Jerash Jordan is often referred to as the “Pompeii of the East” due to its importance during Roman times and the beautiful ruins that it now offers. The area, then referred to as Gerasa, was settled in the third century BC and became part of a federation of Greek cities known as Decapolis. In 63 BC Gerasa and some of its fellow cities were conquered by Pompey and incorporated into the Roman Empire. However, the city remained semiautonomous as part of the province of Syria, before ultimately becoming part of the country of Jordan, and became quite prosperous due to its involvement in the incense and spice trade, though it lost what autonomy it had under the reign of the Emperor Trajan, who came to power at the beginning of the second century.
Despite this change in status, Gerasa ultimately enjoyed even more wealth and flourished as the favorite city of Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, as they were multiple expansions and new structures built. Although the Roman Empire itself struggled earlier, the decline of Jerash didn't truly come about until around 635 AD, after the city had been Christianized and then conquered by the Muslims. By the time the Crusaders arrived in the twelfth century, the city had been uninhabited for years and had been greatly damaged by earthquakes.
The ruins at Jerash Jordan are extraordinary, and they are a great symbol of the wealth that the city brought in during its peak years. The archaeological site is open year-round to the public, and there are many organized tours and trips to the ruins. The ruins are varied due to its various influences through the years and provide great examples of different architecture. As visitors enter the site, they pass through the magnificent Arch of Hadrian, built in honor of the ruler who loved the city. The arch is one of the most famous ruins at the site and is an excellent example of the intricate detailing that prevailed in Roman structure. The two-story arch features a main arch that is flanked by two smaller arches and two columns on each side. The detailing around the columns, widows and top of the arch are simply stunning.
Once inside the city walls, visitors will find a plethora of ruins and surprisingly intact structures to explore. The large Oval Plaza serves as a great starting point for exploring the area. The plaza is surrounded by Ionic columns and once had two alters in the center. A column for the torch of the Jerash Festival was recently erected and now serves as the beginning of the festival every July. From the Oval Plaza runs the Cardo Maximus, the main Roman road in Jerash Jordan. The road is still lined with original stones and one can even see the ruts left by chariots when they were a common presence in the city. The Cardo Maximus served as a main point of life for those in Jerash, as the street was lined with shops. During its heyday, the road even had a working sewage system running beneath it, a true testament to the advancement of the Romans. The only structures outlining the road now are the Corinthian columns and parts of the wide sidewalk.
The ruins of the old marketplace are also located off of the Cardo Maximus. It was the main trading area of the Roman city and the only surviving structure is the fountain that is adorned with a lion's head that was built in the early third century. Another interesting ruin right by the marketplace is the Umayyad Mosque, which is still undergoing excavations. The presence of the mosque is a symbol of diversity and Jerash's rich past with varied groups and conquerors. Heading a bit further down there are three Byzantine churches grouped together that share a common atrium. The Church of St. Cosmos and St. Damian is the most interesting with the most beautiful floor mosaics found in Jerash. The Church of St. John the Baptist also features floor mosaics with different scenes, but unfortunately it is now badly damaged.
The Jerash Temple of Artemis is also one of the most interesting structures that the Jerash archaeological site has to offer. It was built in 150 AD during the reign of Antonious Pius and is one of the most imposing ruins at the site of the ancient city of Gerasa. It was built to commemorate Artemis, the patron goddess of the city and was built on the highest point in the city. The Temple of Artemis was often called the most beautiful temple of the ancient city of Gerasa and was adorned with twelve intricate columns, eleven of which are still standing.
The best time to visit Jerash is during the Jerash Festival. The festival is held annually during two weeks in July and features music, dance and poetry from the Arab world. The festival was started in the 1980s and has grown to be an international hotspot for Arab culture. Although the festival showcases Arab culture, different troupes and people from Europe, the Americas, and all over the world are invited each year to participate. Craftsmen, predominantly the Middle East , set up stalls to sell their goods and thousands of people descend upon the festival for a cultural treat. During the Jerash Festival, stages are set up in the Oval Plaza, the Temple of Artemis and other smaller theaters throughout the archaeological ruins. The performances and shows usually begin in the afternoon and continue until the early hours of the morning. If you are looking to experience different cultures amongst ancient ruins, the best time for your visit to Jerash is during this splendid festival. Jerash is not far from Amman, making it an easy day trip from the Jordanian capital.