriving town during the reign of Alexander the Great (332 BC). Roman general Pompey conquered Jerash in 63BC and claimed it as part of the Roman province of Syria. It became part of the Decapolis – an important league of 10 Greco-Roman cities (including Damascus and Amman) – with trade, commercial and political ties. For the visit of Rome’s Emperor Hadrian in 129AD, its citizens constructed a triumphal arch, “Hadrian’s Arch”, which is still the grand entrance to the site today.
Can you believe this has lasted for over 2,500 years?
Jerash continued to flourish for centuries due to its wealthy trade partners and its agriculture. In the 3rd century it acquired the status of a Roman Colony. A devastating earthquake destroyed a great part of the city in 747. The Crusaders invaded in the 12th Century; then the city was completely deserted until archeological excavations began in the mid 18th century. Archeologists were quick to realize the vast historical importance of this well-preserved Roman town.
The Cardo Maximus – the main street connecting the northern to the southern part of the city.
The most impressive ruins in Jerash include the Oval Plaza or Forum, a breathtaking highlight with its towering colonnade of Ionic columns, of which there are 56 in an oval format, constantly throwing different shadows to the original stone paved floor. It is easy to see why this plaza was the center of city life, for families, merchants, politicians and cultural events. Even today it is one of the most popular gathering points. The Cardo Maximus is the main boulevard that goes through the entire center of the town, from the Oval Plaza to its Northern Gate. It is lined with towering and impressively well-preserved columns (originally there were over 500), many have been restored to their former glory. Occasional ancient indentations of carriage wheels are visible along the stone slab floors.
Much restoration has been accomplished, and more to come.
The Arch of Triumph built for Emperor Hadrian is still the imposing main entrance to Jerash. It leads directly to the monumental hippodrome, with daily re-enactments of Roman entertainment such as chariot races and gladiator battles. Outside the hippodrome the holding areas for the gladiators and animals can be seen.
Detail of the central and left arch of “Hadrian’s Arch” built in 129 AD to commemorate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to Jerash.
A visit to Jerash, while in Jordan, is truly not to be missed.
I’m watching out for you! Jeresh, Jordan.