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Jerash, some fifty kilometers north of Amman, is a most interesting site. The modern town offers nothing special, but the remains of the Roman town is probably the third most popular tourist site in Jordan after Petra and Wadi Rum.
It was one of the towns of the Decapolis, a grouping of ten towns in what is nos Jordan, Syria and northern Israel. The names of the traditional Ten Cities of the Decapolis come from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (N.H. 5.16.74). They are:
he Roman site of Jerash is almost completely surrounded by the modern town, as you can see from the photos below. You can get here very easily by bus from the Tarbarbour station in Amman, the trip takes a little over an hour. These buses leave when full, so no timetable is available, but this is a popular destination and you don't usually have to wait very long. Jerash is usually reckoned good for a long half day, don't wait until the last minute to look for a bus back. They stop fairly early, and the last bus is usually packed.
Jerash is laid out in the traditional Roman grid pattern of streets based around the main avenues - the north-south "Cardo" and the east-west "Decumanus". They met in the middle of the city at the "Tetrapylon" a small square that was bordered by a colonnade and surrounded by a number of small shops. Originally there were statues on the plinths, and this is where notices of public events were published.
No doubt this is where one found the latest programmes being offered at the theatres, and perhaps the subjects of debates in the Forum, or news of the latest arrival of goods from the east and from the west.
The ruins are in a fairly good state of preservation : if you are there after a rainstorm you will find that the original drainage system works very well. I find it fascinating to compare it with Palmyra : Jerash was a simple market town, while Palmyra was a most important trade centre. Palmyra, of course, and unhappily, has now little remaining erect, but you can still see the extraordinary richness of the carving on even the most unimportant stones. There is nothing like this in Jerash, but it is easy to imagine the everyday life of the people who lived there.
One of the well known and more unusual features of Jerash is the spectacular oval Forum which is the only one like this in the Middle East. It has been fairly extensively restored, but discreetly and is a very enjoyable place to visit.
The two main temples, to Zeus (on the left) and to Artemis are also well preserved - note the magnificent Corinthian capitals. The temple of Zeus is to be seen high on a hill, and tradition says that an imposing staircase led up to it. This staircase may still be there - hidden under the earth which has not be excavated at all.
The Temple of Artemis, one of the largest and most important building in the city, is used by guides to demonstrate how the columns were erected after the earthquake which destroyed much of the town. They sway slightly in the wind, and the guide will invite you to put your finger into one of the joints between the drums of the column. If you are brave enough to try, you can feel the column pressing gently on one part of another of your finger. If nobody volunteers, the guide will show this by sliding a knife inside the joint and it can be seen to wave smoothly up and down.
The actual entrance to the site is at the southern end, close to the road arriving from Amman. One passes in front of the magnificent Arch built to celebrate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to the city in AD129. It was originally planned as the main gateway in an impressive wall surrounding the town, but this was never built, and today the Arch stands alone.
Close by lies the Hippodrome which has been considerably restored and where during the Jerash Festival one could see chariot races (like in the film of Ben Hur!) and costumed displays of cavalry and archery by the Royal Jordan Special Forces. But see the note below an update on the now defunct Festival.
The well known Jerash Festival is being replaced by the "Jordan Festival" for the summer of 2010. This is being planned with some big names on the list of performers like Amr Diab, Elissa, Ragheb Alameh, Fadel Shaker, Assi Hillani, Cheb Khaled and Faudel. There are huge names expected to make an appearance as well like the famous Opera singer Placido Domingo and the popular singer Mika!
The new festival will be held in various places around the Kingdom like Amman, Jerash, Petra and the Dead Sea. See http://www.visitjordan.com/jordanfestival/ for dates and details.
One does hope rather wistfully that the spectacular chariot racing in the Jerash Hippodrome will continue! It's looking good - see http://www.jerashchariots.com/
Believe it or not, there
is only one hotel in Jerash, the
Hadrian's Gate Hotel, just opposite to Hadrian's Arch!
This is a very small and simple hotel - although there is a terrace on the roof
with a great view. Otherwise the
closest hotel is a delightful one : the Olive Branch on a hill about 15kms or 10
miles away. See
http://www.olivebranch.com.jo/. This hotel is popular also with Jordanians
for a family week end, if you are expecting to be there on a Friday it is
advisable to book well in advance. It is also popular with tour companies, so
perhaps better book anyway!
I should like to thank Todd Bolen of Moshav Yad HaShmonah, D.N. Harei Yehuda, Israel for the use of his beautiful photos of Jerash from www.bibleplaces.com. Many thanks for this, Todd!
As usual I have drawn upon the Rough Guide to help me with background information on this site. The RG remains by far the most complete and most accurate guide book to Jordan.