Dubbed the "Pompeii of the East," Jerash is a Greco-Roman ruined city located 80 miles north of Amman. The impressive, beautifully preserved ruins of Jerash include places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.
History of Jerash
In the 3rd century BC, during the Hellenistic era, Jerash became a member of the Decapolis, a federation of Greek cities. It was then known as Gerasa.
Gerasa and other Decapolis cities were conquered by Pompey in 63 BC, which ended up being a positive development. Jerash enjoyed semi-autonomous status and considerable prestige as part of the Roman province of Syria, during which it prospered from its position on the incense and spice trade route.
Jerash lost its autonomy under Emperor Trajan, but his annexation of Petra in 106 AD brought the city even more wealth. A favorite city of Hadrian, who stayed there in the winter of 129-30, it flourished both economically and socially in the 2nd century. Several temples were built during this period, including the Temple of Artemis (in 150 AD) and Temple of Zeus (in 162 AD).
After a period of decline in the 3rd century, Jerash was reborn as a Christian city under the Byzantines. It flourished especially during the reign of Justinian (527-65), during which at least seven churches were added to the city.
The last church was built in 611, but it all went downhill from there. The city was invaded by Persians in 614, captured by Muslims in 635 and badly damaged by several earthquakes in the 8th century.
In 720, Caliph Yazid II decreed that "all images and likenesses in his dominions, of bronze and of wood and of stone and of pigments, should be destroyed." Obedience to this command can be seen in the mosaics of some of Jerash's churches, such as that of St. John the Baptist. But others, already so ruined that their mosaics were not visible (such as the Church of Sts. Cosmos and Damianus), escaped the destruction
By the time the Crusaders arrived in the 12th century, Jerash had been unhabited for some time. Unfortunately, a garrison stationed in the area by the Atabey of Damascus made the Temple of Artemis into a fortress, which was captured and completely destroyed (apparently by fire) by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1112.
Excavations of Jerash began in the 1920s and are still going on today.
What to See at Jerash
Jerash is a large and fascinating archaeological site. Visitors enter on the south side through Hadrian's Arch, built in honor of its namesake. Nearby is the Hippodrome, where chariot races and sporting events were held. A little way down the track is the South Gate, part of the 4th-century AD city wall.
The Temple of Zeus overlooks the spacious Oval Plaza, which measures 90 x 80m. Surrounded by a colonnade of 1st-century Ionic columns, it had two altars in the middle that were replaced with a fountain in the 7th century AD. A central column was recently erected to carry the Jerash Festival flame.
From the Oval Plaza, a staircase leads up to the sacred precinct (temenos) of the Temple of Zeus (162 AD). Another staircase led to the temple itself, which was surrounded by 15 m high Corinthian columns.
Stretching north from the Oval Plaza is the Cardo Maximus, the main Roman road in Jerash. It is still paved with its original stones and bears the ruts of chariot wheels. As part of a remodeling of the street around 170 AD, the original Ionic columns were replaced with a more decorative Corinthian colonnade. The Cardo was lined with a broad sidewalk and shops and an underground sewage system ran the full length of the street, into which rainwater was channeled through holes on the sides of the street.
Not far from the Oval Plaza on the right is the onsite Archaeological Museum, which houses a fascinating collection of artifacts found at the site, including gold jewelry, coins, glass and even pottery theater tickets.
The colonnade of the Cardo becomes taller at the entrance to the marketplace (Macellum), a ruined structure on the left. Here there is a fountain with a lion's head dated to 211 AD. The next structure down the Cardo after the marketplace is a recently discovered Umayyad Mosque, where excavations are still underway.
Shortly after the mosque is the South Tetrapylon that marks the intersection of the Cardo with the South Decumanus, a smaller street running east to west. Only the lower parts of the four columns marking the intersection remain today.
Continuing north on the Cardo, the next building on the left is the richly carved gate of the 2nd-century Roman Temple of Dionysus, which was rebuilt as a Byzantine church in the 4th century. It has been dubbed the "Cathedral," but there is no evidence this was the bishop's church. At the top of the stairs against the east wall is a Shrine of the Virgin Mary, with a painted inscription to St. Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Just behind the Cathedral is the large Church of St. Theodore, built in 496 AD. In between the two churches is a small paved plaza with a fountain in the center, which was originally the Cathedral atrium.
Behind St. Theodore on the far west of the site, the ruins of three Byzantine churches are grouped together around a shared atrium. The northernmost is the Church of St. Cosmos and St. Damian, dedicated to twin brother doctors who were martyred in the 4th century (they have a fine church in Rome as well). This church has the most splendid floor mosaics to be seen in Jerash. An inscription dates the mosaic to 553 AD. The images include the churchwarden Theodore and his wife Georgia praying with widespread arms.
The middle of the three churches is that of St. John the Baptist, dating from 531 AD. Its mosaic floor, now damaged, included images of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the cities of Alexandria and Memphis in Egypt. The church of St. George, the southernmost, was built in 530 AD. It continued to be used after the earthquake of 749 AD, and its mosaics were destroyed when the 8th century Christian iconoclastic movement banned the representation of humans and animals.
Back on the Cardo, just north of the Cathedral is a large nymphaeum, or monumental fountain. It was constructed in 191 AD and was faced with marble. Next is the Propylaeum or gateway that led to the sacred precinct of the Temple of Artemis (150 AD), which occupies a large site to the left of the Cardo. A monumental staircase, which once had high walls, leads up to a horseshoe-shaped terrace with the foundations of an open-air altar. A second staircase leads through a colonnade of 22 Corinthian columns and into the Temenos (sacred precinct), which measures 162 x 121 m and had Corinthian columns on all sides.
In the 6th century, a Byzantine church (the "Propylaeum Church") was built opposite the Propylaeum on the site of a courtyard that formed part of the processional way to the Temple of Artemis. The courtyard's columns were incorporated into the church.
Past the Temple of Artemis and left of the Cardo is a small theater or Odeon, built in 165 AD and doubled to its present size in 235 AD. West of the Odeon is the Church of the Bishop Isaiah, built in 559 and used until the earthquake of 749. Here the Cardo intersects with the North Decumanus, which is marked by the North Tetrapylon. In the 2nd century this probably had a domed roof and elaborate carved decoration.
Festivals and Events
The Jerash Festival is held each year for 2 weeks in July (contact Jordanian Tourism Information offices or www.jerashfestival.com.jo for current information).
Tip: School trips to Jerash usually occur on Wednesdays.
Quick Facts on Jerash
|Categories:||temples; city ruins; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||32.281899° N, 35.891004° E|
|Phone:||Jerash Visitors' Center: 04/451-272|
Jerash Archaeological Museum: 04/452-267
|Hours:||Jerash Visitors' Center: daily 7:30am-8pm (closes 7pm in winter)|
Jerash Archeological Museum: Sat-Thu 8:30am-6pm (closes 5pm in winter)
|Lodging:||View hotels near Jerash|
- Jerash Map and Details - AtlasTours.net
- DK Eyewitness Jerusalem Holy Land
- Jerash - A Brief History- Al Mashriq
- Photos of Jerash - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Jerash, Jordan
Below is a location map and aerial view of Jerash. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.