Ancient Cities of Jerash and Amman Citadel


The day after I explored the modern and contemporary art of Amman, I went back in time to explore the historical ruins of Amman – Jerash and the Amman Citadel.

Jerash is located 48km north of Amman and is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, after Petra, due to its ancient sites as one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman cities of eastern Mediterranean.

Based on archaeological evidence, Jerash was inhabited since the Paleolithic and Neolithic times (that’s 18,000 years ago!) but this fertile valley attracted settlement in 3rd century BC and was declared as one of the Decapolis cities (“ten cities” in Greek) in 4th century BC by Alexander the Great. During 1st century BC, Jerash continued to thrive when its geographical location became strategic on the incense and spice trade route from the Arabian Peninsula to Syria and the Mediterranean region, and was a favourite city of Emperor Hadrian when the city’s prosperity reached its peak in AD 130.

jerash hadrians arch

Jerash started to decline during 190 when Rome was experiencing civil disorder, increase in taxation, high inflation, all of which impacted trade with Jerash (hmm, sounds like modern 21st century too!). Jerash became a Christian city under the Byzantine rule in 320 and later ruled by the Muslims in 636. Sadly, a catastrophic earthquake in 749 crumbled Jerash and the city was left abandoned and deserted for thousands of years until it was discovered by a European explorer in the early 19th century.

Excavations and restorations of Jerash have been continuous since the 1920s. Fortunately, the ruins have been meticulously preserved and spared from urban development that has been taking place over the years outside of the ancient city walls.

Here are photos of this massive ancient site:

Temple of Zeus

The gigantic Corinthian columns of the Temple of Zeus tower over the city, built to be seen from all parts of Jerash.

jerash temple of zeus

Vantage point for the photographer
Vantage point for the photographer

The Oval Plaza

The Oval Plaza or Forum, a wide asymmetrical plaza, is one of the most impressive Roman urban designs in the world. Built in AD1, the plaza links the lower terraces of the Temple of Zeus complex with The Cardo or Colonnaded Street.

jerash oval plaza

The South Theatre

The South Theatre is one of the largest of three theatres in Jerash. It was built in AD90s and is capable to seat up to 3,000 people.

jerash south theatre

Flowers

Flowers were blossoming in the fields of Jerash.

jerash flowers

Jerash – modern and ancient

jerash old and new city
The ancient part of Jerash carefully preserved from the urban developments of modern Jerash

Jerash is also the setting for the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) performances in The Hippodrome. The show runs twice daily at 11am and 2pm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Thursday (10am on Friday). The performances feature 45 legionaries dressed in full armour, Roman Army drill and battle tactics, gladiators’ fights and chariot racing laps around the hippodrome. Apparently the performances are very well choreographed with trumpets, music and live English commentaries.

Unfortunately, when I visited Jerash on a Sunday, they didn’t have any performances. I was disappointed. No one was able to explain to me why the performances were not scheduled on that day.

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After spending nearly 2.5 hours exploring Jerash, I travelled back to the capital city. On the way to Downtown Amman, I stopped by at the Citadel or in Arabic, Jabal al-Qal’a.

Situated on the highest hill in Amman, the Citadel is considered among the oldest inhabited places in the world. Similarly to Jerash, excavations have found signs of human occupation in the Citadel since Neolithic times. The site had a long history of occupation by many great civilisations – the Romans, Byzantine and Umayyads. In present time, the important structures at the Citadel are the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace and ruins of a small Byzantine church.

Temple of Hercules

Two giant standing pillars and a podium are remains of the Temple of Hercules, a Roman temple built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is not certain that the Romans dedicated the temple to the hero-god Hercules, however, archaeologists have concluded that it might have been, based on the gigantic arms of a marble statue discovered near the temple area and the minted coins depicting Hercules found in the city which was called Philadelphia at that time.

amman citadel images jordan

amman citadel temple of hercules

Fragments of a stone-carved hand and elbow were found close to the temple. I know the guide books and travel articles mentioned that the hand belonged to the statue of Hercules. However, I beg to differ. Based on the plague description at the site, although the temple was built in honour of Hercules for his mighty strength, there is no mention that the hand belonged to the statue of Hercules. The plague states that the hand “belonged to a colossal statue from the Roman period and were found near the Temple of Hercules”.

amman citadel temple of Hercules hand

amman citadel temple of Hercules plague

Or did I interpret it incorrectly??

Nearby the temple is a lookout with 360-degree panoramic views of Amman city. Here’s a video I took from the lookout point. It was 12.45pm, it felt surreal standing there, I could hear calls to prayers broadcast from dozens of mosques in the city.

Umayyad Palace

One of the historic buildings at the Citadel is the Umayyad Palace complex which stretches over the northern part of the hill. Considered to be the work of Umayyad Arabs dating back to AD720, the palace complex consisted of royal and residential buildings, a domed audience hall, mosque, colonnaded streets of arches and columns, but sadly – the impressive architecture and engineering of the complex were destroyed in an earthquake and the complex was never rebuilt.

amman citadel Umayyad palace

*****

If you have never been to Jordan, I can’t tell you how INCREDIBLY rich in history this country is. Even if you’re not into history and you find visiting ancient ruins terribly boring, do make a short visit to these sites anyway and have a feel of how the ancient cites would had been during their glory days hundreds and thousands years ago!

A fellow blogger commented in my earlier post that “Jordan is a beautiful country with lots of history strewn around”. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, the Jerash and Citadel Amman ruins is just the start of my “history lessons” in Jordan, there will be more history to come across in other parts of the country and I would be sharing more of that in this series.

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Are you planning a trip to Amman soon? How about booking your accommodation here?

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ancient cities jerash amman citadel katpegimana

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 *Linking with #CityTripping and #FarawayFiles.

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20 comments

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Kat. I’d love to visit the ancient sites in Jordan so it’s great to get a tour on your blog. It reminds me of our visit to Ephesus in Turkey just over a year ago. I’d have been so disappointed to miss the Roman Army and Chariot Experience – I’ve heard great things about that show. Thanks for sharing this with us on #FarawayFiles

    1. Thanks Clare. Oh Ephesus in Turkey is another place that I’d really want to explore! A friend of mine visited Ephesus middle of this year and she said that the ruins were amazing, it was an incredible experience 🙂

  2. When even the ruins are so impressive, you wonder how awesome inspiring it must once have been. I only got a very quick look at Jerash from outside during my trip to Jordan but it’s somewhere I’d have loved to explore. What a shame the chariot races weren’t taking place. #citytripping

    1. Yeah, I wanted to see the chariot races but sadly it didn’t happen 🙁 Ruins like this make me wonder about the evolution of the human race because even in those days, mankind was also advanced to create and build such architectural structures – incredible!

    1. Oh is that what it’s called – thistles? Yes, Jerash and Amman Citadel are amazing places to visit – hope you get the chance to go there some day!

  3. I spent a couple of weeks exploring Jordan way back in 1993 so it’s great to look at your photos and reminisce about my visit. We also travelled through Syria on the same trip which I’d have heartily recommended, but sadly not now. #

    1. Oh wow, 1993! I feel the same way too when I look at current photos of destinations that I had been to so many years ago 🙂 Many Jordanians have spoken how beautiful Syria was; it’s a shame to see the country being destroyed now 🙁

  4. What an incredible place. To think it lay undiscovered for so long. Thanks for taking us on a tour around these ancient cities. I’ve certainly learnt a lot and realise I simply must visit Jordan. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  5. After all of those stories, Jerash is still one the most amazing site/city in Jordan. I am trying to imagine the city at its peak of prosperity. It must be grand and incredible, Btw is there any guide service in Jerash, so we can wander around with explanations as well?

    1. Yes, you can hire a guide at the site. Oh there are many more of such sites in Jordan, history is everywhere in this country. What I love most is that their people make the efforts to appreciate and preserve history as part of their culture and heritage.

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