Jerash, nestled in a quiet valley among the mountains of Gilead, is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate, which is situated in the north of Jordan, 48 kilometers (30 mi) north of the capital Amman towards Syria.
It is the grandeur of Imperial Rome being one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the World outside Italy. To this day, its paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theaters, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates remain in exceptional condition.
Jerash Governorate’s geographical features vary from cold mountains to fertile valleys from 250 to 300 meters (820 to 980 ft) above sea level, suitable for growing a wide variety of crops.
Some history of Jerash.
The history of Jerash is a blend of the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient. Indeed, the name of the city itself reflects this interaction. The earliest Arabic/Semitic inhabitants named their village Garshu. The Romans later Hellenised the former Arabic name into Gerasa, and at the end of the 19th century, the Arab and Circassian inhabitants of the small rural settlement transformed the Roman Gerasa into the Arabic Jerash.
It was not until the days of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC that Jerash truly began to develop into a sizeable town. But it was during the period of Roman rule that Jerash, then known as Gerasa, enjoyed its golden age.
The first known historical reference to Jerash dates back to the 2nd or early 1st century BC. This reference is attributed to Josephus, a historian from the Holy Land, who referred to it as the the place to which Theodorus, the tyrant of Philadelphia, removed his treasure for safe keeping in the Temple of Zeus. Shortly afterward, Theodorus lost Jerash to Alexander Jannceus, a religious priest.
Soon after Rome took control of Syria, Emperor Pompey, in 63 BC, named conquered Jerash as one of the great cities of the Decapolis League. This brought great economic benefits to Jerash and trade flourished with the Nabataean Empire based in Petra.
In 106 AD, Emperor Trajan annexed the wealthy Nabataean Kingdom and formed the province of Arabia. This brought even greater trading riches pouring into Jerash, which enjoyed a burst of construction activity. Granite was brought from as far away as Egypt, and old temples were rebuilt according to the latest architectural fashion.
The city received yet another boost in stature with the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD. To honor its guest, the citizens raised a monumental Triumphal Arch at the southern end of the city. Jerash’s prosperity reached a peak in the beginning of the 3rd century, when it was bestowed with the rank of Roman Colony. During this “golden age”, Jerash may have had a population of 20,000 people.
The ancient city preserved today was the administrative, civic, commercial and cultural center of this community, while the majority of the city’s citizens lived on the east side of Jerash Valley.
As the 3rd century progressed, shipping began to take over as the main route for commerce. Jerash fell into decline as its previously lucrative trade routes became less traveled and therefore less valuable.
By the middle of the 5th century, Christianity had become the major religion of the region and numerous churches were constructed in Jerash. Many churches were constructed of stones taken from pagan temples – and the remains of several can be seen today.
Jerash was hit further by the Persian invasion of 614 AD and the Muslim conquest of 636 AD. A series of earthquakes in 749 AD did serious damage to the city and hastened its decline, and its population sank to 4000.
The Crusaders described Jerash as uninhabited, and it remained abandoned until its rediscovery in 1806, when Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveler, came across and recognized a small part of the ruins. The ancient city was buried in sand, which accounts for its remarkable preservation. It has been gradually revealed through a series of excavations, which started in 1925, and continue to this day.
The ruins remained buried in the soil for hundreds of years until they were discovered by German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. In addition to the role of the people of old villages near Jerash, the process of building the modern city of Jerash was mainly done by the resettlement of Circassian Muslims by the Ottoman authorities; the Circassians came to Transjordan from the Caucasus after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Subsequently a community of people from Syria came to the area at the beginning of the 20th century.
Jerash has developed dramatically in the last century with the growing importance of the tourism industry to the city. Jerash is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, closely behind the splendid ruins of Petra. On the western side of the city, which contained most of the representative buildings, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment, with the modern city sprawling to the east of the river which once divided ancient Jerash in twoTourist and great architectural sites you might visit in Jerash.
Jerash is mainly distinguished with its architectural sites, rather than some entertainment and cultural activities that are held periodically. Remains in the Greco-Roman Jerash include:
• Numerous Corinthium columns
• Hadrian’s Arch
• The circus/hippodrome
• The two large temples (dedicated to Zeus and Artemis)
• The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade,
• The long colonnaded street or cardo
• Two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre)
• Two communal baths, and a scattering of small temples
• A large Nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct
• An almost complete circuit of city walls
• A water powered saw mill for cutting stone
• Two large bridges across the nearby river.
Most of these monuments were built by donations of the city’s wealthy citizens. The south theatre has a focus in the centre of the pit in front of the stage, marked by a distinct stone, and from which normal speaking can be heard easily throughout the auditorium. From AD 350, a large Christian community lived in Jerash, and between AD 400-600, more than thirteen churches were built, many with superb mosaic floors. A cathedral was built in the 4th century. An ancient synagogue with detailed mosaics, including the story of Noah, was found beneath a church. The use of water power to saw wood or stone is well known in the Greek and Roman world, the invention in Greece occurring in the 3rd century BC. They converted rotary movement from the mill to linear motion using a crankshaft and good examples are known from Hierapolis and Ephesus to the north. The mill is well described in the visitors centre, and is situated near the Temple of Artemis.
Culture and entertainment.
Since 1981, the old city of Jerash has hosted the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, a three-week-long summer program of dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.
In addition performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) were started at the hippodrome in Jerash. The show runs twice daily, at 11am and at 2pm, and at 10am on Fridays, except Tuesdays. It features forty-five legionaries in full armour in a display of Roman army drill and battle tactics, ten gladiators fighting “to the death” and several Roman chariots competing in a classical seven-lap race around the ancient hippodrome.