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 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.
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.
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.
Flowers were blossoming in the fields of Jerash.
Jerash – modern and ancient
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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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