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Things to see in Jerash, one of the top attractions in Jordan

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Jerash (or Gerasa) is an ancient city in Jordan located 48km (30 miles) north of the capital, Amman (map). Famous as being one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities in the Middle East, Jerash is one of the top attractions in Jordan (alongside Petra) and is certainly a must-visit. During my visit, I strolled around the city in awe as I passed amazing, 2,000 year-old structures and grand avenues. I discovered many things to see in Jerash such as Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Artemis, the Oval Forum and the countless columns with their intricate Corinthian capitals. As most of the main touristic sights in Jordan are south of the capital Amman, many people have asked me if it’s worth visiting Jerash in the north. My answer is a resounding YES!


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Columns topped with Corinthian capitals at the Temple of Artemis.

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The old and the new of Jerash.





A brief history of Jerash

The city can trace its origins back to the Neolithic period (7500 – 5500 BC). It became a Hellenistic city in the 2nd century BC when a general of Alexander the Great seized the eastern reaches of the vast empire. Over the centuries, Jerash grew into an important trading hub on the King’s Highway, an ancient trade route that connected Egypt with the Red Sea, Philadelphia (now known as Amman) and Damascus. In the 1st century BC, Jerash was annexed by the expanding Roman Empire. As the Roman Empire exerted its presence throughout the region, Jerash experienced a long era of great wealth. Many of the structures that can be seen today, such as the Arch of Hadrian, were built during this prosperous period. In 749 AD, a massive earthquake destroyed much of the city and it never regained its prominence.





A colonaded avenue in Jerash.

The ruins were discovered by the German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806 and the excavation of the ancient city has been almost continuous since the 1920’s. Jerash is nowadays one of the most popular places to visit in Jordan alongside Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. Its proximity to Amman, about a one-hour drive, makes it an easy day trip.

Jerash experienced a building boom during the Roman era as it established itself as a regional centre of trade, commerce and culture. The city utilised its great wealth to build impressive structures and avenues. Much of this was destroyed during the 749 AD earthquake but over the years, archaeologists have painstakingly restored the main structures, making a stroll around Jerash a wondrous journey of discovery. Here are the top sights in Jerash which shouldn’t be missed:


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The Arch of Hadrian was built to celebrate the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 129-130 AD.

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The South Gate

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The stage of the South Theatre

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The South Theatre. An amphitheatre that seats up to 3000, it is occasionally used today for concerts. Climb the steps to the uppermost ring to experience the superb acoustics.

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The Cardo Maximus, an 800m colonnaded street that runs from the Oval Forum to the Northern Gate. It was once lined with the city’s major buildings, shops and residences. A complex drainage system lies below the stone paving. Look for chariot tracks in the stone.

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The Oval Forum. A wide, asymmetrical plaza at the beginning of the Cardo  Maximus (or Colonnaded Street), built in the 1st century AD. The Oval Forum is 80m by 90m (262ft by 295ft) and is enclosed by 160 Ionic columns.

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The Ionic columns of the Oval Forum.

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The Temple of Artemis with its stunning columns.

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The Temple of Artemis.




A close-up of the Carinthian capital.

 


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Nymphaeum. An ornate public fountain that was decorated with lion heads and dedicated to the nymphs.

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During restoration work, this ancient tiled floor with Greek mosaics was discovered.




The North Theatre




The Hippodrome – a partially restored Roman-era stadium. At only 245m long and 52m wide, it was the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire.

Jerash can easily be seen in a day but I recommend taking your time to stroll around the site. Wear comfortable walking shoes and a cap (it can get very hot in the summer) and bring sufficient water.





A selfie in Jerash.

Located northwest of Jerash near the border with Syria and Israel, Umm Qais (map) is home to another ancient city, Gadara, which shares a somewhat similar history with Jerash. This Greco-Roman city makes for a nice add-on to a visit to Jerash (only if you have the time for it). At Gadara, you’ll find unique basalt columns, an amphitheatre and other stone buildings from the Roman period. From here, you’ll also have panoramic views of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee at the Jordan/Israel/Syria border.





Basalt columns at Gadara, Umm Qais.




The amphitheatre

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The view from Umm Qais of the Golan Heights (ochre-coloured hills) and the Sea of Galilee.



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