Jerash, Jordan

Jordan’s second most popular tourist attraction is ancient Jerash located about 30 miles from the capital city of Amman. You will be amazed as you walk through one of the best Roman archaeological sites outside of Italy.

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1 Arch of Hadrian in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Jerash, originally called Gerasa, was a major city in Jordan. Some believe it was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC or at least began to grow significantly in the early 4th century. Hadrian’s Arch is the spectacular entrance. Historically, commoners walked through one side while the other arch was reserved for nobles. Regardless of how you pass through, you will immediately feel the grandeur of ancient Roman times. The streets are lined with endless columns. Also impressive are two amphitheaters, a forum, a hippodrome and temples.

Arch of Hadrian, 20 Wasfi At-Tal, Jerash, Jordan
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2 Arch of Hadrian Profile in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Roman Emperor Hadrian spent over half of his rule (117 – 138) traveling through his empire. During these extended tours, he strongly encouraged and often financed the construction of magnificent buildings. His trope included architects. This Arch of Hadrian was built in honor of his visit to Gerasa in 129-130 AD. Notice the Corinthian capitals at both the top and bottom of the columns.

Arch of Hadrian, 20 Wasfi At-Tal, Jerash, Jordan
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3 Oval Forum Showing Modern and Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Your first visual treat after entering ancient Jerash from the south is the Oval Forum. You are immediately wowed by its grandeur. In the foreground is a stockpile of excavated building elements. These artifacts have been categorized and numbered yet are waiting to be reassembled. To the east of the archeological ruins is modern Jerash. The city has a population of about 42,000 residents.

Oval Plaza, Jerash, Jordan
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4 Ornamental Carved Stones in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

An unusual feature at Jerash compared to most archeological sites is the presence of hundreds of broken carved building stones and columns scattered across the 160 acres of the ancient city. Most of them are lined up as if pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle awaiting assembly. This site was first explored by teams of British and American archeologists starting in 1925. It is now managed by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DOA).

Oval Plaza, Jerash, Jordan
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5 56 Columns of Oval Forum in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

56 impressive Corinthian columns encircle this asymmetrical public plaza measuring 260 by 295 feet. Apparently the columns had Ionic capitals when this public square was built around 130 AD. They were replaced with this impressive colonnade during the 2nd century. At this time it also had two altars in the middle. Today the square is paved with large limestone blocks. The Oval Forum was the venue for social and political activities.

Oval Plaza, Jerash, Jordan
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6 The Cardo and Temple Artemis in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Jerash was laid out with one long street (Cardo) and two intersecting ones called Decumani. This Greco-Roman city was also surrounded by a wall with a south and north gate. Most of the important structures were constructed near the grid intersections. A notable exception was the Temple of Artemis seen in the background. It was built on a hill during the mid-2nd century so it was visible from almost anywhere in ancient Gerasa.

Cardo Maximus, Jerash, Jordan
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7 Cardo Columns and Architrave in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Around 170 AD, when the Cardo Maximus (main street) was widened to 40 feet, Corinthian columns replaced earlier Ionic ones. These columns were progressively taller in the southern part of Jerash until the pedestrian reached the Macellum. Only a few of the capitals still support an architrave. These horizontal beams, also called an epistyle, were part of a structure that once canopied the city-center sidewalks.

Cardo Maximus, Jerash, Jordan
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8 Macellum Food Market in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

In ancient Greece, an agora was a public space used as a food market. The Macellum along the Cardo (main street) in the center of Gerasa was basically a grocery store but there was nothing basic about it. Surrounding the fountain in the center court is a very ornate colonnade with capitals of the Corinthian order. It is believed the Macellum was constructed during the 1st century and then significantly expanded in the mid-2nd century. Further renovations occurred during the Byzantine era in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. It continued to house food merchants until sometime in the 6th century when its purpose took on more of a commercial or industrial use. For unknown reasons, it was destroyed during the early 7th century.

Agora, Jerash, Jordan
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9 Carved Lion Mensa Leg at Macellum in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Inside of the Macellum or public market of ancient Gerasa were tables used by food merchants. Archeologist discovered some counters (called a mensa) supported by stone legs with carved reliefs of boars, deer and lions. Additional lion carvings were found nearby in the Nymphaeum where water flowed from their mouths.

Agora, Jerash, Jordan
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10 Cardo Maximus at South Tetrapylon in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

This security guard is sitting within a niche of the South Tetrapylon at the ancient ruins of Jerash, Jordan. Since the end of the 2nd century, this structure marked the crossroads of the Cardo Maximus and the South Decumanus. The latter was a major street running east to west. This intersection was the heart of the Greco-Roman city. In the distance you can see the North Tetrapylon.

Cardo Maximus, Jerash, Jordan
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11 Features of The Cardo in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

Cardo Maximus is the main boulevard running north to south for about 660 yards through Jerash. On either side of this impressive colonnade were shops, public buildings, temples and squares. Look closely and you can see the groves formed by chariots that rumbled across the heavy stones for centuries. What you can’t see is equally impressive. Beneath the road is an underground sewer system designed to drain away rainwater. It still functions.

Cardo Maximus, Jerash, Jordan
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12 Grape Cluster Relief in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

When walking through an archeological site as impressive as Jerash, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the architecture of the large ruins and overlook the subtleties. An example is this relief of a grape cluster hanging from a vine. It is a reflection of the ancient Roman’s passion to drink wine on a daily basis. Nearby was the Temple of Dionysus, built to honor the god of wine (also called Bacchus). A few steps further is the Nymphaeum. Legends claim the water from this fountain transformed into wine each year in recognition of Jesus’ first miracle at the Marriage of Cana in Galilee.

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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13 Temple of Dionysus in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

These stairs led to the Roman Temple of Dionysus when it was built during the 2nd century. It was dedicated to Dionysus, the mythological god of the grape harvest and wine. After Emperor Constantine the Great declared the eastern part of his territory (the Byzantine Empire) to become Christian (Eastern Orthodox Church) in the early 4th century, this temple was converted into the Cathedral.

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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14 Seashell Motif Niche in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

An architectural motif often seen at Jerash is a semicircular niche crowned with a seashell relief. During the Greco-Roman period, the scallop was a very common design element. It typically signified fertility and was associated with either Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, or with Venus who was the equivalent Roman deity. This niche is part of the South Tetrapylon.

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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15 Origin of Name Nymphaeum in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The Nymphaeum was the city’s public water supply. The name is derived from its dedication as a shrine to the nymphs. In mythology they were young, beautiful maidens who lived among rivers and streams. These loving spirts were believed to provide life-giving waters. The water from this fountain flowed from the mouths of carved lion heads and into basins.

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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16 Niche Close Up of Nymphaeum in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

When the Nymphaeum was built in 191 AD, the lower half of this magnificent fountain was adorned with marble while the upper half was covered with plaster which may have been painted with frescos. Carved across the face of this two-story structure are over a dozen square and rounded niches. Statues once stood within these recesses on heavy stone plinths (bases).

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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17 Frieze Close Up of Nymphaeum in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The Nymphaeum is one of the most impressive buildings at Jerash. This elaborate water fountain deserves a close inspection. For example, look at this ornate frieze. When it was constructed during the late 2nd century, this crown molding was not only decorative but also helped support an enormous, half-dome roof.

Nymphaeum, Jerash, Jordan
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18 Temple Esplanade in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

This is the right side or half of the grand entrance into the Temple Esplanade. From here you can see the terrace where an altar once stood. Inside is an impressive colonnade of 22 columns. This served as part of the processional pathway leading to the Temple of Artemis at the top of the hill.

Propylaeum of the Sanctuary of Artemis, Jerash, Jordan
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19 Artemis Temple in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

When this hexastyle temple was built on a ridge during the reign of Roman Emperor Antoninus Fulvus Pius in the mid-2nd century, it was dedicated to Artemis. This twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus was the mythological Greek deity of hunting and virginity. She was also the patron of the city. The Hellenistic temple measures 531 by 396 feet. These steps lead up to the platform and the chamber where the cella or inner sanctuary was previously located. The temple was excavated during the 1930s.

Artemis Temple, Jerash, Jordan
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20 Artemis Temple Columns in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The Temple of Artemis was built in 150 -160 AD. Each of these impressive stone columns with Corinthian capitals stands 39 feet tall and weighs over 20 tons. They were designed to sway during tremors. This explains why eleven of the original twelve columns survived the major earthquake in 749 AD when most of Jerash was destroyed. However, the Hellenistic temple met its fate in 1121 AD when it was torched by the Crusaders after defeating a Turkish army who were using it as a fortress.

Artemis Temple, Jerash, Jordan
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21 Whispering Columns at Artemis Temple in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

These five Corinthian columns are called the Whispering Columns of Jerash. They are part of the Temple of Artemis in Jordan’s ancient Greco-Roman city. One of the columns from these ruins can be found in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. It was a gift from His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan during the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Dating from 150 AD, the column is the second oldest outdoor artifact in NYC. Much older is Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk from 1450 BC that stands in Central Park.

Artemis Temple, Jerash, Jordan
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22 Church Mosaic Floor in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

At Jerash there is a cluster of three churches. This mosaic floor must have been extraordinary when it became part of St. John the Baptist in 531 AD. The Byzantine artwork features images of plants and animals and the representation of major Egyptian cities. Nearby are the Churches of St. Cosmos and St. Damian. Since 553 AD they have shared an atrium with a better preserved mosaic floor. Another dozen churches have been excavated at Jerash.

Church of SS Cosmas and Damian, Jerash, Jordan
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23 North Tetrapylon in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The elaborate North Tetrapylon is one of two in Jerash. This cube-shaped structure with four arches is the crossroads of the Cardo Maximus (main boulevard) and the east-west avenue called North Decumanus. It was built in 180 AD and later dedicated to Septimius Severus, who was a Roman Emperor from 193 until 211, and his second wife Julia Domna. It is fun to imagine all of the people who have passed through this gate for over 1,800 years.

Cardo Maximus, Jerash, Jordan
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24 North Theater Facade in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The smaller of the two theaters in Jerash is located in the northern section of the ancient city. The austere block façade provides few hints of its marvelous architectural design inside. It served as the meeting venue for the city council when it was constructed during the mid-2nd century. Later it was reconfigured into a theater.

Northern Theatre, Jerash, Jordan
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25 North Theater Orchestra and Seating in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The first row surrounding the North Theater’s orchestra pit was reserved for religious and political leaders. Some of the names of these social elite are still visible at the base of their stone seats. You will also discover many other carvings. An example is at the end of the handrail next to the vaulted entrance corridor. You will see a relief of a musician playing a harp.

Northern Theatre, Jerash, Jordan
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26 Wide View of North Theater in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

When the North Theater was built in 160 AD, its seating capacity was about 800 people across 14 rows. That doubled in 235 AD when the upper seating sections were added. But even this top row perspective must have provided marvelous views and acoustics. Theatrical performances were staged here through the 5th century.

Northern Theatre, Jerash, Jordan
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27 History of Ancient City of Jerash, Jordan

People lived in the Gilead Mountains of Northern Jordan about 6,500 years during the Neolithic Period. Ancient Gerasa was founded by the Greeks in 331 BC. In 63 BC, the Hellenistic town nicknamed “Antioch on the Golden River” was conquered by Pompey the Great. It then became part of Rome’s Decapolis League of ten major cities. Later it was part of the Byzantine Empire. Its decline began in 614 AD when the Persians invaded followed by the Muslims in 635. A devastating blow came during a 749 AD earthquake. Although the Crusaders and then the Ottomans later occupied Jerash, most of it lay beneath the sand until it was rediscovered during the 1920s. This photo shows parts of the Temple of Zeus in the foreground, the Oval Plaza in the middle and the modern city in the background.

Temple of Zeus, Jerash, Jordan
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28 Temple of Zeus Columns in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The Temple of Zeus was built upon two previous religious sites. When it opened around 163 AD, this elaborate structure was worthy of the king of the gods and the deity of the sky and thunder. Today most of it is in ruins. These three, 49 foot columns were re-erected during an excavation in 1982.

Temple of Zeus, Jerash, Jordan
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29 South Theater Stage Doors in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

These four ornate portals with pediments suspended with columns run parallel to the raised stage of the South Theater. There were two stories when it was constructed in 90 AD. To put this into historical perspective, this amphitheater was finished when Domitian was the last Roman emperor of the Flavian Dynasty and the Colosseum in Rome had opened ten years earlier. The woman in the background is standing in front of one of the entrance/exit passages called a parodos.

South Theatre, Jerash, Jordan
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30 South Theater Cavea in Ancient Jerash, Jordan

The acoustics of the South Theater are magnificent. The semi-circle was reserved for the orchestra. An actor could talk not shout in the middle of the stage and be heard by all 3,000 attendees, even those along the 33rd row of the cavea (seating section) where this photo was taken. Some of the original Greek letters carved into the reserved seats during the 1st century AD can still be seen. At the end of July and early August, the annual Jearash Festival of Culture and Arts is held here. The event includes performances of singing, music and dance.

South Theatre, Jerash, Jordan
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