View of Jerash From Temple of Zeus
The ancient Greco-Roman city of Jerash is on every tour of Jordan. It may be second only to Petra in the number of tourists that visit. It seems the top tourist attractions are Petra
, Jerash, Mount Nebo
, and the Dead Sea
. Anything after that is a bonus. With its proximity to Amman, it makes sense to visit Jerash early in your stay in Jordan.
Located just an hour north of Amman [48km (30 miles)], you'll visit the crossroads of civilization. Most remarkable, perhaps, for its unbroken chain of human occupation, the hills of Gilead revealed Neolithic remains as well as those from the Greek, Byzantine, Roman, and Omayyad civilizations. While the tour of this area is not appropriate for those with mobility issues, those that can walk, climb, hike, and scramble, will find it easy to spend three or four hours (or more) in the area.
North Gate Jerash Jordan
We enter thru the main gate and stroll about 300 meters with the crowds to the north gate and city wall through which we get our first glimpse of the 160 column Forum, the temple of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis, the Cardo (main street) to the main city, walled with 4 gates, one heading towards north to Gadara Umm Qais. It's everything you could imagine in a major Roman city that's been transformed to reflect a Byzantine culture.
That monumental arch and vault sits at the start of the road to Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The triple arches and half columns are similar in design to Hadrian's Arch. It's thought that the south arch may have been built just before Emperor Hadrian's visit and later became part of the city wall constructed in the 4th century AD.
Temple of Zeus
As one of the ten Greco-Roman Decapolis cities decreed by Roman General Pompey in 64 BC, Jerash may be the best-preserved classical city along that old caravan route. As you stroll amongst the ruins, be sure to look down and around, you'll find mosaics in what appear to be unlikely places.
As a Decapolis City, caravans bring goods and people and other languages, cultures, and civilizations. This led to the co-mingling of the communities and already exemplified the generosity and hospitality that is present in the modern-day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan today.
Pro Tip: If you spot a staircase over an opening, climb it. It's likely a mosaic.
Jerash, in addition to its mosque and two temples to Greek gods, contains three Christian Churches built one after the other.
After the colonnade Forum, the Temple of Zeus calls to you. Climb up for an overview of Jerash. The Temple itself is nice for a photo opportunity. There are usually enterprising Jordanian youths with saddles or pillows with colorful blanket ready to take your photo for a few dinars. One called to my colleague
he especially likes the view from the edge of the Temple where he's set up. He takes a vertical panorama to include her with the colonnade and Temple of Artemis behind.
Altars and Oracles
Altars and oracles, (first to 5th centuries AD)
Neither god nor clergy nor saint, the oracle of truth was said to have been offered tribute by Apollo Neos, a philosopher of the Plato school while spending the winter of 129-130 AD in Jerash. If only we knew what he was looking for the truth about. Any ideas? Put your comments in the box below.
Walk through the ruins of the rooms to the temple before climbing down again and returning to the colonnade and on to the other churches, Temple of Artemis, and take a side trip to the Hippodrome.
Hippodrome Starting Gate
Race the Roman army and chariot experience.
The Jerash Hippodrome (220 AD-749 AD), aka "circus" in Latin, is the smallest one (265 meters long and 50 meters wide) from the Roman Empire. You can still see ruts in the ground from the chariot races. Arched carceres, the starting gates, are remarkably well preserved. As many as 17,000 spectators filled the seats around this small track. In the late 4th century, part of the Hippodrome was used for gladiator fights. By the 8th century, it became a mass burial location for victims of the plague. The 749 AD earthquake led to no further use.
The Church of Marianos (570-749 AD) mosaic floor remains intact with open doors showing the road to Philadelphia (modern day Amman). It's a simple church interior, typical of Byzantine churches, surrounded by tombs and clergy homes.
The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, (601AD to 749AD)
The two-aisled basilica, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was built during the episcopate of Anastasius with seats for the clergy behind a reliquary. Fragments of decorative marble are visible from the pulpit. The mosaic floor of the nave represents the Egyptian cities of Memphis and Alexandria, noted in a dedication. It's likely that the building was destroyed by the earthquake.
Not One But Two Roman Theaters
If you love a Roman Theater, you'll love that Jerash has two. Have you come across another archeological site with two? We haven't. Get to the stage and the acoustical spot where you can be heard throughout the theater without any form of microphone or race up the steps and find your seat
there are thousands to choose from.
The Necropolis (800BC130AD) or graveyard extends about a mile past the south gate on the road to Philadelphia. Bodies were placed in a stone or lead sarcophagi, wooden coffins, or wrapped in shrouds and laid in the ground. Unlooted tombs discovered included furniture. Burials were stopped around 130 AD due to an urban extension plan that was never realized.
Temple of Artemis
Throughout the morning of your tour, don't be surprised if the Temple of Artemis calls to you. While the Temple of Zeus is, understandably, larger, the temple to Artemis (Diana for the Romans) remains in the core of the ancient city. Built in the middle of the two terraces, the sanctuary was filled during our visit by vendors. Many travelers are tired by the time they reach this point and wonder if it's worth the climb up the stairs. Do yourself the favor of doing it once. Past the vendors, see the arched niche containing Artemis' sculpture, and the view of Jerash from that vantage point.
The Corinthian columns are well preserved and bear the signature of Hygeinos at the base. A portico stands on the podium accessible by staircase.
When pagan cults were forbidden by a Roman emperor edict, part of this temple became a public reception hall. The structure of the temple withstood the 749AD earthquake but was significantly damaged during a 12th or 13th century earthquake. Archeologists have examined the temple since 1816 and the Italian Archaeological Mission has dedicated work to the sanctuary of Artemis since 1978. Since 2018, a cooperative project between the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Italian Archaeological Mission with a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation has helped return the temple to the glory we find during our visit today.
The Cardo, a half-mile long colonnade street, paved with its original stones reveals chariot ruts from millennia past. This architectural spine of the city is now a focal point of Jerash, complete with sewage system.
Shops remain along the South Cardo, some roofed, some not. From the 2nd to the 9th century AD, both citizens and visitors went about their daily business along this road. Several unplanned extensions or additions from the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties led to the shops taking over parts of the original sidewalk along the Cardo.
This site is tremendous. It takes real discipline to limit yourself to the several hours the tour guide thinks you should need. As photographers, it's even more difficult to tear ourselves away from this best-preserved Roman architectural site outside of Italy. For us, it was the need for sustenance and the knowledge we were about to visit a women empowerment collective
that helped the guide get us back on the coach.