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The International Writers Magazine: Jordan's Roman City

Jerash, A Roman Secret in Jordan
Marwan Asmar
It's a truly amazing experience to sit and watch military scenes that resemble those you enjoyed watching in the “Gladiator” movie in Jerash Jordan.


An initiative by the Jerash Heritage Company, performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) are held in the ancient city on a regular basis at the hippodrome, a course used by the Greeks for horse and chariot racing.The show, twice daily, features 45 legionaries in full armor in a display of Roman Army drill and battle tactics, 10 gladiators fighting “till death” and several Roman chariots competing in a classical seven lap race around the ancient hippodrome.

This revival of the Roman spirit in the place has invited many people from all over the world to visit the ancient city of Jerash that stands testimony to great civilizations. Every step you take you feel you are treading in footmarks and footprints of different wonders in a city that is 48 kilometers north Amman.

Jerash ruins

Human existence in this city date back to more than 6500 years and today Jerash is viewed as one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world and one of the 10 most important Graeco-Roman cities in the lands of northern Jordan, Syria and Palestine.

The city's exact founding could be subject to speculation Some give the reference to Antiochus IV, one of the Seleucid Kings; other inscriptions attribute its founding to Alexander the Great, and others to Ptolomy II (285-246 BC). Its rugged slabs of stone, tall and columns as well as its walls stand as a domineering reminder of greatness.

Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism found throughout the Middle East.

Jerash stands as the most appropriate model of Roman architecture crystallizing their cities of colonnaded streets, amazing immense theatres, plazas, gates and towers.

Hadrian Arch The start to the archaeological ruins begins at the city gate, a powerful hoisted structure known as Arch of Hadrian. Roman Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130 and the Arch was built to celebrate his arrival. Jeresh was built on what is called as the "golden river", where people settled and begun their livelihood in agriculture.
Its southern gate opens to the unique Oval Forum Plaza which is circled by a long colonnaded street called Cardo. The Forum, situated in the heart of the city witnessed significant events, activities and public debates, discussions and meetings in its hey day. From this location, visitors can see the Temple of Zeus which is also one of the main buildings in the ancient city; the Zeus temple can be approached by a great flight of steps supported on vaults, many of which still remain.

Also, two sturdy theatres stand in awesome views. The South Theater can hold more than 3000 spectators, and the North Theater is a smaller, has room for around 1000 spectators.
In the western part of the city lies the Temple of Artemis built by the Romans around in the middle of the 2nd century A.D referring to the goddess of hunting and fertility.

On the upper-left of the Cardo is the monumental gateway of the 2nd century Roman Temple of Dionysus. In the 4th century the temple was rebuilt as a Byzantine church, now called the Cathedral. At top of the stairs, against an outer east wall, is the Shrine of St. Mary, a painted inscription to St. Mary and archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Lying above and behind the Cathedral, this large church was built in 496 AD. In between St. Theodore's and the west side of the Cathedral entrance is a small paved piazza with a fountain in the center was originally the Cathedral atrium. These different Christian monuments indicate Jordan embraced the first beginnings of Christianity.

In second half of 1st Century AD, Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the provinces and more trade came to Jerash. Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130. The triumphal arch (Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard "wintering" there.

The city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square metres within its walls. The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused its rapid decline. However, Jeresh continued to flourish during the Umayyad period, as shown by recent excavations. In AD 746, a major earthquake destroyed much of Jerash and its surroundings. During the period of the Crusades, some of the monuments were converted to fortresses, including the Temple of Artemis. Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Ayyubid, Mameluk and Ottoman periods.

Since 1981, the old city of Jerash hosted the Jerash Festival, a three-week long summer program of dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the Royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.

Today the ancient city is part of the Jerash Governorate's geographical features which vary from cold mountains to fertile valleys from 1250 to 300 meters above sea level, suitable for growing a wide variety of crops. Visitors find in Jerash their one-stop tourist site where natural scenery, history and tradition are mixed in a magnificent combination.

© Dr Marwan Asmar September 2011
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