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, 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 inhabited 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 Archaeological Museum. Features a collection of artifacts found during excavation, including coins, statuary and sarcophagi. Free.
- Hadrian’s Arch. Built in 129 AD to mark Emperor Hadrian’s visit, this was intended to become the new southern gate of the city.
- Hippodrome. A partially restored Roman-era stadium. At only 245 m long and 52 m wide, it was the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire.
- 4 Oval Plaza (Forum). An unusual wide, asymmetrical plaza at the beginning of the Cardo (or Colonnaded Street), built in the 1st century AD. The Oval Plaza is 80 m by 90 m (262 ft by 295 ft) and is enclosed by 160 Ionic columns.
- 5 Temple of Zeus. Above the temple there is the South Theater and another temple from which you have a great view onto the Oval Plaza.
- 6 South Theater. An amphitheater that seats up to 3000. It is occasionally used today for concerts and musical productions. Daily features include bag pipers in traditional Jordanian military dress.
- 7 The Cardo (Maximus). A 600-m (660-yard) colonnaded street that runs the length of the city. It was once lined with the city’s major buildings, shops and residences. A complex drainage system lies below the stone paving.
- 8 Agora. The city’s main food market, which has a central fountain.
- 9 Nymphaeum. An ornate public fountain that was decorated with lions’ heads and dedicated to the nymphs.
- 10 Temple of Artemis. Impressive temple ruins dedicated to the patron goddess of the city.
- Sound and Light Show. There is an evening light show that illuminates the ancient sites of Jerash in different colors.
- Roman Army and Chariot Experience. Two daily shows, 11:30 and 14:30, at the hippodrome (circus) include Roman Legion tactics, mock gladiator fights, and chariot exhibitions. Just ask and you will be allowed to go on a chariot ride after the show.