In the northwestern corner of Jordan, in the hills above the Jordan Valley, are the ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara, now called Umm Qais. The site is striking because of its juxtaposition of Roman ruins with an abandoned Ottoman-era village, as well as its tremendous vantage point, with views of three countries (Jordan, Syria, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories), encompassing the Golan Heights, Mt Hermon and the Sea of Galilee.

Umm Qais is a two-hour drive, north from Amman. However, it’s quite possible to in one day excursion visit Umm Qais, Aljoun and then Jeresh to obtain a fabulous impression of the region. Even in early winter, with a slight mist obscuring the sea of Galilee, the site is worth visiting. 

Gadara was originally built by the Greeks in the 4th century Be. In 218 BC, it was besieged by Antiochus III, the Seleucid ruler, who forded the Jordan River and overran Pella on his way. When Pompey formed Decapolis in 63 BC, Gadara saw an economic upturn and a building surge.

Major sites to see include the original Roman amphitheater and the archaeological museum, which is housed in the restored home of an Ottoman governor, Bait Rousan.

The city reached its peak of prosperity in the 2nd century AD. New colonnaded streets, temples, theaters, and public baths sprouted. Meleagro’s compared Gadara with Athens, which testifies to the city’s status as a creative center of Hellenism in the ancient Near East.

Christianity spread slowly among the inhabitants of Gadara. Starting from the 4th century, its bishop attended the ecclesiastical councils of Nicaea, Chaleedon and Ephesos. Despite his attendance, the city was no longer a seat of learning. During the 6th century, decline set in, and in 636 AD a decisive military clash between Byzantines and Arab Muslims took place not far from Gadara. There is no evidence, however, of widespread destruction in the city.

Umm Qais’s charm still lingers today. Beyond exploring the historical landmarks, Umm Qais offers a wide range of activities that are perfect for a weekend getaway. Start by exploring the renovated Ottoman cottages, which have been converted into rest-houses. At the heart of the village is Romero Rest-house, a quaint restaurant that serves wholesome, freshly-prepared meals. Afterwards, amble over to the ruins site where one can preview Roman tombs through the village. A large portion of the western Roman Theater has survived history’s upheavals. A vaulted passageway supports its rows of seats, built of hard basalt stones. A row of elaborately carved seats for dignitaries stands near the orchestra, and in the center was a large headless white marble statue of Tyche, goddess of fortune and of the city, now displayed at the local museum.