Roman Temple Columns, Jerash, Jordan

Jerash – Jordan’s Forgotten Wonder

Like many other Greco-Roman cities, Jerash is a stunning example of urban living spaces going through different civilizations in history…

Jerash is a beautiful, sprawling complex of collonaded streets, monumental arches, plazas, baths and theatres. One of the best preserved Roman sites in the world, it is often overshadowed by Petra, and given a miss by the time-pressed traveller, in favour of Jordan’s other attractions.

visiting jerash jordan, temple of zeus, roman ruins, corinthian columns, gerasa
View from the “backstage” of the Northern Theatre

This is a pity, as Jerash truly holds its own in the network of Roman cities – as it did in antiquity, so it does today.

visiting jerash jordan, Temple of Artemis, roman ruin,
The Temple of Artemis, who was the patron goddess of Jerash – built on a high point, it dominates the whole city

Like many other Greco-Roman cities, Jerash is a stunning example of urban living spaces going through different civilizations in history. From its early days as the Arab/Semitic village of Garshu, to its flourishing under Alexander the Great, as one of the great cities in the world’s first globalised empire, the ruins hold layers upon layers of stories from one century through the next.

Corinthian columns, at the Temple of Artemis, 3 point perspective, ascending into sky,
Corinthian columns in Jerash, at the Temple of Artemis

It was during its heyday that its most impressive monuments were built, namely the temple of Artemis, who was the Greek goddess of hunting and the city’s patron goddess, and the temple of Zeus, which stood diametrically opposite, also upon a hill. My favourite was the street of columns, in the exuberant Corinthian style, that ran from North to South, connecting with streets that passed through East to West, all linked in at the South Tetrapylon, an ornamental construction at their junction through which trade flowed from the Orient to the cities of the Mediterranean and beyond.

visiting jerash jordan, Street of Columns, forum Cardo
The Street of Columns, leading from the Forum Cardo to the Northern Tetrapylon

Standing in this plaza, and strolling down the boulevard once lined with shops that stocked goods of the finest craftsmanship during antiquity, I couldn’t help but feel a bittersweet melancholy over how far the city had fallen since. Once a living, thriving metropolis, now reduced to ruins only to be admired and studied, as so many other Roman cities are.

Northern Tetrapylon, Corinthian Columns, Roman Ruins, steps,
The impressive staircase leading towards the Temple of Artemis

As with Petra, a guide was highly recommended for our visit to Jerash. This guide truly made the visit for us, as a lot of the magic would have been lost without its history being explained as we went along.

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Columns of the Cardo Maximus and a view of Roman Gerasa

At the Nymphaeum, our guide spoke to a group of refugees from Syria. Elegantly dressed, well educated men admiring the fountain whilst speaking about the horrors of the war. Lining the wall of the basin were the sculpted stone heads of lions, one of which had its face hacked off, stolen, to be traded god-knows-where. I asked our guide what had happened to it. He replied: “Thieves”. One of the Syrians then looked towards me and said: “Its head is off, but who will cut the head of our lion?”.

visiting jerash jordan, The Nymphaeum, roman public fountain, roman ruin, roman christian influence,
The Nymphaeum, a public fountain built by the Romans in 190 A.D.

As they walked away, I came to the realization that the ruins of Jerash are the scars of ancient battles, a once great city built with the best abilities of man and destroyed by the worst.

visiting jerash jordan, Cardo Maximus, roman ruins, roman roads,
Bleached white stones near the Cardo Maximus. The paving stones are lined diagonally so the wheels of chariots and carts do not get stuck in the gaps