Jerash: what to see
Jerash, in Jordan, is the second most visited destination after Petra. This important archaeological site is located in a plain sorrounded by forested hills. It was conquered in 63 BC by Pompeus and it became Roman. Listed in the League of the Ten Cities, joining the ten biggest cities of the Roman empire, Jerash remains today one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the world.
For centuries it remained hidden under the sand. Its columns, the paved roads, the theaters, the thermal baths: Jerash testifies to the level of archaeological and urban development of the Romans in the provinces of the Middle East.
The monuments to see
We must imagine ancient Jerash as a city with huge decorated monuments in granite or marble and paved roads. The ruins are perfectly preserved, making it simple for the visitor to imagine how it was to live here at that age, partly due to the excellent renovation carried out by archaeologists all over the world, partly thanks to the skillful urban techniques of the Romans.
Here are some of the best ruins you can see in Jerash.
Hadrian's Arch marks the entrance to the city and was built to commemorate Emperor Hadrian's visit to Jerash in 129 AC.
Jerash arena could contain about 15,000 spectators during sports competitions or gladiator fights.
The oval square is sorrounded by Ionian columns and hosts at the center two altars and a fountain.
The thistle is flanked by columns which are still standing, making it easier to imagine how this road was at the times. Below the thistle a complex sanitation system developed.
The nynphaeum was a fountain dedicated to the nymphs, richly decorated at the times and made in marble and plaster with a half-dome. The water spilt from the lion heads to the street and was then directed to the sanitation system.
An ancient temple dedicated to Dyionisus situated on the Cardus Maximum was transformed into a Byzantine church in the 4th century, today called "the cathedral". At the top of a stairway is also a shrine dedicated to Saint Mary.
This marvelous Roman theater, one of Jerash main attractions, is made up of a square sorrounded by columns, where once a stairway used to lead to the entrance. The theater was used for public meetings, great events and theater shows. It was forsaken in the 5th century and some of its stones were used to build nearby buildings.
The South Theater was built between 90 and 92 AC and was made up of a two-storey structure for the stage (which is still used today for celebrations and events, thanks to its still excellent acoustics) and several hidden passages leading to the seats.
Jerash Archaeological Museum
Near the archaeological site is also an archaeological museum, displaying findings from the nearby areas, from the Neoltic Age to the Mameluk period. At the museum you can admire vases, glass objects, statues and mosaics.
The history of Jerash
The history of Jerash is based on the encounter between different worlds, the Arab culture and the Greek Roman culture. The name derives remotely from an ancient Arab settlement, Garshu, which later the Romans transformed into Gerasa. At the end of the 19th century, the Arab peasants who settled here again changed the name to Jerash.
Jerash was annexed in the Roman period to the League of the Ten Cities, composed of ten very powerful Roman state cities and united by commercial interests.
The nearby Nabataean kingdom, of which Petra was part and which interwoven trade relations with Jerash, was annexed in 106, contributing to incremental trade and construction activities in Gerasa. In 129 AD, Emperor Hadrian visited the city and a triumphal arch was built for the occasion. The maximum splendor was reached in the third century, when Jerash was recognized as a Roman colony.
With the passage of time the trade routes began to move and the city went towards a slow decline. In the fifth century, with the Christianization of the region, several churches were built in Jerash, even using stones taken from previous pagan buildings. To worsen the state of neglect of the city an earthquake of 749 AD also contributes, so that the crusaders on their arrival described it as uninhabited.
Jerash was rediscovered in 1806 by the German traveler Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, who noticed some ruins under the sand. Since 1925 excavations have begun, which continue today.