In any conversation regarding Jordan, the first point of call is usually Petra, not once did Jerash come up in conversation.
Its understandable really, an exquisite city, carved from rock and lost for an eternity. Now rediscovered it has played host to a number of big budget Hollywood movies, and is courted by hundred upon thousands of travellers as ‘one to see before you die’. Slightly morbid, but again totally understandable as Petra is quite simply incredible!
Jerash is incredible too!
However, whist Petra is amazing, let it be known that it is not Jordan’s only rediscovered treasure. The city of Jerash, located a mere 48km north of the capital Amman, and only 45km south of the Syrian border, is home to what is now generally acknowledge to be some the best persevered Roman ruins outside of Italy. It is no wonder that the site is commonly referred to as the Rome of Jordan, or the Rome away from Rome. The ruins that once upon a time fell to a blanket of sand are now a sight to behold.
Truth be told, I had absolutely no idea about Jerash before my visit to Jordan last month, none what so ever. I would like to think that eventually I would have somehow found my way there once landed down in the capital city of Amman, but owing to the knowledge of a travel buddy, Jerash was bought to my attention in just the nick of time and so our mini team of explorers were able to build it into our week long itinerary for Jordan. A tip of the hat must go to a Mr Pete Churchill for pointing out Jerash to the rest of us.
Like Petra, Jerash, or as it was better known in Roman time ‘Gerasa’, was once lost. Built in 63BC by Roman General Pompey the Great, Jerash was lost to soil and sand some time after the 2nd century BC, and was not rediscovered again until 1806 when German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen came across and recognized a small part of the ruins upon his exploration into the Middle East. Since that date, various individuals and groups have helped excavate and bring Jerash back to life, and those excavations continue to this day. The way in which the sand that hid the ruins, protected them has also allowed modern day testing to date the site as existing during Neolithic Age … that means that the site was inhabited by human life some 6500 years ago. MIND.BLOWN.
So Jerash was built, lost and then found again right? … In a nut shell yes that correct, but there is a bit more to it than that. For a site that was inhabited some 6500 years ago, unsurprisingly Jerash has quite a bit of history about it. The below table is only a snapshot, but it gives you an idea.
|4th Century BC||The foundations of the Jerash we know today are laid under the rule of Alexandra the Great who conquers the city.|
|63BC||The city is developed by Roman General Pompey the Great who declares Jerash to be part of the Decapolis.|
|90AD||absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia|
|106AD||Jerash expanded as trading improves at the hand of Emperor Trajan who built important roads leading into and out of the area.|
|129AD||Emperor Hadrian, a guest of Jerash was welcomed to the city by having a monumental Triumphal Arch built at the south end of the site by the citizens. This was considered the golden age of Jerash, and its population grew to near 20,000.|
|3rd century||Jerash falls into decline as shipping starts to take over as the main method of trade.|
|5th century||Many churches are built in Jerash as Christianity becomes the dominant religon in the area and the Byzantines rule.|
|749AD||Significant earthquake, and at this point Jerash’s population flew to a mear 4,000, before eventually being abandoned altogether.|
|1806||German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen unearths a part of the site which he recognises from his studies. Jerash is bought back into existence.|
|1925||A series of excavations begin, and continue till this day.|
What to see within Jerash
The ruins site at Jerash is pretty big, but anywhere between 2-4 hours should see you have enough time to cover the majority of the site. Personally, I see the below as being the MUST visits, in and among the other amazing structures at Jerash.
There’s no option with this one to be honest, built by the people of Jerash to commemorate the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 129AD, you will pass through the arch as you make your way from the visitors centre into the ruins. It acts pretty much as a gateway to the entire site.
Once home to up to 15,000 sport loving spectators. Whether it be chariot races, gladiator battles, or the lads from Top Gear racing cars a few centuries later, this 245m long and 52m wide arena was no doubt at the very centre of Jerash life during the good times, that despite being the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire.
It is supposedly possible to watch reenactments upon your own visit to Jerash, although we found the daily timings to be quite unclear and didn’t see anything. If you’re interested though, the show are said to run twice daily, at 11am and 3pm (2pm during the winter), except on Fridays.
(Thanks to Brendan Wan of TheTravelPop.com for the photo below)
Probably my favourite part of the Jerash ruins. Walking up from Hadrians Arch, you enter into this behemoth of an oval which is spectacularly decorated with a lining of huge 1st century AD columns. In the middle of the oval, where there used to be a fountain, now stands another column which carries the Jerash festival flame.
You can get a very good view looking down on the Oval Plaza from the South Theatre.
The South Theatre was built during the reign of Domitian, 90-92 AD, and held over 3,000 spectators. It is the larger of the two theatres and is still used today, most notably during the summertime Jerash Festival.
The smaller of the two theatres (but you knew that already), and was once even smaller. Whilst now able to hold 1,600 spectators, the original theatre housed only an intimate 800 before its expansion. The expansion was mainly due to the theatre change in purpose. Built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) as the city’s council chamber, in 235AD the theatre was expanded so that other, more public events might be housed within the theatre.
The Cardo (Colonnaded Street)
Effectively Jerash’s Main Street. Lined with more yet more stunning Corinthian columns, the street would have been home to a great number of shops and temples, the importance of which would be highlighted by the height of the columns standing directly outside of each. Depending on what you read, the street is either 600 metres or 800 metres long, I didn’t bother to measure it myself I admit. What isnt debated however is the evidence of a fully functional sewer and drainage system along the entire length of the street, showcasing its Roman design and build.
Visitor info online for Jerash is pretty scarce, so I will try detail below what I can recall from memory and my diary notes.
- Foreigner admission – 8JD per person. Tickets are available at the visitors centre, near the south gate.
- The visitors centre offers the opportunity to buy drinks, snacks and souvenirs as you’d expect.
- Guides are available from around 5JD, but I’m sure you can negotiate. We didn’t use a guide to be honest
- There is car parking for those of you self driving.
- For those of you getting a taxi from Amman, a round trip would cost roughly 40JD for a 4 seat vehicle. The drive is around 1hr from Amman.
- Opening times are seasonal …
- Winter – 8am-4pm
- Spring – 8am 6pm
- Summer – 8am-8pm
- Ramadan – 8am-3pm
- Fridays and official holidays – 9am-4pm
So there you have it. Sorry there isn’t an awful lot of visitor info above, but there’s isn’t an awful lot to tell I guess. Any taxi can be arranged through your accommodation no doubt, and they will be best placed to tell you entry times and if there are concession tickets available (I don’t think there are).
If hiring a taxi to visit Jerash, as the site wont take up a full days sightseeing, it could well be worth your while exploring Mt Nebo and Bethany too whilst you’re north of Amman, and make a full day of it. I wont like, I wasn’t blown away by Bethany myself, but that’s not to say you wouldn’t enjoy it, especially if you are a history buff or particularly religious. I guess all I’m saying is that there is more to Jordan than Amman, Petra, Aqaba, Wadi Rum and The Dead Sea. Jerash is a MUST in my book, and whilst north of Amman you may as well make the most of it and visit a few other sites. There is plenty on offer, as I am sure your taxi driver will inform you.
The decision is yours though obviously, but whatever you decide, enjoy!
P.S. To save you any confusion, the spelling to Jerash is pretty open. When you see Jerash, Jarash or Jaresh, they’re all referring to the same place. Maybe that sounds obvious, but I still thought it worth mentioning.