A Roman city in the Middle East? Really, visit Jerash in Jordan and you may think you are in the Roman Forum...
Jerash is an hour’s drive from the capital city, Amman. It used to be called Gerasa, two thousand years ago and was part of a confederation of ten cities of the Roman Empire called the Decapolis. Jerash was buried under the sand and rubble for centuries after some devastating earthquakes (till it was discovered by a German traveler in 1806) and that accounts for how well preserved it seems today.
We went through a plaza with vendors selling a paraphernalia of souvenirs !What catches my eye is exquisite sand art- different landscapes with camels and sand dunes inside bottles of varied shapes and colours.
Our entry to Jerash was through this magnificent arch called Hadrian’s Arch (Jerash was a favourite city of Roman Emperor Hadrian). We walk to the Hippodrome where chariot races used to be held. Today you can watch a re-enactment of a seven lap chariot race by Jordanians in costumes.
I was awed by the majestic Oval Plaza or the Forum, the centre of life in ancient times ringed by a host of pillars. It leads to the Colonnaded Street that runs the length of the city for more than a mile (known as the Cardo). Imagine the people of yesteryears shopping, walking and gossiping here... We saw the marks of the chariots deeply etched on the cobblestones from centuries of use...
|The Oval Plaza|
What is fascinating about Jerash is how history and the present go hand in hand. We saw goats grazing, boys playing football and Bedouins walk through the ruins nonchalantly!
We come now to the Macellum- an octagonal courtyard built around a fountain. This would have been the ancient food market with smaller shops surrounding it. What I loved here were some ancient slabs fashioned like animals- it was the butcher’s shop and even bears marks from the cutting of meat!
|The Macellum- the ancient food market|
|Slabs to cut meat|
Large Corinthian pillars and marble slabs which used to have large pools with water flowing out of carved lion’s heads- this was the Nymphaeum a monument to the water Nymphs.
|The Artemis columns with ancient earthquake proofing!|
Eleven columns of the Artemis temple still stand, despite several devastating earthquakes. Our guide inserted a long stick between the gargantuan column and the pedestal. It moved up and down demonstrating how they were designed to sway gently!
|The North Theatre|
I clambered up to the North Theatre which is remarkably well-preserved. This structure is steep and as we caught our breath reaching the top tier of seats, we saw two Bedouin boys with their herd of goats peer at us from beyond the walls.
|The South theatre|
The ancient South Theatre has amazing acoustics-someone speaking from the centre of the stage can be heard throughout the auditorium. We saw some Jordanian soldiers playing bagpipes here..Maybe an influence of the Scottish regiments who served here..
Jerash was really a journey back in to time. A visit to a Roman city without the hordes..
|Bagpipers at the South Theatre|