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 JOD1.5-2 from the Tarbabour Bus Station in Amman. At the Trababour bus station, frequent buses leave for Jerash – JOD0.75. 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.
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 JOD8-10 one-way. Expect to pay as much as JOD40 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.
Walking is the only choice you have – about 3 km all together. Get in at the south end of the archaeological site south of the Hippodrome and get out north at the cravel road exit (down east from the Northern Theater), from where you can directly head to the bus station a little further north.
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.
Beware of the many touts inside the area, who will try to sell you "original" coins, artifacts and antiques, after they helped you taking your picture. If they stand in the way of your picture in front of the many sights, especially the Nymphaeum and the Temple of Artemis, firmly ask them to step aside. If they do not cooperate, tell them you will complain with the visitor center or even do so.
- Jerash Ruins. summer 7:30-19:00 / winter 8:00-17:00. The Temple of Artemis and the temple right after the entrance overlooking the Oval Plaza have hidden staircases in their walls, which allow you to climb up the ruins, having a great view of the surrounding area - be careful, there is no barrier at the top to prevent you falling off the ancient buildings. JOD10 for foreign visitors (JOD0.5 for locals).
- 1 Jerash Archaeological Museum. Features a collection of artifacts found during excavation, including coins, statuary and sarcophagi.
- 2 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.
- 3 Hippodrome. A partially restored Roman-era stadium. At only 245m long and 52m wide, it was the smallest hippodrome in the Roman Empire.
- 4 Oval Plaza (Forum). 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.
- 5 Temple of Zeus. Above the temple there is the South Theater and another temple from which you have a great view onto the Oval Plaza.
- 6 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.
- 7 The Cardo (Maximus). 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.
- 8 Agora. The city's main food market, which has a central fountain.
- 9 Nymphaeum. An ornate public fountain that was decorated with lions heads and dedicated to the nymphs.
- 10 Temple of Artemis. Impressive temple ruins dedicated to the patron goddess of the city.
- Sound and Light Show. There is an evening light show that illuminates the ancient sites of Jerash in different colours. JOD2.
- 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. JOD10.
- Music and Arts Festival. Jerash is home to this an annual 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.
Along the road into Jerash there are several other restaurants from which to choose.
- 1 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.
Accommodation in Jerash is sparse.
- 1 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.
- 2 The Olive Branch, Ajloun Road (7 km outside town), ☎ , fax: , 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. Apparently also has a campground. Own tent is required. The campground has lots of resort type luxuries.
- 3 Dibbin National Park. Camping. A bit outside the main town, recommended to visit in the week, the weekends are pretty busy. JOD3.
The 1 Jerash Bus Station is outside the northern end of the Jerash archaeological side. However, buses also leave from the 2 main junction in Jerash just south of the Hippodrome to Amman and Ajlun Castle.
- 11 Ajlun Castle (Rabadh Castle) (This 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. If you start your day early enough, you can take the bus from Amman to Ajlun and see the castle. Afterwards take a bus from 'Ajloun to Jerash, while still having plenty of time to spend at Jerash. Ajlun and Jerash make a good combination day; however, most buses travel from Ajlun to Jerash and not the other direction. Therefore, it is better to travel from Amman to Aljun Castle, then to Jerash, then back to Amman. Once in Aljun, take a taxi to Aljun Castle and arrange for the taxi to wait for you or to transport you back to the Aljun bus station. 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. JOD3.