Located some 48 km (30 miles) north of the capital Amman, Jerash is known for the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. It is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the "Pompeii of the Middle East", referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation (though Jerash was never buried by a volcano).
Jerash became an urban center during the 3rd century BC and a member of the federation of Greek cities known as the Decapolis ("ten cities" in Greek). Jerash prospered during the 1st century BC as a result of its position on the incense and spice trade route from the Arabian Peninsula to Syria and the Mediterranean region. Jerash was a favorite city of the Roman emperor, Hadrian, and reached its zenith in AD 130, flourishing economically and socially. The city began to decline in the 3rd century, later becoming a Christian city under the rule of the Byzantine empire. The Muslims took over in AD 635, but the final blow to the city was dealt by Baldwin II of Jerusalem in AD 1112 during the Crusades.
Modern Jerash sprawls to the east of the ruins, sharing the same city wall but little else. Thankfully, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment.
Getting to Jerash is very easy and cost effective on your own and you don't need a tour. You can go to Jerash and back for 2-3 dinars.
From downtown Amman:
Head to the Raghadan Al Seyaha station next to the Roman Theater to catch the #6 Serviis taxi to Tarbabour station, it's the last stop for the serviis.
At the Trababour bus station, frequent buses leave for Jerash. You should pay no more than 1JD. If you start your day early enough, you can take the bus from Amman to 'Ajloun and see the castle. Then take a bus from 'Ajloun to Jerash, while still having plenty of time to spend at Jerash.
When coming back to downtown from Tarbabour station tell the taxi driver you are going to Raghadan Al Seyaha. There is another Raghadan station in Amman that is a few kilometers from downtown so the last stop may be that one!
A private taxi from Amman can be hired for 8 to 10 JD one-way. Expect to pay as much as 40JD for a return trip and taxi driver staying on site while you look around. As always, negotiate the amount beforehand and specify that the price is for the whole taxi and not "per person," which most taxi drivers will try to charge you.
Admission costs 8 Jordanian Dinar (JD) for all foreign visitors, which includes the Jerash Archaeological Museum. Admission for residents costs 1/2 JD. Summertime hours are 7:30 AM to 7:00 PM; wintertime hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Some initial ruins are outside the core city and are viewable free of charge:
- Hadrian's Arch - built in 129 AD to mark Emperor Hadrian's visit, this was intended to become the new southern gate of the city.
- Hippodrome - a partially restored Roman-era stadium. At only 245m long and 52m wide, it was the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire.
The Visitor's Centre is located at the entrance to the archaeological park. The site is poorly signposted, so be sure to pick up a map to orient yourself and understand what you are seeing. The ruins are fairly extensive, but it's not hard to see everything in a matter of hours. It is unlikely that visitors will miss anything important, but some of the notable sites are:
- Forum (Oval Plaza) - an unusual wide, asymmetrical plaza at the beginning of the Cardo (or Colonnaded Street), built in the 1st century AD. The Oval Plaza is 80 m by 90 m (262 ft by 295 ft) and is enclosed by 160 Ionic columns.
- The Cardo - a 600 m (660 yards) colonnaded street that runs the length of the city. It was once lined with the city's major buildings, shops and residences. A complex drainage system lies below the stone paving. Look for chariot tracks in the stone.
- Agora - the city's main food market, which has a central fountain.
- Nymphaeum - an ornate public fountain that was decorated with lions heads and dedicated to the nymphs.
- Temple of Artemis - impressive temple ruins dedicated to the patron goddess of the city.
- South Theater - an amphitheatre that seats up to 3000. It is occasionally used today for concerts and musical productions. Daily features include bag pipers in traditional Jordanian military dress.
- Jerash Archaeological Museum - features a collection of artifacts found during excavation, including coins, statuary and sarcophagi.
Roman Army and Chariot Experience Two daily shows at the hippodrome (circus) include Roman Legion tactics, mock gladiator fights, and chariot exhibitions. Just ask and you will be allowed to go on a chariot ride after the show. Admission 10JD
Jerash is home to an annual Music and Arts Festival each summer.
Just outside of the archaeological park is a small souq—an outdoor bazaar, of sorts—that provides a well-rounded offering of Jordanian souvenirs and handicrafts. Many of the shop keepers are amiable and are willing to bargain over prices. Local children and teens will try to sell you Roman coins and other small artefacts found on the site. Please refrain from buying from them, as this practice is not legal.
- The Resthouse, at the entrance to the archaeological park, offers overpriced Jordanian fare in reasonably pleasant surroundings.
- Across the street from the Resthouse is a restaurant with a nice back garden. It features lower prices and better food.
- Along the road into Jerash there are several other restaurants from which to choose.
- The Lebanese House (Walk past the police kiosk on the main street and turn down the dirt road), ☎ . Cooks up some good Lebanese food, particularly when it comes to Mezza
Accommodations in Jerash are sparse ; there are only two options.
- Hadrian's Gate Hotel, Jerash Main Road, opposite Hadrian's Arch, ☎ . Inexpensive and very conveniently located across the road from the entrance to the archaeological park.
- The Olive Branch, Ajloun Road (7 km outside town), ☎ , fax: +962 2 634 0557, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In the hills above town. Quiet and relaxed with a nice swimming pool, but only accessible by car or taxi.
There are also two camping options :
- Olive Branch resort (see above) - own tent is required. The campground has lots of resort type luxuries. 5JD
- Dibbin National Park - a bit outside the main town, recommended to visit in the week, the weekends are pretty busy. 3JD
Ajlun Castle (also Rabadh Castle), an Islamic fortress, is a mere 10 miles (16 km) from Jerash. The castle is located on the top of a mountain just outside the small city of Ajlun. The castle is an interesting maze of passages and levels, and offers a wonderful view of the surrounding area, northwestern Jordan, and off into Galilee. Ajlun and Jerash make a good combination day; however, most buses travel from Ajlun to Jerash and not the other direction. In the afternoon the buses become infrequent and you run the risk of being left in one of the cities if you do not plan accordingly, especially during Ramadan. If this occurs, stand around across from the police station and you can probably bargain with a private driver to take you back to Amman.