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Jerash

What to See in Jerash (Jordan) and Useful Information about this Place

Upon arrival, visitors can immediately see that Jerash revolves around its rich past. The well-preserved Roman ruins here are considered some of the best in the country, and even in the entire region of the Middle East and the former Roman Empire.

No wonder this city, known as Gerasa in ancient times, is often referred to as the ‘Pompeii of the East’ or the ‘Pompeii of Jordan.’ Jerash has also leveraged its potential by enriching the visitor experience with heritage interpretation elements such as an archaeological museum and activities related to its glorious past. On this page, we will tell you what to see in Jerash and provide other useful information for your visit.

Table of Contents

Where is Jerash Located and What is Its Climate?

Jerash, the capital of the Jerash Governorate, is located in northern Jordan, approximately 50 km away from Amman and about 40 km from Irbid, the other major city in the region and the second most populous city in the country. The Syrian border is also about 40 km away by road, while the nearest border crossing with Israel is 75 km away.

Its climate, like the rest of northern Jordan, is generally more mild compared to the rest of the country, with more fertile terrain and green areas in the surrounding vicinity, largely due to higher precipitation levels. In fact, its climate is classified as typical Mediterranean. It’s no coincidence that this is the most densely populated area in Jordan. On average, the highest temperatures range around 31°C in July and August, and don’t drop below 4°C in winter.

Mapa ubacion jerasa Jerash

A Little Bit of History

In order to better understand what to see in Jerash, it is essential to review its rich history, as it has left abundant and spectacular remnants for the enjoyment of any traveler. It is known that as early as the Neolithic period, particularly during the Bronze Age (4th millennium BC-2nd millennium BC), this territory was already inhabited, which is not surprising considering that the Near East was the epicenter of those civilizations.

After interpreting some inscriptions discovered on the site, it is believed that Jerash was established as a city during the time of Alexander the Great, around 331 BC, when the great Hellenistic emperor was in the region, on his way to Mesopotamia after his passage through Egypt.

What is clear is that by the 1st century BC, Gerasa (as it was known in Antiquity) already existed, as it was conquered by Pompey (64 BC), a military general and strongman in the Roman Republic.

Shortly thereafter, it became part of what was known as the Decapolis: a network of city-states (probably more than 10) that marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire in the East, enjoying significant autonomy (coinage) but deeply Romanized, adopting their traditional urbanism and the cult of the emperor. Other cities of the Roman Decapolis in present-day Jordan were Philadelphia (Amman) and Gadara (Umm Qais). Jerash or Gerasa flourished thanks to its rich agriculture and iron mining, establishing trade relations with its surroundings, for example with the Nabateans of Petra.

From AD 106 onwards, it entered a new phase: it was expanded and reformed during the time of Emperor Trajan and, above all, Hadrian, who visited it personally. This was precisely the reason why the Arch of Hadrian was erected, with which the city welcomed the emperor triumphantly. In the early 3rd century, Gerasa reached its peak and is believed to have had 20,000 inhabitants.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city continued under the rule of its Byzantine successors, who erected religious temples, as visitors can see in Jerash today. In addition, there is evidence of Hebrew inscriptions in one of them, suggesting the existence of a small Jewish community at that time.

In the early 7th century, Jerash experienced a brief Persian conquest, but from around 640, Gerasa came under Muslim rule: the Umayyad Caliphate, with its capital in Damascus, which led to a new period of economic prosperity, as can be deduced from its remarkable local ceramic production.

This was interrupted by a devastating earthquake in the 8th century, which plunged the city into deep decline. In the 12th century, the Crusaders established a garrison in Jerash, reusing structures for military purposes, such as the Temple of Artemis. This was short-lived, as Muslim rule was restored shortly thereafter, with Ayyubids, Mamluks, and Ottomans successively.

Jerash experienced a certain revival in the late 19th century with the massive arrival of Circassian population displaced from Russia. A modern city parallel to the Roman ruins began to grow. Since then, awareness of the great value of the site has increased, with numerous archaeological projects initiated, and in the late 20th century, its integration into major tourist circuits.

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What to see in Jerash

As you can imagine, most of the monuments to see in Jerash are related to its Roman past, concentrated in a very unified and compact archaeological site, which greatly facilitates the visit. These are the main points of interest within the archaeological site:

  • Hadrian’s Arch: It is the spectacular entrance gate that welcomes the visitor… and that welcomed Emperor Hadrian on his grand visit to the city of Gerasa in 129 AD. It is about 13 meters high and has a very elegant style, as was customary among the Romans. Therefore, it is a good starting point for the visit, even before reaching the visitor center.
  • Hippodrome or Roman circus: It is a large elongated space where sports events and chariot races were held. It could have had a capacity for about 15,000 spectators.
  • Temple of Artemis: It was the main temple of ancient Gerasa and, therefore, an essential place to see in Jerash. It was dedicated to Artemis/Diana, the goddess of hunting and fertility, and daughter of Zeus/Saturn. It dates back to the mid-2nd century AD. Its spectacularity lies not only in the fact that 11 of its 12 Corinthian columns are preserved, as well as part of its vaults, but also in its elevated location that gives it prominence. Since the late 4th century, when Christianity was already the official religion, it began to be dismantled to build churches. It was also used for military purposes by Arabs and Crusaders.
  • Forum: Spectacular public square, the center of social life in Roman Gerasa, with an unusual oval shape, with about fifty Ionic columns still standing. It is approximately 90 meters long and 80 meters wide and dates back to the 1st century AD.
  • Theaters: Gerasa had not one, but two theaters. And that speaks to the importance and lively cultural life it developed. Therefore, both are part of this list of things to see in Jerash. The larger one is the South Theater, with a capacity of about 5,000 spectators and was built in the late 1st century AD. The North Theater, on the other hand, could accommodate about 2,000 people, was built in the late 2nd century AD, and was mainly used for large meetings with a political character.
  • Temples of Zeus: located a short distance from each other, the one known as the ‘upper’ temple still has imposing columns of 15 meters standing, but it was destroyed in the 8th century by the devastating earthquake, as can be seen from the fallen blocks on the ground. Under this temple, there is also a vaulted and columned gallery. The other one, also known as the Naos of Zeus, was built in the mid-2nd century AD and offers beautiful views of the forum.
  • Cardo and Decumanus: were the two main roads of Gerasa, as was common in Roman urban planning, intersecting in the center of the city. The Cardus Maximus had a length of about 800 meters, went from the North Gate to the Forum, and was completely columned, although now only some columns (assembled in the 20th century) are preserved. As for the Decumanus, there were actually several, with the southern one being the most important, where several churches congregated.
  • North Gate: It was the monumental entrance to the city from the north, for those coming from the Roman city of Pella. It dates back to the early 2nd century AD.
  • Baths: like any good Roman city, there was no lack of baths. There were two: the Westerners, next to the cathedral, not far from Cardus Maximus; and the Orientals, outside the walled city
  • Nymphaeum: located in the Cardus Maximus, near the cathedral, it was the most important ornamental fountain in Gerasa. It is so named because it is dedicated to the Nymphs, and is dated to the end of the second century AD. It retains part of its monumental façade, with columns and a pond of water. It must also have had a dome that crowned the set
  • Cathedral: it is accessed by stairs, from the Cardus Maximus. It dates from the end of the fourth century and was the main temple also in Byzantine times
  • Churches: after Christianity became a state religion in the time of Constantine (early fourth century), churches proliferated in Gerasa, many of them on pagan temples or reusing their materials. Perhaps the most interesting is that of St. Cosmas and St. Damian (VI century), for the mosaics that are still preserved, although others were moved to the Museum of Popular Traditions in Amman. Other interesting churches What to see in Jerash are St. George’s and St. John the Baptist
  • Muslim remains: although few, there are some traces datable already in Muslim times, from the mid-seventh century. In particular, a mosque at the end of the southern Decumanus and some Umayyad period houses.

In addition to all these monuments to see in Jerash, within the visitable enclosure there is a small Museum, where pieces recovered from the archaeological site are exhibited. In it you can see statues, mosaics, ceramics and a wide collection of objects, all identified with their time and other details of their context.

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Things to do in Jerash

Of course at such a large and well-preserved archaeological site, you’ll have plenty to see in Jerash.. But if you want to add other activities to your visit, you have some options at your fingertips. Special mention deserves the Jerash Chariots: demonstrations at the hippodrome, with horses and royal chariots, in the form of biga races, gladiatorial fights and other typical shows of ancient Roman civilization. They are usually a classic at weddings, but can also be rented or arranged for other private purposes.

At the leisure and cultural level, the great annual event is the Jerash Arts and Culture Festival , which has been held in July or August since 1981 in one of the theaters of the archaeological site. It includes dramatic performances, concerts and other cultural expressions, for an audience that is largely tourist. Most of them arrive from Amman, for which buses are chartered with special schedules that are better adapted to the program.

Beyond this, leisure offers, especially at night, are limited. In the modern city you can find relatively simple restaurants and a modest commercial offer, because we must bear in mind that the city itself is not very large: about 50,000 inhabitants.

A last proposal that can be cited is about 15 km south of Jerash: the Royal Jordanian Botanical Garden in Tal al Rumman, recently established. It is located in the vicinity of the King Talal Dam and its main objective is to preserve and recreate the typical flora of Jordan, not only of this region but also of others: therefore, areas of pines, junipers, deciduous oaks, pistachio trees and other species have been planted. In addition, it has a herbarium to catalog the great variety of herbs in the country.

How to get to Jerash

The most common is to get to Jerash as an excursion from Amman, dedicating half a day or a full day. However, those most passionate about Roman culture can spend more than a day studying and discovering the archaeological park, which will force them to spend the night in one of the few hotels in the city.

In both cases, the most comfortable option is the vehicle, whether it is a taxi, a rental car or a private vehicle with a driver. The distance from Amman is 40 km and the journey time is usually around 45 minutes. On the other hand, if you want to travel here from other points further away from Jordan, this is an indicative table of distances and durations:

  • Amman: 40 km, 45 minutes
  • Ajloun: 20 km. 30 minutes
  • Irbid: 50 km, 45 minutes
  • Dead Sea: 90 km, 1 hour and a half
  • Petra: 275 km, 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • Wadi Rum: 360 km, 4 and a half hours
  • Aqaba: 360 km, 4 hours and 45 minutes

A possible alternative is the bus, as the main company JETT has a direct route from Amman, in a tourist service that reaches Jerash also to Ajloun. However, departures are not daily, so it is advisable to inform yourself before this possibility. In any case, the bus station is located at the foot of the archaeological park. Minibuses also depart from Ajloun and Irbid in the direction of Jerash, although with irregular schedules.

Other useful information

The archaeological park of Jerash It has its own visitor center, where tickets are sold to access the site. It serves as a tourist information office, with brochures and maps.

In the center of Jerash You will find pharmacies and right next to the archaeological park is located the hospital of the city. At the entrance and in the surroundings of the visitable enclosure you will find police, who offer service and help to foreign visitors.

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