Called the Pompeii of the East or the city of 1000 columns, Jerash is located in the northern part of Jordan, about 48 km from the capital Amman towards Syria and here comes alive the Greco Roman era. Alexander the Great lay the roots for this city, evidence shows
Words & photographs: Ambica Gulati
The soil of the little country of Jordan is replete with stories of beginning of human race, wars, earthquakes and flash floods. Among the better known attractions here is Jerash or the ancient Roman city of Gerasa.
With cold mountains and fertile valleys, Jerash has seen a lot of turmoil, natural and man-made. The tall columns amidst the ruins of the ancient city resonate with tales of Roman warriors, Ottoman trading and amidst all this history lies the modern city on the western side.
Famous for its olive trees and the well preserved ancient ruins, this city has also been called the Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions and literary sources from Iamblichus and the Etymologicum Magnum point out that is was founded by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there. Not many know that is was also the birthplace of mathematician Nicomachus of Gerasa (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).
Quite recently archaeologists found two human skulls here which belong to the Neolithic period (7500-5500 BC). This makes it among the 12 sites across the world that contains similar human remains.
There is also evidence that Jerash was inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC). The Romans conquered it in 63 BC and it was connected to the Roman province of Syria, and then with the Decapolis cities. In 90 AD, Jerash became a part of the Roman province of Arabia, including modern day Amman.
The golden period of this city can be traced to 1st century AD. Emperor Trajan in 106 AD constructed roads and trade flourished. Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in 129-130 AD and the Arch of Hadrian was built to celebrate this visit. But the Persian invasion in 614 AD led to decline of Jerash.
We walked through the Hadrian’s Arch, stopped at the Hippodrome. This was where the chariot race of Roman times was held. The government plans to revive this again. Jerash also had a cultural festival which again the government plans to revive.
Walking past the visitor’s centre, we entered the south gate, reaching the Corinthium columns and the oval forum. In the centre of this is a large nymphaeum fed by an aqueduct.
The tall columns of the temple of Zeus stand above, as sheep grazed through the scanty grass. The city has a long street leading to the modern city and this was once the colonnade of traders.
There is also a large South Theatre where once can sit and enjoy some traditional music.
Now the modern city on the west is inhabited by refugees from Syria and Palestine. Walking past the historical walls, we watched the cats play in the parking. And then stopped to watch the sun go down and desert became colder, even as we reached our hotel in Amman.