I ended an extraordinary week in Jordan with a day trip from Amman to Jerash, home to one of the grandest ancient Roman cities in the world. After such an exhilarating week exploring this amazing country, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Jerash. Inhabited since the 4th century BC and abandoned after a major earthquake in 747 AD, Jerash has some of the most spectacularly well-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the world. Only an hour’s drive north of Amman, “the “Pompeii of the East” is on the tourist circuit for anyone visiting Jordan. I was very curious to see how these ruins compared with what I’d already seen over the week in Jordan as well as throughout my travels around the world.
We left Amman right after breakfast heading north to Jerash. It was our last full day in Jordan before heading home and the past week had been incredible. We had traveled in the midst of a desert hailstorm to spend the night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum and traversed the magical world of Petra for two days. We also visited the famous King’s Highway and the Red Sea. So far, it had been quite an eye-opening trip into an ancient yet changing world that was all very new to me. Once again, we were going back in time and would explore the powerful Roman influence in Jordan with a visit to Jerash.
The Roman Empire (753 BC – 476 AD) was one of the largest empires in history, stretching all the way from Rome throughout most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East during its height of power. The Romans realized the importance of Jordan in expanding their wealth and power in the Middle East. In 63 BC, the Romans spread throughout Jordan, Syria, and Palestine taking control of this part of the world for over four centuries. In the North of Jordan, the Greek cities of Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella and Arbila (Irbid) joined with other cities in Palestine and southern Syria to form the Decapolis League, a group of powerful cities culturally and economically aligned, influencing the entire Middle East. Jerash became one of the most powerful Greco-Roman settlements in the region. A devastating earthquake in 747 brought about the eventual decline of Jerash and the city was completely abandoned by the 12th century. Perhaps given its dry desert climate, the ruins of Jerash have remained remarkably well preserved.
Today, Jerash is enjoyed by visitors from all over the world coming to marvel at its immense size and striking collection of archways and theatres, baths, public buildings, temples, and colonnaded streets. If you have the time, the modern city of Jerash is quite lovely as well. Being on a tour, we only had the morning but over the course of three hours, we got an excellent introduction to this amazing site.
Jerash is an hour’s drive north of Amman so most people leave Amman in the morning to arrive early before the heat of the day and the crowds. It is a beautiful place to spend the morning. We arrived around 9 am and it was perfect. It takes a good 3 hours to fully explore the ruins and it is best to have some kind of guide with you (you can book one at the ticket counter) as there is not much information inside the ruins. Once you have purchased your tickets, you will enter the ancient city through the unforgettable Hadrian’s Arch. There is a nice little outdoor cafe where you can grab a cool drink or some coffee before heading in. Be prepared with a sunhat, sunscreen and lots of water. There is not much protection from the burning desert sun.
As you enter into the ancient city of Jerash, the first thing you pass under is the spectacular 13-meter high Hadrian’s Arch. The Arch was built in honor of the visit of Emperor Hadrian around 130 AD. It is quite impressive and is merely an introduction to this amazing “city of 1,000 columns”. Once you walk through the arch, you catch your first glimpse of the immense size of Jerash. It is filled with Corinthian columns, temples, and ruins, all ornately detailed and decorated with sweeping views of the hillside of modern-day Jerash.
As you walk down the main walkway into the heart of Jerash, you will run into the most impressive sight of all: The oval-shaped Forum. Built around the 1st century AD, this enormous oval-shaped plaza measures 90 meters long by 80 meters wide and is surrounded by 56 Ionic columns towering up to the sky. The Forum was one of the key gathering places for the inhabitants and is a true testament to Roman city planning and architecture with the main streets intersecting at the center of the forum. It is also remarkably well-preserved even down to the limestone slabs placed on the ground.
If you were not already incredibly impressed with the Forum, you will be blown away by the South Theather. Entering through a wooden door, you step inside an almost perfectly preserved Roman theater dating back to 81-96 AD. Its stone seats once housed up to 5,000 spectators and if you are lucky, you will even get a chance to hear its incredible acoustics once inside. There are often bagpipe shows conducted in the theater, so be sure to climb up to the very top and take a seat. Close your eyes and listen to the mesmerizing sound. Then open your eyes and grab your camera to take in the incredible view from the theater, overlooking the ruins and the city of Jerash.
The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was built between 150 and 170 AD and was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunting and fertility, daughter of Zeus. Today 11 of the 12 Corinthian columns still stand proudly around the temple with intricate designs and carvings on top. What was so impressive is the deep orange-red color of the columns juxtaposed with the deep blue sky. I can only imagine what this temple would have looked like in all its glory.
As you explore Jerash, you are bound to see piles of beautifully carved ruins many ornately decorated with vines, grapes and flowers. Many just lay in a pile where they fell thousands of years ago.
As you continue to wander down the Cardo Maximus (The Colonnaded Street), you pass a tremendous amount of monuments. By this point, if you are not overwhelmed you will be! There is the glorious Numphaeum (a two-story water fountain all carved out of stone), the Temple of Zeus, a Cathedral and tons of columns. In fact, once over 500 columns lined this very street. It is quite amazing especially if you start your walk the 800 meters from the North Gate to the Forum. It is perfectly straight and incredibly designed. If you need a break from the ruins, you can stop by and visit the free Museum tucked away behind a tree.
As I left Jerash, I stopped once more to marvel at what an absolutely incredible city this must have been. While it has been years since I’ve been to Rome, I definitely have not seen another ancient Roman site that can compare. It is definitely a place you must visit during a trip to Jordan.
If you go:
I opted to go to Jordan with Intrepid Travel for many reasons explained in this post. Intrepid proved to be an amazing tour company and I loved the trip! It was especially easy to join as a solo female traveler as I was instantly welcomed by 12 new friends. The trip I chose was the 8-day Jordan Discovery however if I did it again, I’d add on Egypt as four travelers in our group had just done it before joining us in Jordan and it sounded incredible! Next time!
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