Sunday, September 23, 2007


Jerash's archaeological site was identified by Jordan in 2004 as a potential candidate for UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site. I recently had the opportunity to visit the site, and thought it might interest the readers of this blog.

Jerash is known for the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. According to Wikipedia
Jerash was inhabited during the Bronze Age and Iron Age (3200 BC - 1200 BC. After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed by the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace in this area which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and building activity.

In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the provinces and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard "wintering" there. The Triumphal Arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit.

The city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square metres within its walls. The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. However, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad Period, as shown by recent excavations. In AD 746, a major earthquake destroyed much of Jerash and its surroundings.
Jerash is something special. The ruins of the Roman city are in fantastic condition, and are surrounded by the modern city. The main line of the ruins runs perhaps a mile and a half to two miles. At each end there is a triumphal arch, the first one built in the time of Hadrian.

Hadrian's arch

Both are essentially whole. Inside the gates, starting from the south, there is a hypodrome. It is in good enough shape that they still hold chariot races for the tourists.

Seating in the hypodrome

Then there is a hig oval plaza, surrounded by columns. There are romantic views from the side of this plaza ot ruins on the hill above.

The oval plaza

Then you come to a very long colonaded street, with many of the columns still present.

Tourist police in the colonaded street.

There is actually a street crossing, with an east-west colonaded street intersecting the main street, and four large pedistals which once supported columns which are thought to have in turn supported a pyramidal structure,

The intersection

Moving further there are temples. One was later turned into a Byzantine church. I spent time in the runs of the Temple to Artemus, which was really impressive, Through the portal on the colonaded street, one climgs a very long staircase, coming out on a llarge open space which is surrounded by the remains of many pilars of the original colonade. In this space, there is another small temple, approached by another stair.Inside the Temple of Artemis
Looking thru the entrance to the modern city

Finally, at the end of the colonade there is a Roman theater which is still standing. I think one could still hold productions in the remains.
Inside the theater

I visited a small museum on the site and a visitors center. The museum has some nice objects, including a lovely portion of a statue which apparently was not considered important enogh do display formally, but was just left on the porch. It was interesting in showing the continuity in the every day objects used as empire succeeded empire ruling the town. The visitor center, built by the French and opened in 2000, has some nice architectural drawings of the original buildings.
Roman statue fragment

Jerash is an example of the great historical and archaeological richness contained in the relatively small nation of Jordan. I don't know whether it merits recognition by UNESCO as a part of World Heritage, but I think it will remain in my memory as a great experience.

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