Exploring Roman Ruins in Jerash

Like most people this summer, our travel plans were cancelled and we found ourselves spending more time than ever in our home. This blog took a detour into three months of books reviews, and while I can’t complain about the lazy summer, I’m grateful for this one adventure to point to.

The city of Jerash is only a 45 minute drive north from Amman, so it made for an incredibly simple day trip. We arrived by 8:30 am and after paying our resident’s fee of 1 JD (20 JD for tourists), we found ourselves walking through some of the best Roman ruins I have ever seen (and that includes the ones in Italy!).

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Walking through Hadrian’s Arch is like entering a forgotten world. Conquered by Rome in 64 BC, the city flourished on its trade route and peaked during the third century with a population of 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. However, the city declined after an earthquake in 747 and, with the exception of a brief occupation by the Crusaders in the twelfth century, the city was forgotten until it was rediscovered by the Circassians from Russia in 1878.

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We had a gorgeous day filled with brief gushes of ominous clouds, followed by sunshine that made the sandstone sparkle. One of our first explorations was the Upper Temple of Zeus. Few columns still stand after the earthquake, but it’s an imposing scene, overlooking much of the rest of the city.

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Wandering among the columns gave me flashbacks to our trip in Egypt, although these ones had no color to be found on them. From their base, we had gorgeous views of the Forum and the modern city of Jerash behind it. Fluffy white clouds rounded off the picturesque scene.

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It was at this time that we realized the only other people we had seen in our first hour were workers. It was incredible to have all of this space to ourselves, especially having been cooped up since mid-March.

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By this time, the sun was making its presence known and there was little shade to be found in the nearby amphitheater, which is typically where our seniors graduate each spring (this year being a noticeable exception). I thought we had the place to ourselves until I heard the unmistakable sound of a bagpipe, followed by drumming. We were given a personal serenade to the tunes of Amazing Grace and Yankee Doodle and if I spoke Arabic you better believe I’d have asked how their set list was chosen.

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When the show was finished, we walked back toward the forum and took a detour to what I’m pretty sure was the Church of St John the Baptist. It also could have been the Church of St George or the Church of St Cosmos & St Damianus – the ruins of Jerash were at one time home to 15 churches! But we found the loveliest mosaics. Most of them were pretty worn, but the one pictured above was nearly perfect.

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We were on our way to the Temple of Artemis, which has these beautiful rust-colored columns, when we paused for a snack break at these lovely ruins. Thinking we were nearly done, we soaked up some much-needed sun rays after spending nearly our entire summer indoors. We probably should have taken a look at the map though, because we were only about halfway through our day.

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Below the temple is a gorgeous fountain area and more ruins to explore than we had discovered on the “top” road. There’s a northern theater nearly as grand as the one picture above, as well as ruins that have been 85% reclaimed by wilderness.

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We walked along the Cardo Maximus, a colonnaded road and finally found respite from the heat under the Northern Tetrapylon archway. We couldn’t believe we almost missed these views by stopping our exploration at the Temple of Artemis.

In fact, on our way out, we walked up the steps leading from the Cardo Maximus to the Temple of Artemis and it was possibly the most beautiful sight of the day.

We’ve lived in Amman for just over a year now and I can’t believe how long it took us to make it to Jerash. If you find yourself in Jordan sometime in the future, plan an extra day to make it to this site.

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Now that school has started (with the return to grad school just around the corner!), I can’t imagine when our next adventure will take place. I’ll just console myself with these memories until the next one.

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