Of the ancient Greco-Roman sites Michael and I have visited, this one was the best!
I felt as if I had stepped back in time, and could visualize what it was like to walk in a great Roman city; to walk along the main street lined with shops, to a centre intersection, a tetrapylon crossroads for the four main gates. There I would decide if I was going to walk towards the West Gate, to worship at Artemis’s Temple…or maybe walk all the way to the East Gate, that would take me through the residential area of the city (if I understood my guide correctly!)!
In my humble opinion, what makes this site SO MUCH BETTER than visiting the ancient sites in Rome and Athens is how this ancient city is a spacious complex of an entire city within itself, not woven bits of antiquity within a modern, busy, overcrowded city. It is like a spacious, one-stop shopping for all your Greco-Roman sites in one! It has a hippodrome, temples, an agora, theaters, a public forum, an Arch of Hadrian, baths, churches, etc…
It’s the Costco of ancient sites! 😉
Our friend Nancy says Jerash is one of those best kept secrets, and I agree!
I’ve included a map of the ancient city here so you get an understanding of how spectacular this site is!
To begin the adventure, our driver Walid parked the car at the parking, shopping, restaurant area outside the ancient ruins. You start by walking through a well placed maze of souvenir shops, set up like a souk.
Outside, you are greeted by this sign:
Then walk under the Arch of Hadrian towards the Visitors Centre to buy tickets and meet our tour guide.
Arch of Hadrian – built in 129-130 for the visiting Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Arch of Hadrian
Here, we are standing outside the Visitor’s Centre. That is Michael with our guide…neither of us can remember his name!
View of modern Jerash from the Visitor’s Centre.
We enter through the South Gate. The large, central entrance was for caravans and chariots. The smaller side entrances were for pedestrians.
The South GateLooking back at the South Gate, from inside:We walked for a bit, our guide telling us that in just a moment, we would walk into one of the most breathtaking sites in the city – The Oval Forum or Oval Plaza
The Oval Forum
I took a small video of it – a panoramic picture would have been best – but I didn’t think of it!
The columns are Ionic design, which look like scrolls. The base of the forum is made of larger stones that expands out into smaller stones, indicating that the Oval Forum was expanded over time.
The Oval Forum was a place for public meetings and social gatherings. If I understood our guide correctly, I believe he also said there were vendors along the raised area in front of the columns – the space I’m standing on.
The Oval Forum leads to the start of the main street – the colonnaded street of the South Gate that leads to the North Gate known as the Cardo Maximus. The Cardo Maximus was the main north-south street, and an integral part of Roman city planning.
This was incredible! The entire street was basically lined with columns! The street is so long, you can’t see the end from the beginning!
Along the way, there are manhole covers for drainage.
Here, you see taller columns indicating the entrance into the Macellum – the permanent “grocery store” or market place, agora located along the main drag, so to speak!
Walking into the entrance of the Macellum.The heart of the building has a courtyard with Corinthian columns (highly decorative columns) and a cruciform fountain.
This was the butcher shop!
This is a broken nail in the wall, where the meat was hung from.
The Romans had a unique earthquake alarm system. If we understood our guide correctly, the stones on the top of the columns (all through the city) were filled with crystals and purposely placed with small gaps between them. When an earthquake happened, the columns would sway, the stones would bang together because of the gap and make a collective noise – alarming the Roman citizens of an earthquake.
This is Michael banging a rock on one of the stones filled with crystals. The sound was distant – an echoing clang.
The alarm system stones lining the top of the Corinthian columns – notice the gap.
Looking north from the Macellum, at the columns lining Cardo Maximus.
Looking south from the Macellum, at the columns lining Cardo Maximus.
Back out on the street, looking towards the North Gate.
More shops behind the Corinthian columns lining the street.
Street lighting in ancient Rome! These alcoves are where oil lamps were placed to light the busy street at night!
Water fountain along the street!
We stopped at the first intersection, where the north-south street intersected with the east-west street. The street from the East Gate to the West Gate is called a Decumanus Maximus.
There is a Tetrapylon Monument at the intersection.
Looking at the East Gate from the tetrapylon. If we understood our guide, the East Gate is no longer there because the modern city of Jerash is built over it….
Looking at the West Gate from the tetrapylon. It is difficult to see what I’m about to describe in this picture because it is so far away, the West Gate was destroyed leaving a gap in the stone city wall. About the Tetrapylon Monument at this intersection. A Tetrapylon Monument was built to indicate a major intersection! I didn’t get a picture of this one because the tour guide grabbed my camera and ushered us to stand for the below picture while there wasn’t anyone there!
After that, I had forgotten to take a picture of the monument as we started walking again.
Here, along the street is the gateway to the Jerash Cathedral, that is now in ruins and built on the site of a Roman temple. We didn’t go up for a look, we kept on walking as we only had the tour guide for two hours – we were on his time schedule!
Gateway to the Jerash Cathedral
This large Nymphaeum, fed by an aqueduct, was my favorite site! Why? Because in a way, when I first saw it, it reminded me of the Treasury in Petra (that we had yet to see because it was the next item to visit on the itinerary) and the purpose of booking this trip!
A Nymphaeum is a scared monument dedicated to the nymphs! This one had a water fountain!
Next to the Nymphaeum was the Roman “parking lot” – horse stalls! Well, says our tour guide – but he also says that scholars and archaeologists can’t agree on what they were used for, but they sure looked like horse stalls to us! A family would need a place to park their chariot when they went shopping! 😉
Looking back on the street – towards the South Gate – once we’ve passed the “parking lot”!
This is the just one small part of the huge Propylaeum – a monumental gateway to Artemis Temple. This entrance was under construction.
This is the North Tetrapylon.
Our next site was the North Theatre. Our guide told us this theatre was probably used for politics, government meetings rather than entertainment.
Here is a video of my voice – it sounds like I’m talking loud – but I’m actually speaking at a normal level – the theatre amplified my voice! Good place to hold a meeting!
This is the view of the modern city of Jerash from the top of the theatre.
By this time, Michael and I were dehydrated. The sun was intense, and we had been walking for almost two hours. We needed water! The next stop was Artemis Temple, where we would be able to buy water from locals. The tour guide told us lots of information about Artemis Temple and how the grounds before the temple were sacred, and here is where women prayed for fertility. I was so thirsty I really wasn’t paying attention and took very little pictures. All I wanted was shade and water!
A fertility alter?
Next stop the South Theatre! Our goal here was to listen to two Jordanian men, retired from the army orchestra (if I understood correctly what my guide meant) play for tourists.
The walk from Artemis Temple to the South Theatre was interesting.
- We had to be mindful of scorpions. I was warned of that when I stopped to take a picture of this thistle!
2. We walked past the Church of St. Theodore.
Church of St. Theodore
3. We walked past the east-west street – Decumanus Maximus. Looking towards the East Gate.
View of the Corinthian columns that line Decumanus Maximus with modern Jerash in the background. There are two pictures – one without a bit of sky, that I like and one with a bit of sky that Michael likes! 🙂
Looking back from where we walked…
View of the Oval Forum!
View of the Oval Forum with Zeus’s Temple.
View of the Macellum along Cardo Maximus.
Approaching the South Theatre with Zeus’s Temple behind it.
The South Theatre was for entertainment. Wealthy Greeks paid for front row, VIP seating with their initials inscribed on their seats!
Just like today, those who donate to build something get signage indicating they were responsible for financing it. This is the list of names of wealthy Greeks who helped fund the building of the theatre!
The Jordanian musicians! This guy was fun! 🙂
This short video isn’t the greatest – I didn’t have a steady hand!
Our final stop was to see Zeus! This temple was more impressive on the outside, than inside – as everything on the inside was in ruins.
Toppled Corinthian columns.
View from the Zeus’s Temple.
And that was that! Out tour was over! We would have gone back and wandered around on our own..but the heat and sun were just too much! We needed shade, water and rest!
Walking back to meet our driver, Walid.
Back through the South Gate.
After the South Gate, we stopped at the restaurant by the Visitor’s Centre to use the toilet. This sign was on the wall!
Then to the Arch of Hadrian.
Then back through the building of souvenir shops, to the other side to the parking lot!
The complex is huge!
Things to note:
- The sun and heat are intense this time of year – the start of the summer off-season
- Bring water! A camel back water container would have been perfect for this tour!
- Wear a hat and sunscreen!
- Our guide told us to keep an out out for blond scorpions as we walked along the dirt path on the hill, off the main stone streets.
- The vendors selling souvenirs are a bit pushy, but not too bad.
- There are locals selling water at different sites. We bought water at Artemis Temple. They keep a cooler with ice, filled with bottled water. If I remember correctly – one medium sized bottle of water was 2-3 JOD – about 4-6 CAD! But when you’re desperate for water, you pay! And this site, it is a place where you get desperate for water if you don’t have enough!
- There are tourist police on site to manage young locals who might scam for money. We only ran into one young teenager who offered to take a picture (Michael and I with musician) then wanted money for doing so.