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REMARKABLY WELL PRESERVED ROMAN CITY
One of the most splendid provincial cities anywhere in the Roman Empire is the city of Jerash, which was built over 2,000 years ago in the northern fertile hills, about 48 km north of Amman, and is widely regarded as the largest and the most remarkably well preserved site of Roman architecture outside Rome. A visit to this marvelous intact city is a must for all travelers. The Roman Emperor Hadrian himself visited Jerash in (AD 129), and in his honor a monumental arch (Hadrian’s Arch) was built outside the city’s southern walls to celebrate his visit.
Jerash was referred to in antiquity as Antioch on the Golden River or the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. Ancient Greek inscriptions indicate that Alexander the Great founded the city around 170 BC which was focused at the time around the Temple of Zeus, but it was not until the 1st century AD, that the city’s basic plan were laid down by the Romans as it survives today and the city started to flourish and continued to do so during the Byzantine period, where dozens of churches were built, and throughout the Umayyad rule, until a series of powerful earthquakes hit the region but the most devastating one was that of AD 749, where large parts of the city were destroyed.
From the southern end walking past Hadrian’s Arch and alongside the impressive 244 m long Hippodrome, where chariot races took place in antiquity, one enters the ancient city of Jerash, through the monumental South Gate, and onto the lovely colonnaded Oval Plaza, connecting the Temple of Zeus, which overlooks it, with the main street, the Cardo, which is beautifully lined by Corinthian columns. Overlooking the Plaza is the extraordinarily well preserved and the most magnificent of all the city’s monuments, the South Theater, which seats more than 3,000 spectators and which hosts annually during summer (July & August), the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts; a spectacular event which occupies the entire city, with theatrical evening performances of dance and music.
Walking through the magnificent Colonnaded Street, one can see the Market Place and the Omayyad residential quarter. Further up is a 4th century AD Cathedral, St. Theodore’s Church, the impressively carved Nymphaeum (public fountain), an Omayyad mosque, the arches of the West Baths and the North Theater, with its charming little stone reliefs showing boys and women dancing and playing on musical instruments. One can also see the Temple of Artemis and the western churches, mainly the Byzantine Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the floor of which houses beautiful mosaics of birds and animals in a geometric grid. To this day, the city remains in an exceptional condition.