Ancient Jerash was an open city of freestanding structures richly embellished with marble and granite. Its engineering was so advanced that large parts of the city still survive today. Much more has been painstakingly restored by archeological teams from around the world.
The main attractions in Jerash are, not surprisingly, the ruins themselves. Guidebooks, maps and further information are readily available from the Visitors’ Centre near the South Gate.
Tel: (02) 6351272.
Opening hours: 0800-1600 (during winter), 0800-1700 (during summer).
The ruins are extensive and impressive. Highlights include:
Built to commemorate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to Jerash in 129 AD, this splendid triumphal arch was intended to become the main Southern gate to the city; however, the expansion plans were never completed.
This massive arena was 245m long and 52m wide and could seat 15,000 spectators at a time for chariot races and other sports. The exact date of its construction is unclear but it is estimated between the mid-2nd to 3rd century AD. It is now also possible to relive the days when gladiators and charioteers appeared before the crowds, with regular re-enactments by the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE). For more about RACE, visit www.jerashchariots.com
The spacious plaza measures 90mx80m and is surrounded by a broad sidewalk and colonnade of 1st century AD Ionic columns. There are two alters in the middle, and a fountain was added in the 7th century AD. This square structure now supports a central column, which was recently erected to carry the Jerash Festival Flame.
Still paved with the original stones – the ruts worn by chariots are still visible – the 800m Cardo was the architectural spine and focal point of Jerash. An underground sewage system ran the full length of the Cardo and the regular holes at the sides of the street drained rainwater into the sewers.
Further up the Cardo Maximus, on the left is the monumental and richly-carved gateway of a 2nd century Roman Temple of Dionysus. In the 4th century the temple was rebuilt as a Byzantine church now referred to as the ‘Cathedral’ (although there is no evidence that it held more importance than any of the other churches). At the top of the stairs, against an outer East wall of the Cathedral is the shrine of St. Mary, with a painted inscription to Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.
This ornamental fountain was constructed in 191 AD and dedicated to the Nymphs. Such fountains were common in Roman cities, and provided a refreshing focal point for the city. This well-preserved example was originally embellished with marble facings on the lower level and painted plaster on the upper level, topped with a half-dome roof. Water cascaded through seven carved lion's heads into small basins on the sidewalk and overflowed from there through drains and into the underground sewage system.
The North Theatre was built in 165 AD. In front is a colonnaded plaza where a staircase led up to the entrance. The theatre originally only had 14 rows of seats and was used for performances, city council meetings, etc. In 235 AD, the theatre was doubled in size to its current capacity of 1,600. The theatre fell into disuse in the 5th century and many of its stones were taken for use in other buildings.
Built during the reign of Emperor Domitian, between 90-92 AD, the South Theatre can seat more than 3,000 spectators. The 1st level of the ornate stage, which was originally a two-storey structure, has been reconstructed and is still used today. The theatre's remarkable acoustics allow a speaker at the centre of the orchestra floor to be heard throughout the entire auditorium without raising his voice. Two vaulted passages lead into the orchestra, and four passages at the back of the theatre give access to the upper rows of seats. Some seats could be reserved and the Greek letters which designate them can still be seen.
THE JERASH ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The Jerash Archaeological Museum was established in 1923 inside one of the vaults of the courtyard of the Artemis Temple. In 1985, the museum was moved to the renovated old rest house and the first special exhibition there was entitled “Jordan Through the Ages.” The museum is now dedicated solely to discoveries from the Jerash region and its collections span the archaeological periods in the area, from the Neolithic up to the Mameluk period. The displays are in chronological order with typological and functional divisions.
The museum houses large collections of pottery, glass, metals and coins, in addition to precious stones, figurines and statues, stone and marble alters, and mosaics.
In the garden of the museum, Greek and Latin monumental inscription are on display next to marble statues and stone sarcophagi. Jerash (Gerasa) was one of the
cities of the Decapolis. It is considered one of the largest Roman provincial cities, with well-preserved Roman temples, paved roads, theatres, bridges and baths. The city also boasts well-preserved monumental architectural parts: the Monumental Gate, the Nymphaeum, and the Hippodrome. From the Byzantine period there are 18 churches, most of which have mosaic floors. The city wall with four gates is still preserved in many places.
Situated within the ruins, the museum is open daily 0800-1600 (in winter), 0800-1900 (in summer), and 1000-1500 (Fridays and official holidays). Admission is free.
Tel: (02) 6352267