Tuesday, October 20, 2015

JORDAN: THE ANCIENT CITY OF JERASH, "THE POMPEII OF THE EAST"

Jordan is not a very large country. I got perspective by superimposing it over my home state of Utah. Utah comprises 84,899 square miles to Jordan's 35,637, which means Utah is almost 2 1/2 times bigger than Jordan. Utah is surrounded by friendly neighbor states, but Jordan has Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, and the not-always-friendly Israel to the west. Wow! How does it survive?
Since returning home from our trip to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, we have been asked many times if we felt safe, and our answer has always been yes. We felt safe even when we drove north from Amman to the ancient city of Jerash, located just 22 miles from the Syrian border. As I was looking for that distance on the internet, I ran across this website about travel safety in Jordan, which primarily focuses on their issues with Syria.
We were actually closer to Syria when we were traveling in Tel Dan National Park in the Golan Heights area.

In any case, Jerash may have been the place where we felt the most loved and wanted on this trip. Part of that was because of the teenage crowd there who treated us like celebrities. (More on them later.) In addition, it was clear that Jordanian merchants were anxious for tourists to come back. Of course, that was true everywhere we went.
The familiar shopping gauntlet. One preceded the entrance to just about every tourist venue we visited.
Jerash was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC). In about the 4th century BC it became part of the Greco-Roman Empire and was later one of the cities of the Decapolis. It changed hands several times and was almost destroyed by earthquakes and war, but in 1806 a German archaeologist began excavation.
Its heyday was the second and third centuries AD, and many of the buildings date to that period. Jerash is called "the Pompeii of the East," not because it was destroyed by a volcano, but because of its excellent preservation.


These days Jerash is considered one of the largest and best-preserved Roman cities in the Near East. It was spectacular, one of the best if not THE best Roman ruins we have visited.
As we entered the site, the first structure we saw was this perfectly restored wall that forms one end of the Hippodrome. It looks like a giant stone version of crocheted pillowcase edging:
Just ahead was the Arch of Hadrian, built to honor the emperor when he visited during the winter of 129/130 AD. It is one of the largest known arches of the Roman Empire and serves as the west entrance to the ruins:
Greek inscriptions which once adorned the facade facing the city are now lying on the ground:
Arches, columns, corners, intricate embellishment--how did they do that with stone?

Broken trim pieces are neatly lined up, possibly the detritus created by earthquakes.

A very large earthquake, probably 7.0 or 7.5 on the Richter scale, occurred in 749 AD:
Most of what is standing today has to have been reconstructed.

Looking at the Arch of Hadrian from the other side and towards the modern city of Jerash:

We were there in March, and flowers covered the hillsides, flowed around rocks, and peeked up between cracks in the pavement:



In about the 6th century AD, there was a thriving Christian community in Jerash. To date, thirteen different churches have been discovered. This one, the Church of Bishop Marianos, has a carpet of mosaics, with a few weedy flowers as decoration:
 An inscription in the foundation gives the date and other information about the building, a lot like our "Erected in [date] by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" blocks found on the exterior walls of our temples.
Although the hippodrome (a word that means "circus" in Latin) is the smallest known hippodrome in the Roman Empire, it is also the best preserved.  Along with the picture I included at the beginning of this post, there is a second set or arches at the other end. These were the starting gates for the chariot races.
The hippodrome was built in the 3rd century, but by the 4th century, one end was being used for gladiator fights:
 Seating for up to 17,000 spectators surrounds the oval field:
These arches at the other end of the field are the same ones we saw from the other side as we entered the old city:
Happy travelers--happy that they aren't the Christians being fed to the lions as a spectator sport:
Too bad we missed The*Roman*Army*And*Chariot*Experience:
View from above showing the Gate of Hadrian on the distant left and the hippodrome in the distant center:

The Gate of Hadrian, Church of Bishop Marianos, and hippodrome are quite a ways from the rest of the old city, an indication that at one time there were plans to expand the city to that far point. A long road connects the distant structures to the main part of the city:
Another gate sits at the southern entrance and precedes the city proper. Looking through this massive arch, it requires only a little bit of squinting to imagine oneself in the 3rd or 4th century:
View of the South Gate from the other side:
An oil press has survived more or less intact for almost 1,800 years. That's a lot longer than any of MY kitchen equipment is going to be around.
Oil press, circa 220 AD
Our guide Isam Afaneh told us that Jerash (the modern city, population 120,000) is still known for its olive oil.  He buys his annual supply of 60 liters (!) here directly from an oil press.

This mysterious stairway leads down to what I think was the oil mill:

Just inside the gate is the Eastern Souk, which used to house little shops and stalls.
The walls are very complex, very ornamented:
They were originally built by the Romans, but then expanded during the Byzantine era:
The Oval Forum was built in the 1st century AD and is lined with 160 ionic columns:



A colonnaded street, the "Cardo Maximus," stretches out from the Oval Forum and traverses Jerash:
I would love to see what this looked like in the third century:


A view of the Oval Forum and the Cardo Maximus with the modern city of Jerash in the background:
This place is huge, so it's a good thing the Romans left some directions for us:
The Temple of Zeus, one of two temples in Jerash, was built in about 160 AD. It is set on a hill, meant to be seen:

Some of the best views of the ancient city are provided by the Temple of Zeus, where we got a good look at the layout of Jerash:

I'm guessing this security tower also has a good view:
We were fortunate to be in Jerash on a day when the sky was a deep Persian blue, a perfect backdrop for the amber stone of the ruins:

It was at about this time that we made some new friends:
They really wanted to take pictures with us with their phones, and we took some with ours:
Later on, we picked up another group of boys. I'm not sure what made us so exciting. Maybe it was that Bob looks so much like King Abdullah?
Kasey and Julia definitely got the paparazzi treatment:
Everywhere we turned, there was something to be oohed and aahed about:

This looks like installation art at a modern art museum:
Our next stop was the South Theater, one of two theaters in Jerash, which indicates something about the size and wealth of the city:

Built between 90-92 AD during the reign of Emperor Dormition, this theater is still used for special events and can seat 3,000 on its 32 rows of seats:
What is it with these Jordanian boys and heights? You'd think they were Nepalese. They appeared to be here on a field trip with their school. I would say the teachers had lost control:
Our guide Isam pointed out the acoustical features:
The amphitheater has phenomenal acoustics, especially for an open air structure. Isam had one of our group kneel by this open circle on one side of the stage, and another whisper into a similar circle on the other side of the stage. The person at this spot could hear what the other person was saying.
Seat numbers are engraved in the stones and can still be seen in some places:

We had one major surprise at the South Theater. This may be the best video I've ever taken. Bagpipes in Jordan? "Amazing Grace?" "Yankee Doodle?" And don't miss the conga line that starts at about 1:40.  Magical, magical:
Bagpipe players are a staple feature at the South Theater of Jerash. I see them in everyone's pictures when I do a cursory search online.  We, however, had no idea we would have this experience. The surprise of it all made it one of the highlights of our trip for me. Apparently Jordanians love bagpipe music. The bagpipe is the official instrument of the Jordanian army and is often played at weddings and other celebrations.

Next up: Church of St. Theodore, built in 496 AD:




That is the Church of St. Theodore to the left of the amphitheater:


As there are multiple churches (twelve or thirteen in all), there is a lot through this section that is a a bit murky. One looks a lot like another.

I was intrigued by this water wheel, an obvious reproduction. I haven't been able to figure out much about it, however.
I'm also pretty sure that the crane below does not date to the early first millennium. That's Terry the Entrepreneur showing Bob what needs to happen for further development in Jerash:
Then, we came upon the second temple, the Temple of Artemis (daughter of Zeus, sister of Apollo). Like the Temple of Zeus, this temple is set up on a hill to be seen. It was built c. 135 AD. Eleven on the original twelve columns are still standing:
In its heyday, this was the second largest structure at Jerash because of its extensive courtyards:
Diagram from a sign at the site
The gateway to the Temple of Artemis, the Propylaeum, speaks of the site's importance:

The panoramic view from the Temple of Artemis includes the "Northern Tetrapylon" (that square building on the right) and modern Jerash:
There is also a good view of the North Gate, where the Cardo Maximus ends:
Before we reached the end of the road, however, we came upon the North Theater, built around 160 AD, about 70 years after the South Theater. It originally seated "only" 800 (as compared to the 3,000 seats in the South Theater). Built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it was used as a council chamber, and then enlarged during the third century by adding upper rows of seats, bringing the capacity up to 1600. The semi-circular marble design in what we would call the orchestra pit is in amazing condition:
What I find interesting about the picture below is the way the homes on the hill are creeping up on the amphitheater. According to archaeologists, only a fourth of the city has been excavated. Imagine the dig possibilities underneath those foundations!
There are no ADA Standards for Accessible Design here:
  
I like the way photo below turned out with the scattered ruins of ancient culture in the bottom rectangle and the top rectangle framing the 20th and 21st centuries.
Bob is exiting stage right:
The punched metal topper on this door looks very contemporary. I'd like something like this is my own home.
Onward, ever onward, never tiring of the beauty of this wild, ancient place, the grounds deceptively green and youthful:

Niches and stalls behind hundreds of Corinthian pillars border the Cardo Maximus, indicating the level of commerce that once took place here:
The final major structure we stopped to examine was the Nymphaeum, an ornate public fountain built in 191 AD and dedicated to nymphs, the beautiful maidens who lived in the seas, rivers, mountains, meadows, and forests and attended the gods. This fountain particularly focused on water nymphs, and water sprayed from seven lions' heads into a basin in the floor. A half-dome roof used to sit on top of those supports: 
The carving here was some of the most exquisite we saw on the entire trip--or anywhere else in the world, for that matter:

A drainage basin on the walkway:
The eyes of the two fish appear to be the drains:
This massive granite basin in front of the Nymphaeum is not original to the site but was added during the Byzantine era:
The paparazzi await our approach
Isam was a wonderful guide through the maze of Jerash. He knows his material well and has a passion for his country:
The Cardo Maximus runs through the Northern Tetrapylon and ends at the North Gate, which appears to be a small structure in the distance:
It is much more impressive close up:
During its "Golden Age," Jerash may have had a population as high as 20,000 people. The modern city of Jerash has a population of about 42,000. 

The Arab Spring of 2011 was hard not just on Egyptian tourism, but on Jordanian tourism as well, and coupled with the more recent emergence of ISIS, the number of visitors to Jordan continues to fall. In just the past year, according to this New York Times article, visits to Jerash are off 35% from last year's already low numbers, which were much lower than previous years. (We seemed to be the only foreigners in Jerash on the day we visited. In 2014, Americans were the largest group of foreign tourists to visit the country of Jordan, and there were only 75,000 Americans TOTAL) That's really a shame as this site rivals the better known Roman ruins in Rome and Ephesus.

Since 2004, Jerash has been on a tentative list of places being considered for designation as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Frankly, I'm stunned it isn't already part of the list, which just a few months ago added the Baptism Site we had visited a few days prior and which doesn't hold a candle to Jerash. Being named a WHS would give Jerash some additional money for restoration and certainly bring in a few more foreign tourists.

Only 30 miles from Amman, Jerash is absolutely worth the detour.

5 comments:

  1. Lots of good research to figure all that stuff out. A complicated place. Jerash was a favorite of mine. The greenery and the flowers made it spectacular. I don't think we could have picked a better day to go.

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  2. You are very lucky to have seen Jerash as is has stood for hundreds of years. After seeing the ISIS destruction of Palmyra, I worry that other gems like Jerash, Baalbeck, and Carchemish may fall to the same fate. I loved the bagpipes - must stem from the exposure Jordanian soldiers had to Scots in the British army back in the day. On the other hand, I seem to remember Assyrian or Hellenistic carvings showing bagpipes (now in the British Museum). We shouldn't assume that the Scots invented bagpipes.

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    1. I agree that we are fortunate to have been to Jerash at what might be its peak in the modern age. I hope that's not the case. What an amazing place! We were also lucky to be there on the most beautiful of spring days with perfect weather and NO CROWDS (good for us, bad for Jordanian economy). I wish I could go back and ask our guide what he knows about The Mysterious Bagpipe Connection.

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  3. I agree with Russ' comments, as I was thinking that same thing while I read your piece. Great armchair tour this morning.

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  4. Yeah, that adulation by the locals was pretty addictive. I could get used to it. As Bob says, we picked a great day to be their and it was also one of my (many) highlights.

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