The ancient city of Jerash is full of Roman ruins that are must-sees while in Jordan. Throughout Jerash you’ll find preserved columns, arches, and temples, their distinctive architecture a reminder of the powerful empire that once ruled the land. A visit to the city today will catapult you into the Middle East’s past and serve up a unique historic experience. But before you go, here’s everything you’ll want to know.
- Location: Jerash Governorate (30 miles north of Amman)
- Visitors: 211,000 (2016)
- Nickname: The City of 1000 Columns
- Founded: 63 B.C.
- Rediscovered: 1806
A Bit of History
Archaeology has been a major catalyst in the preservation of Jerash. New findings continue to pop up thanks to constant excavation in the area unearthing more and more information about the city’s genesis. Recent discoveries date back to the Neolithic age, and though there have been relics from the Bronze Age and Hellenistic Period, Jerash (known at the time as Gerasa) really began to thrive under Roman rule in the first and second centuries A.D. During this era, as part of the Decapolis League, many of the structures you can visit today were built (the Arch of Hadrian, for example), and the first roads appeared that were fit for long-distance traveling , which led to Jerash’s bustling trade market.
After a number of prosperous centuries, though, the city’s success faltered in conjunction with the fall of the Roman Empire. Following this decline, Christians began migrating to Jerash, which led to the construction of churches and cathedrals throughout the fourth century A.D. The Persian invasion and Muslim conquest that came a few centuries after are considered the end of ancient Jerash.
Today, after such effective restoration, it’s hard to believe that the city was once deserted and buried under sand from a number of earthquakes. It wasn’t until 1806 that German traveler, Ulrich Jasper Seezten, came across the ruins and the world rediscovered the beauty that is Jerash. Now, ancient and modern Jerash exist together, separated by a city wall, with the latter experiencing a developmental boom of sorts. On the other side, where one will find the ruins, most sites have been restored over the last 100 years, and are outdone only by the famous Petra.
How to Get There
One thing Jerash has over Petra is its proximity to Amman, the nation’s capital. Though car rentals are available in Amman (as well as informative signs between there and Jerash), most travelers prefer to rely on public transport.
There are two main bus stations in Amman, Raghadan Al Seyaha, and Tarbabour. The latter, north of downtown, is more popular due to the frequency of its buses. There isn’t a set schedule, as buses tend to leave when full, so add some wait time into your itinerary. On the bright side, you’ll be dropped off within walking distance of the ruins, and the price of a round trip is just four JOD ($5.60 USD).
Another option is a taxi cab, which you should use to get to and from the bus stations in Amman. If you’re in a bind for time (or want to visit nearby Ajlun while you’re at it), taxis are available to rent for the day. This will obviously cost you more depending on how long you spend at the ruins (usually between $50 and $60 USD for a half-day trip), but always be sure to negotiate the price before getting in, as some drivers are known to inform you only after the fact that they charge by the person.
Know Before You Go
Unlike other ancient sites around the world, Jerash is still fairly underappreciated, which can play to your advantage with smaller crowds and no need to plan your visit months in advance. Yes, tours are available, which you should book ahead of time, but for most visitors, on-the-spot-admission should do the trick. Just remember to bring some cash for the 12 JOD ($17 USD) admission fee!
The time of year you’ll be visiting should also be taken into account. The area is known for a generally moderate climate, which aids the fertile farmlands around the city, but between May and September, temperatures hang around the high 80s (roughly 30 degrees Celsius), and weeks can pass without any sign of rain. If you’re exploring the ruins this time of year — even for just a few hours — you’ll want to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water, especially if you’re planning to stick around for the annual Jerash Festival. During the off-season (October to April) Jerash experiences much cooler temperatures and its fair share of rainfall.
Finally, hours of operation also vary by season: 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter.
Points of Interest
The Oval Plaza is a masterpiece of Roman architecture almost 300 feet in length and just about the same in width. In Jerash’s Golden Age (when the Romans were in town), the plaza was used as the city’s forum and seated roughly 3000 people, and over time, two altars and a fountain were added to the monument.
This ancient sporting venue was once believed to fit 15,000 spectators for its gladiator battles and chariot races. While it is unable to hold the same numbers today, the Hippodrome still pays homage to the brutal and beautiful culture that built it by using the grounds for historical reenactments.
Temple of Zeus
Jerash and the surrounding areas are hilly, and atop one of these hills sits the Temple of Zeus. You have to climb a dramatic staircase of large and cracking stones in order to reach the temple, but once there, you can take in views of the magnificent sanctuary overlooking the ruins and valleys beneath it.
Temple of Artemis
The daughter of Zeus, Artemis was a popular patron goddess among the people of Jerash (when it was still known as Gerasa). Despite being built in the second century AD, 11 of the temple’s 12 original columns still stand today — a striking visual even in comparison to the rest of Jerash’s stunning ruins.
Have you ever visited the ancient ruins of Jerash? If so, let us know which sites are your favorite!
Header image by Joshua Rodriguez