The eastern part of Jerash is quite modern with parks and gardens, it is the western part that is riveting
Just 50 km north of the Jordanian capital Amman is Jerash. And yet, arriving in the old walled city is like stepping back in history to a different era. Though the eastern part of Jerash is quite modern with lovely parks and gardens and wide streets, it is the western part that is riveting. Once through the main gate, known as Hadrian’s Gate or Arch of Triumph, the walled city is both impressive and extensive with magnificent monuments. Jerash was originally known as Gerasa and the foundations for the city are believed to have been laid by Alexander the Great around 330 BC, but recent excavations indicate the place might have been inhabited as far back as 3200 BC. However, it was the Greeks and the Romans, after they conquered the area around 63 BC, who were responsible for the impressive structures that still stand today.
It is fascinating to wander through Hadrian’s Gate, which in itself is a beautiful three-arched doorway rising 11 metres into the sky with hints of Nabataean influence and decorated with pedestals, capitals and columns. Once inside, there are multiple things that are bound to stun. What stands out immediately is the Forum or Oval Plaza, a lovely plaza with Ionic columns spaced out, leading to the colonnaded street or Cardo. A little walk past the columns and the paved stone paths leads to the stunning South Theatre, a beautiful amphitheatre, which brings to mind scenes from Ben Hur and Gladiator. Remarkably preserved, the theatre can seat up to 3,000 people and has a beautiful wide stage with Roman architecture and lovely columns.
Exploring the ruins
The walled city’s ruins are expansive and it takes a few hours to walk around the entire place. Other things to see include the ruins of the Temple of Artemis located at a vantage point and is among the most beautiful Roman temples with towering columns; the Nymphaeum, an evocative fountain with lions heads which is dedicated to nymphs; the Agora, which also has a fountain but is known more for its markets and is supposed to have been the main trading area.
There is also the Jerash Archaeological Museum, which has an extensive collection of exhibits and artefacts obtained during excavation. Apart from stone figures and extracts, statues and other articles such as coins and implements, the sarcophagi are worth a look. Also don’t miss the motifs and beautifully carved ornamentation on the pillars and monuments.
It is apt to end the visit at the Roman Hippodrome. Though considered to be small by Roman standards, with a length of 245 metres and width of 52 metres, it is a not only spectacular to look at but is brought alive with a show of re-enactment of chariot races, wrestling duels and fabulous martial music. As the show winds down, it is not difficult to imagine what it could have been like nearly 2,000 years ago.
Words By: Anita Rao-Kashi