Jerash: A wonder of the ancient Roman empire

Our first morning in Amman, we awake early to the mystic and enchanting sound of the call to morning prayer. Those keen to wake for morning prayer are no doubt thankful of the town’s broadcast system; as it occurs just before the sun is due to rise, I am not and roll over again for some much needed rest.

With plans for roaming Amman, we eventually make it down to breakfast. A better offer and a split second decision later, we find ourselves in a taxi with fellow travel Tahilia on our way to Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world.

The drive is simply stunning. The beigeness of Amman drifts seamlessly into the green fields of northern Jordan, leading us into the modern town of Jerash and ending at the small visitor centre at the entrance to the old town.

Archaelogical evidence indicates the area of Jerash was first settled in the Middle Bronze age, around 1700 BC. Known then as Gerasa, the first town was founded in approximately 170 BC. The town we see today exists from the Roman era of the first century AD with additions from later Christian and Muslim communities. Following a devastating earthquake in 749 AD, the town lay dormant for a thousand years until Bedouins reintroduced Europeans to the sleeping beauty in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since then, it has been a site of extreme interest to both tourists and archeologists alike.

From the visitor centre, we enter old town through Hadrian’s Arch, once 36 metres high but now a still spectactular 13 metre tall archway that leads into the smallest hippodrome of the Roman Empire.

The arch and hippodrome

The arch and hippodrome

At first, I thought that this might be all Jerash has to offer given the cheap 8 dinar entry fee. Could I have been more wrong? From the hippodrome, it’s a short walk to the original south gate where all the fun begins.

As we pass through the south gate, we enter the Roman plaza or oval forum. 90m long and 80m wide at its widest point, this immense forum links the main thoroughfare (the cardo maximus) with the Temple of Zeus and served as a marketplace and the main locus of the city’s social and political life. Some boys start up a drum beat and slowly begin to add the sounds of Arabian instruments as others begin to entertain the crowd with some schoolboy dancing. It’s not hard to step back in time and imagine sitting beneath the Ionic columns, being entertained by Roman dancers.

The Roman Plaza

The Roman Plaza

Looking to our left and up the hill, we imagine partaking in the holy sacrifices undertaken in the Temple of Zeus and sitting in the audience of a Roman play at the nearby South Theatre.

Temple of Zeus and the south theatre

Temple of Zeus and the south theatre

We are taken back to the modern day by the crowds of Jordanian and Syrian schoolboys fighting their way into photos with one or all of us, and practicing their schoolboy taught English. My favourite question: “What have you always wanted to be?”. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer this one.

The schoolboy entourage

The schoolboy entourage

We continue our walk along the cardo maximus, or roman road, with it’s 500 columns leading you from the roman plaza to the north gate at the very end of the old town. Along the way, we pass and explore the spectatular ruins that fill both sides of the road including the Roman cathedral, Temple of Artemis, Western and Eastern baths, Nymphaeum and the North Theatre. It is incredible to think that these buildings were built so long ago, but stand today as examples of the finest of human architecture.

The north theatre

The north theatre

The view at the north gate is well worth the wander, but for me, it’s the contrast of the old and new towns that symbolises the history and evolution that makes modern day Jordan.

Towards the north gate

Towards the north gate

On the walk back to the entrance, we decide to take up our driver’s offer and stop at Ajlun (Ajloun) Castle on the way back to Amman. Built to control traffic on the route from Damascus to Egypt, we are amazed that we are standing safely on top of a fortress looking at both Israel and Syria. Again it was not difficult to imagine days gone with the current situation throughout both regions.

Ajlun Castle

Ajlun Castle

Suze & Michael at the top

Suze & Michael at the top

As we head back to Amman, thoroughly pleased with our day and happily nodding off in the heat, I stop to think about the enormity of the site we have just travelled to and the history we have witnessed. Once again, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to travel the world. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s events, whatever they may be.