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Jerash has a long and exciting history that goes back to the Neolithic Age. It eventually became a part of the Decapolis, an alliance of 10 cities important to the Roman Empire. Under Roman protection, Jerash continued to flourish until tragedy struck in 749 when an earthquake destroyed the city and surrounding areas. The ruins were discovered more than a thousand years later in 1806, and excavations began to take place. Today, Jerash is one of the only places to see such well-preserved Roman-style architecture outside of Italy and has become the second most popular tourist destination in Jordan.
Culture & History
Jerash has a rich history that goes back as far as the Neolithic Age. In fact, in 2015, archaeologists from the University of Jordan unearthed two human skulls in the area that date all the way back to approximately 7500 to 5500 BC.
Jerash is the home of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. There are ancient Greek inscriptions indicating the city was founded by Alexander the Great himself, although some historians attribute its finding to Seleucid King Antioch IV or Ptolemy II of Egypt.
In 63 BC, Jerash was annexed by the Roman province of Syria and later joined the Decapolis league of cities. Historians of the day have indicated that it was largely settled by Syrians at that time, but that there was a small Jewish community as well. 106 AD, Jerash became part of the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city we now know as Amman. The Romans kept peace in the area which allowed the people of Jerash to focus on building the city economically and encouraging civic growth. The city thrived during this time which is partially why, today, Jerash has one of the largest and well-preserved sites of Roman architecture outside of Italy.
Later, under the Umayyad Caliphate, Jerash became a center for ceramic manufacturing and continued to flourish and expand its economy. Evidence of a large mosque and several churches have also been found which indicates that the area had a large Muslim community that co-existed with Christians who were also worshiping in the city.
Tragically, in 749, a large earthquake destroyed Jerash and most of its surroundings, leaving the ruins buried for hundreds of years. In 1806, a German explorer named Ulrich Jasper Seetzen discovered them while searching for other artifacts. Over the next 200 years, the area was slowly excavated and the modern city across the valley was settled.
Since then, Jerash has become the second largest tourist attraction in Jordan.
Things to See
Jerash is set up as an archaeological park. You pay admission to enter and have the option of exploring on your own or hiring a guide at the ticket checkpoint to help you make your way around. While the ruins here are fairly extensive, you can usually see everything in about three or four hours. There are signs giving the history of each of the ruins and you can use a map from the Visitor Centre to help you navigate. A guide isn’t necessary but will provide you with a more well-rounded experience.
As you make your way around Jerash, one of the ruins you’ll find is the Forum. This wide, asymmetrical plaza was once used as a central market place for the city. It was built in the first century and is enclosed by dozens of imposing columns. From there, make your way down the Cardo, a colonnaded street running the length of the city. This road was once lined with shops, homes, and the major civic buildings when the city was in its prime. A complete drainage system lies underneath and, if you look closely enough, you can still see chariot tracks in the stone.
Stop to take a look at Agora, which served as Jerash’s main food market, and Nymphaeum, a beautiful public fountain once treasured by the people of Jerash. This Roman-style fountain is carved to resemble seven lion heads and is quite a sight to behold.
At the northern end of the ruins is the Temple of Artemis, named for the patron goddess of the city. Be sure to check out the gorgeous vaulted ceilings and sandstone pillars.
The South Theater seats up to 3,000 people and is still used today for concerts or musical performances. There are daily shows that feature bagpipers wearing traditional Jordanian military uniforms.
Stop by the free Jerash Archaeological Museum to see an impressive collection of artifacts found during excavation, including statues and coins.
Just outside of the main collection of ruins is Hadrian’s Arch, originally built in 129 AD, and the Hippodrome, an ancient sports arena that could seat up to 15,000 spectators.
Things to Do
After exploring the ruins, stop by the Hippodrome and see the Roman Army and Chariot Experience. This show features reconstructions of real Roman chariots that have been based on extensive historical research and are as accurate as possible. This show features ten gladiators armed with swords and tridents, charioteers participating in a seven-lap race around the Hippodrome, and 45 legionaries in authentic Roman battle gear. There’s music and live English commentary.
Another cool thing to do in Jerash is to attend the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, held since 1981. This summer festival is a three-week long celebration featuring music, dance, poetry readings, and theatrical performances. This festival is so important to the culture of the region that it’s frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan.
When to Go
Mid-spring and early autumn are the best times to visit Jerash because the weather is particularly pleasant during those times, even at night. Peak tourist season is February to March and again in October to November. However, if you prepare for the weather, you can visit Jerash any time of the year.
When planning your visit, keep in mind that Jerash has different hours depending on the time of year. Summertime hours are 7:30 am to 7:00 pm while winter hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. And you’ll want to be sure to give yourself plenty of time to see it all.