Jerash is a modern city 45 km (30 mi) north of Amman,
that surrounds an immense Archeological Park designed to protect the ruins of a walled Greco-Roman settlement,
as well as human remains from Neolithic times.
Jerash evolved from an agrarian village on the banks of Wadi Jerash throughout the Iron Age and Bronze Age, to becoming a 4th century BC garrison founded by Alexander the Great on his way from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
Subsequently, under the reign of Antiochus IV (175 – 164 BC), Jerash became a tax and trade capitol, with special thanks to Zeus for his guidance.
As an aside, it deserves mentioning that King Antiochus is regarded as one of Judaism’s major villains for his iron-fisted repression of Jewish laws and customs. He is forever vilified as the ruler who desecrated Jerusalem’s Second Temple by turning it into a brothel and sacrificing a pig on its altar to honor Zeus. His continuing persecution of Jews ultimately prompted an uprising commanded by Judah Maccabee in 167 BC that eventually led to the recapture of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple, spawning the Miracle of Hannukah.
Only Greek inscriptions on city foundations remained after Jerash was sacked by Roman general Pompey in 63 BC. But under Roman rule, Jerash was rebuilt and thrived as an important trading center to Europe and Asia, as evidenced by the array of architectural riches that have been excavated and restored over the past century, making Jerash the most well-preserved, ancient, Roman city east of Italy.
A walk through the Archaeological Park carried us back in time when the Roman Empire flourished, and Hadrian’s patronage (Emperor from 117 – 138 AD) benefitted the eastern provinces.
There’s the Hippodrome, originally built for chariot races, and later converted to gladiator fights with the addition of amphitheater seating;
the Oval Plaza, with limestone pavers framed by 56 Ionic columns;
the Nymphaeum, the city’s primary water resource…
built to meet the demands of the Western Baths;
the olive oil press located below the floor of the Western Souk…
and a subterranean, water-powered saw mill;
divided spaces for artisan and trade shops lining South Street, outside city limits;
the North Theater, intended for political events;
the unfinished Temple of Artemis–built as a shrine to the patron goddess of Jerash, but utilized as a church during the Byzantine Period, and a fortress during the Crusades.
and other assorted churches built atop the foundations of earlier structures, like the Church of Mariano’s, assembled from stones of a pre-existing synagogue,
and the Church of St. Theodore, completed in 496 AD.
In 749 AD, a devastating earthquake flattened Jerash and turned this once great city of the Decapolis into rubble. It was soon abandoned and largely forgotten until the Crusaders seized the Temple of Artemis from the atabeg of Damascus.
Eventually, the sands of time buried the ruins. Jerash was discovered again in 1806 by German explorer, Ulrich Seezten, who recognized the ruins. But it was only after the British began colonizing the Jordan Valley in 1921 that Jerash became worthy of preserving.
Lucky for us, the British vibe was on full display at the South Theater…