the famed and unique Oval Plaza at Jerash
Lying just over 50kms north of Amman, Jerash boasts beautiful Roman ruins and is deservedly one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan. Mini-buses depart from Sports City when full, cost JD0.70 and takes less than an hour.
Excavations have been going on for almost 90 years and it is thought that about 90% is still buried. Nonetheless, what has been found is truly extraordinary – and the complex is huge.
Whilst there is evidence that the site civilised since Neolithic times, the city only rose to prominence during the reign of Alexander the Great around 333BC. In its heyday, Gerash (as it was known in Roman times), had a population of around 15,000 people.
In the wake of the Roman general Pompey’s conquest of the region in 64BC, Gerash became part of the Roman province of Syria, and, soon after a city of the Decapolis. At its peak at the beginning of 3AD it was bestowed the rank of Colony, but began a slow decline due to a shifting of local trade routes.
By the middle of the 5th Century Christianity was the region’s main religion and construction of churches proceeded at a startling rate. However, with the Sassanian invasion from Persia in 614, the Moslem conquest in 636 and a devastating earthquake in 747AD, Jerash’s heyday passed and its population shrank by 75%.
The ticket office is located at the south side of the site and costs JD8. The ticket is valid for the whole day. There are several craft and souvenir shops based here too.
At the extreme south of the site is the impressive Hadrian’s Arch (also known as the Triumphal Arch) built in honour for the visit of Emperor Hadrian himself in 129AD. Behind this is the Hippodrome. It was here that chariot races were held with seating for 15,000 people. These were reintroduced a few years back and there are now two daily shows at around 11am and 2pm most days a week (not Tuesdays and only one show Fridays). It lasts for about 40 minutes and costs JD15. For more info you can check their website by clicking here.
a not so false door into the Hippodrome
The pathway leads up to the South Gate built in 130AD where the Visitors’ Centre is located where there are clean toilets and not much else. There is the Jerash Resthouse which offers meals, snacks and drinks opposite. Official guides are available in six languages.
The path continues to the immense Oval Plaza (Forum) 90 metres long and 80 metres wide at its widest point. There is a small and disappointing museum just off here. From the Forum there is the main thoroughfare - the cardo maximus with columns lining its 800 metres up to the North Gate.
the centre of the Oval piazza
the main thoroughfare leading to the North Gate
There are plenty of other sites around including the North and South theatres, temples, churches and baths. It’s worth at least four hours to see the main sites. The convoys of tour buses arrive by 9.30am, but have usually all departed by 4pm. The complex opens at 8am and closes 4pm in winter and 7pm in the summer. Give this site at least four hours to do it justice.
the North Theatre
local entertainment including the famous Jordanian bagpipe player
The busy but quite pretty town has ATMs, and a few local restaurants and supermarkets.
I base myself and the hugely friendly Hadrian’s Gate Hotel directly opposite its namesake. Prices here have escalated however, with large doubles with fridge and satellite TV and shared bathroom starting at JD45 including breakfast and complimentary coffee.
Continuing my quality dining experiences, it’s worth checking out the Lebanese House, who not only cater for myself, but also King Abdullah II, the late King Hussain and Richard Geer. Call me Mr. Boring but i opt for the Mixed Grill over the Buttery Sheep's Testicles.