– AUGUST 27, 2015
We have decided to take a long single day by leaving Petra early in the morning, taking a taxi all of the way past Amman to arrive at Jerash, visit the Greek ruins in this northern city, then jump back into the taxi and ride south past Amman to arrive at Madaba (close to the Dead Sea). It will be a long day, but you can literally see everything in Jerash in one half day portion of time. It was also more cost effective to book the drives in this fashion all at one time, rather than in pieces.
Jerash, known as Gerasa in Ancient Greece, is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate. It is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city establish the foundation of the city as being by Alexander the Great.
Remains in the Greco-Roman Jerash include:
- The Corinthain column
- Hadrian’s Arch
- The circus/hippodrome
- The two large temples (dedicated to Zeus and Artemis)
- The nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade
- The long colonnaded street or cardo
- Two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre)
- Two baths, and a scattering of small temples
- An almost complete circuit of city walls
Hadrian’s Arch was built in honor of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Gerasa during the winter of 129/130 AD. It is linked with plans to extend the city around 400 meters south of the original entrance at the South Gate, though this planned extension was never seen through.
This impressive triple-bay monument is one of the largest known arches of the Roman Empire. It was also ornately decorated, with half-column bases adorned with acanthus leaves. A magnificent Greek inscription adorned the north façade looking towards the city. There was an inscription engraved with the titles “sacred, asylum and independent”, but they were erased by vandals by order from the emperor.
The Church of Marianos is a good example of Byzantine church interiors. The plan of this church is quite simple, made up of a single nave that is reached through a passage, or narthex, that leads there from the entrance. The passage opens out onto the main road that led from Philadelphia to Gerasa.
The church site sits among scores of subterranean 1st and 2nd century tombs. Three chambers of the nearby hippodrone were converted into living quarters with mosaic floors. The church was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD.
The Hippodrome (which means “circus”, 220AD-749AD) was built when Hadrian abandoned the plan to expand the city over the south necropolis. It is the smallest known hippodrome of the Roman Empire, and also the best preserved; particularly the arched carceres, which are the starting gates where the horses would be positioned.
Built for chariot racing, it was 265 meters long and 50 meters wide. The monument was probably competed in the early 3rd century and it could accommodate up to 17,000 spectators. However, it is uncertain as to whether the track was actually ready for use, allowing competition between the “reds”, “greens”, “blues” and “whites”, which were the colors worn by competing teams.
By the late 4th century the northern part of the hippodrone had been transformed into an amphitheater for gladiator fights and other sports, while the south part was abandoned and squatted by potters.
Between the 6th and 8th centuries this monument was used as a quarry, with materials taken to repair the city wall. At the same time, artisan dyers reused part of the ruins as workshops. In the 8th century the area became the site of mass graves for the hurried burial of hundreds of victims of a plague. It was the great earthquake of 749AD that led to the final ruin of the Gerasa hippodrome.
The southern necropolis was one of the main burial areas of the ancient city. It extended more than a mile beyond the South Gate on either side of the road that linked Gerasa to Philadelphia.
In the past, some sarcophagi and rare monumental mausoleums could be seen above ground on both sides of the road. However, most of the tombs were underground (hypogeal), single raft, undecorated rooms dug into the bedrock. Some tombs had loculi, which are recesses within the tombs where bodies would be placed. Bodies were mainly placed in stone or lead sarcophagi, or wooden coffins or wrapped in shrouds and simply laid on the ground. The few tombs discovered that were not looted were found to contain rich furniture but very few funery inscriptions. Most of the graves are anonymous, except for that of “the bakers”.
The cemetery was used from the Iron Age (800 BC) to the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Between 130 AD and the Byzantine period, burial were stopped here as the area between the South Gate and the Hadrian’s Arch was planned to be used for an urban extension project which never finally went through.
The Oil Press (220AD-300AD) was created when the rocky floor of the southernmost shop of the West Souk was dug into to house an oil mill. The ancient oil press has been well preserved.
A staircase cut into the rock enabled access to the oil mill from the sidewalk of the West Souk. The picture below shows the stone remains of the crushing wheel machine. The press itself stood in a large niche on the west side, facing a door. The press differed to the traditional system used for pressing the crushed olives, whereby in place of the usual lever was a horizontal beam that was lowered by turning two vertical wooden screws. the foundations of the city wall now partly cover the oil mill, indicating that the wall was built after the oil press was destroyed and abandoned.
Various materials and ancient items were unearthed here, including glass ceramics, bronze lamps, iron tools and coins. These revealed that the press area along with the carpenter workshop and house on the floors above were destroyed by a violent fire at the end of the 3rd century. This was during a raid on the city when it was not yet fortified. The city wall was thus built after this time.
The South Gate and the City Wall (129AD & 4th century AD) are imposing figures in this site. The South Gate is a monumental arch that stands at the southern entrance to the city. Today it is the main way into the ancient city, but this was not always the case. With triple arches flanked by half-columns, notice the similarity between the design of this gate and that of Hadrian’s Arch. The South Gate was built just before Emperor Hadrian’s visit and was for his honor.
The South Gate later became part of the 3.4km long city wall that was constructed at the beginning of the 4th century AD. Remains do not indicate the existence of any earlier defensive walls, which means that Gerasa would have been an open city well into early Byzantine times.
In the early 2nd century, a strip of 15 workshops were built just outside the limit of the city, along the first 50 meters of what was the road that led to Philadelphia (Amman). This was before the South Gate was built, as the foundations of the last shop today lie under the gate. The shops were occupied by craftsmen, carpenters, pottery merchants and at least one bronze worker, and this market would have served people going into and out of the city.
The shops were in use until the late 3rd century when a fire destroyed part of the city including the East Souk. It was then rapidly repaired and briefly reoccupied as shops. At the turn of the 3rd/4th centuries, the souk was deliberately razed to the ground in order to shift the street here to create direct access to the Oval Plaza from the South Gate.
The ruins of the souk were covered by the new South Street that was built on top of them, while the former location of the road was then gradually occupied by artisan workshops until the 749 AD earthquake which destroyed the city.
The magnificent Oval Plaza is emblematic of the ancient city of Gerasa in its architecture, its grandeur and its development. The oval shape is unique and the plaza was actually built to connect the Cardo (the main street of Gerasa) with the Sanctuary of Zeus. In effect it is an enlargement of the street; an architectural means to join the two axes, which were not aligned, by widening the street in an oval shape in front of the main access point to the sanctuary.
While the plaza and the Ionic columns that line the perimeter were probably built in the beginning of the 2nd century AD, under the rule of Emperor Trajan, the paving came much later.
Two small monuments decorated the center of this plaza: the first was a base for a group of statues, possibly representing priestesses, which were offered by some high ranking members of the Hadriane-Helios tribe of Gerasa. The second was a small base on which stood four columns – a tetrakionion – which perhaps protected a statue of the emperor Hadrian.
Commanding a great view from atop the hill overlooking the Oval Plaza, the Sanctuary of Zeus Olympios was a place of worship from the Bronze Age up to the late Roman eras. During the Roman era an important religious monument was built here and later expanded up the hilltop.
The sanctuary is made up of two main parts, a lower and an upper terrace. The actual visible lower terrace, which measures 100 by 50 meters, was built first in 27/28 AD by “Diodoros, son of Zebedas, architect from Gerasa“. A unique feature of this sanctuary is a vaulted corridor that ran around the periphery and which was embellished with façades of Ionic half-columns supporting a Doric frieze. In 162/163 AD, a large temple was built on the higher ground above the sanctuary and a grand staircase was added into the west façade of the lower terrace to access it.
After the mid 5th century the sanctuary was re-used by subsequent settlers as a monastery during Byzantine times and later by farmers and craftsmen. Abandoned after the easrthquake of 749 AD, it was briefly reoccupied around the 12th century by a small group of Crusaders.
The altars and oracles at this site each weigh around a tonne, making it unlikely they were moved from another location and therefore belonged to this sanctuary. Opposite where the altars now lie, the foundations of the naos provide further evidence that this was the seat of an oracle. In the front right corner of the foundations there is the outline of a tiny square room to which direct access was created via a small corridor on the podium level. This was probably where the oracle was and from where it answered people who came to consult it.
The Great Temple of Zeus was built in 162 AD. It lies on a terrace above the original sanctuary to Zeus, and overlooks the Oval Plaza. The original site of worship, which lay on the terrace beneath, became the Lower Sanctuary of s magnificent temple complex and a wide staircase linked the lower part to this newer upper terrace.
The Great Temple of Zeus stood on a podium surrounded by columns. The plan and ornamentation was in a classic style typical of its time. The façade was marked by eight Corinthian columns and a unique series of niches that decorated the outside walls. A flat roof sheered the temple.
This temple was completed and was larger than the one dedicated to Artemis, the patron goddess of Gerasa. Construction of the Temple of Artemis had begun 15 years earlier, but it was never actually finished. The shifting of work on the city’s main temple from the lower terrace Sanctuary of Zeus to the Temple of Artemis and then back here to the Great Temple of Zeus indicates some strife amid the powers of the city.
The South Theater is the largest and oldest of three ancient theaters in Jerash, the other two being the North Theater and Birketein Theater. This one is a typical Roman plan theater that was built between 80 and 96 AD and it is estimated that it could seat more than three thousand people. Several inscriptions found here indicate that the theater was financed by a number of generous benefactors, including a former legionnaire.
Theaters were an important part of ancient Roman life, where cultural performances would be staged. The South Theater included an imposing and richly decorated stage with a backdrop made up of at least two superimposed levels of Corinthian columns. Sections of it were still visible in the early 19th century.
Parts of the theater were ruined by the earthquake of 749 AD, after which it probably served as a fortress during medieval times to shelter a small group of crusaders before Muslims re-conquered the region permanently. In 1878 the residents of Jerash began disassembling parts of the backdrop to build the houses of the new village. Despite these damages, today the theater is in good condition and is often used for concerts, particularly during the annual Jerash festival.
The Cardo is the main street of Gerasa, forming the primary axis from which the rest of the city branches out. The 800 meter-long street connects the North Gate with the Oval Plaza in a straight line. The street was built at the start of the 2nd century AD and is part of the earlier phases of the city planning. In its heyday it formed the main access to the Sanctuary of Zeus, the city’s most important monument at the time. The Cardo evolved as the city grew, with expansions, sidewalk enlargements and intersections added.
There are many interesting features to note along the Cardo, starting with the columns that line the entire street. The designs, carvings and even the stone used differ, as only few of the columns are the original Roman ones designed for it while most of them were totally rebuilt in the Byzantine era. Large portions of the sidewalks were also modified or rebuilt in the 5th/6th centuries, with stones taken from earlier monuments such as the Temple of Zeus. The limestone paving is marked with grooves left by the repeated passing of chariots. In some places the bedrock appears between the stones. Under the street is a large ancient sewage system which probably dates to the mid 3rd century.
Macellum is the Latin word for a food market, which would typically be found in a prominent location within Roman cities. In Jerash, the Macellum occupied a complete insulae (quarter) of the area between the Oval Plaza and the South Tetrapylon (intersection of two streets). It was built at the end of the 2nd century AD with blocks re-used from other monuments.
This macellum has a unique octagonal shape, and is based around a paved courtyard with a reel cross-shaped fountain at its center. The courtyard is bordered by porticoes of Corinthian columns that opened onto exedras, or large niches, alternating between rectangle and semi-circular shaped. The merchant stalls would have been set up inside these exedras. One of them seems to have housed a butcher’s, as a thick stone slab with countless knife marks and grooves was found here, and the bases for this table have carved sheep, pig, veal and lion heads.
The Cardo was the backbone of ancient Gerasa, where all citizens and visitors would pass regularly as they went about their daily business. So naturally merchants would set up shop to line the city’s busiest street and are situated between the entrances to important buildings. These shops would have been occupied by a variety of merchants, artists, and craftsmen, and would sometimes be grouped together by the type of trade or business. An interesting relic found here is a marble slab with nuskhi Arabic inscriptions that seems to be a shop ledger, listing the amounts owed to the shop owner by customers. Another item discovered is an outlandishly designed ceramic pot adorned with rings and horses’ heads, possibly on sale for those residents with more bizarre tastes in art.
During the time of Islamic expansion (635/640 AD) Jerash conceded to Muslim leaders without any destruction being inflicted on the city. Social and economic life continued as usual and Umayyad coins were minted in Jerash.
When Umayyad rule began here, it is likely that the majority of the city’s population remained Christian while only the administration were Muslims, so a large number of the churches continued to be used. With time,. as the population progressively began to convert to Islam, the city needed a mosque. Thus, in the first half of the 8th century a large congregational mosque was built in the heart of the city.
The mosque’s plan is typical of others at that time, consisting of a spacious central open court flanked by porticoes on these sides. The fourth side consisted of a large hall (39m x 14m) used for prayer. It was divided into three naves by two rows of columns, and was built to shelter the worshippers.
The Cathedral is the oldest known Byzantine church in Jerash and was probably built around 450 AD when the bishop of Gerasa was Bishop Placcus. The site was previously occupied by a pagan sanctuary, perhaps dedicated to Dionysos, the god of wine. During his reign he dismantled the Temple of Zeus and used some of the stones for this church, as well as to build the nearby baths named after him. The church was dubbed “the Cathedral” by the American excavation team that unearthed it in 1929.
The Cathedral main entrance is on the west side, from an atrium called the Fountain Courtyard. Eight other entrances also allowed access to the church and inside the space is partitioned into three sections by two rows of columns with an apse at the front of the church that only the priest would have access to.
This courtyard formed the atrium of the Cathedral and was surrounded by a portico of columns on all four sides. It was nearly square-shaped, before being cut into on its western side for the construction of the apse of the church dedicated to St. Theodore. The courtyard is particularly notable for the hard limestone paving that covers its entire surface and the beautiful square basin that adorns its center, which earned it the name “Fountain Court“.
Dedicated with several carved blocks, many of which were reused from coffered ceilings taken from the monumental altar of the Temple of Artemis, this installation underwent several changes and improvements. However, it is not clear what the original form of the courtyard was prior to the construction of the Cathedral around 450 AD.
There was a legend that at a certain time every year the water of this fountain turned into wine, thus repeating at Gerasa the miracle of the celebration of the wedding at Cana. It is unclear how much significance can be given to this story, as it is based on a text by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamios in Cyprus, which was written a century before the fountain was built. Although Epiphanius documented the event, he had only heard about it and did not actually witness the miracle.
As the city of Gerasa thrived and expanded there was a greater need for a substantial and continuous water source within the city. Around 125 AD Gerasa’s water supply system was built, and by the end of the 2nd century the flow of the main aqueduct was increased to address a growing demand for water following the construction of the baths. This imposing Nymphaeum was then built around 190 AD to add a main source of water to the multiple small public fountains that had previously been built along the Cardo.
The Nymphaeum is thus a monumental fountain that served the public’s daily water needs. It sits along the main street and consisted of two side aisles which enclosed a central semi-circular apse that was topped with a concrete vault. The two levels of the façade were richly ornamented with carvings, panels, and Corinthian columns. The lower level was adorned with marble panels and the upper level decorated with painted stucco. Water spouted from the mouths of several carved lion heads into a large, deep basin that occupied the entire width of the monument. The water would run continuously, and any overflow was connected by the street’s sewage system.
The propylaeum, which in Greek means “before the gate“, was part of the grand and monumental approach to the Temple of Artemis that began on the east bank of the wadi. Worshippers would cross a bridge and then encounter this magnificent gateway. Its four colossal columns were aligned with the collonades of the street and the entryway was richly decorated and comprised three openings. Behind it is a stairway leading upwards, which is more than 30m wide and breaks sat a terrace. A second wider stairway followed, which stretched 100m horizontally and was crowned with a colonnade, of which only a few unstable fragments have survived till today. This colonnade stood in front of the peribolos (the wall at the limit of the sanctuary) that surrounded the temple, but that is now completely destroyed.
The construction of this impressive group of monuments took advantage of the steep slope they were built on, creating a majestic and breathtaking rise towards the temple. It is an outstanding example of monumental architecture from the 2nd century AD.
This water-powered saw is the earliest machine in the world found to date. It was used for cutting large blocks of stone, and is made up of two saws, each with four blades, which were powered by a water mill. Installed in the mid-6th century in one of the underground rooms of the Sanctuary of Artemis, the mechanical saw is the first to use a crankshaft system, which transformed the circular movement of the water wheel to the horizontal movement of the saws. The machine comprises:
- Two aqueducts that fed a large cistern
- A reservoir to collect overflow from the cistern
- A vertical channel allowing water to fall approximately 4 meters
- A mill race with the supports of the horizontal axe of a bucket wheel
- Two hard limestone column drums showing saw marks
This important find indicates that attempts to mechanize work dates back to antiquity in the Middle East, and not the Middle Ages in Europe or China as was previously thought. A working replica of the Byzantine sawmill was prepared in France and assembled on site in Jerash.
This temple was built as a shrine to Artemis, who was the patron goddess of Gerasa. It lies inside the large courtyard of the sanctuary. Construction of the temple began in the 2nd century AD, however it was never finished and only 12 columns out of a planned total of 32 were erected.
The Baths of Placcus are thermal baths which were once quite grand and beautiful. The baths comprise two main structures separated by a small open-air courtyard that was accessible from the street to the Sanctuary of Artemis. The eastern structure was a large meeting area, while the other housed the baths that comprised a reception room and three heated rooms with small bathtubs. This is a good example of the transition from Roman-style baths with large pools for big groups of bathers, to the post-Byzantine individual baths.
The North Theatre is explicitly referred to as an odeion in a late 2nd century inscription that ran along the architrave of the scaenae frons (decorative background of the stage). It was thus used to stage music and poetry recitals.
It was originally built as a bouleuterion, used for meetings of the boule (municipal council) and for the assembly of representatives of the 12 civic tribes of the city. It had a small cavea (seats set in a hemicycle) and a simple scenic wall with three monumental entrances. A section of the seating (cuneus) was reserved for the boule. The three remaining sections were allocated to representatives of each tribe in proportion to the importance of the tribe, as inscriptions carved on the seats attest. The theatre is the only place in the world found to date where such information on the local civic life of an ancient city is so well preserved.
The arch marked the northern main entrance to the city. It was built in 115 AD, prior to the South Gate. Inscriptions on the façade dedicate the gate to the “founder of the city“, Emperor Trajan. A unique feature of this gate is its trapezoidal shape. It was built like this to alter shift the axis of the road slightly to the west in order to align it with the city’s Cardo. Otherwise the architecture is simple, with one passageway that served both carriages and pedestrians.
The gate leads in to the northern end of the Cardo, which is quite different in structure from the southern part. Here the road is a lot narrower and the sidewalks are simpler. Most noticeably, the colonnades that line this part of the street are shorter and their columns are Ionic in style, like those of the Oval Plaza. The street here has been poreserved in its original form, while further down it was widened and embellished with Corinthian colonnades.
Lying at the intersection of the Cardo with the North Decumanus, this is a true Tetrapylon – unlike the South Tetrapylon, which comprises four monuments. Tetrapylon means “four gates” and is usually a square-shaped structure with a gate on each side. This one was topped with a dome, the ancient one having been rebuilt to what exists today. The north Tetrapylon was probably erected between 165 AD and 170 AD, before the Cardo was widened. Its north and south faces were embellished with projecting Corinthian columns that stood on tall bases designed as lion-head fountains, although they don’t seem to have ever operated as they are not connected to any water system.
With the ruins viewing complete, we are returning to our waiting taxi to travel in the same day to the town of Madaba, which is close to the Dead Sea. Here we will take in some canyoning and relax for a couple of days.
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.