Italian-related gems are not only found in the country itself. Due to the extent of the Roman empire, there are jewels all over Europe and the Middle East. When I visited Jordan, I made a point of seeing Jerash in the north. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, Jerash came under Roman control in 63 BC, and was later known as one of the ten “Decapolis” cities on the eastern border of the Roman empire in Jordan, Palestine and Syria.
In 90 AD, Jerash became part of the Roman province of Arabia, along with the original Philadelphia (modern day Amman). As the Romans kept the peace in the area, Jerash was able to develop economically and socially and focus a lot of attention on construction and trade. It remains one of the best preserved Roman cities in the near east.
When I entered the site, the first thing I came across was the stunning Arch of Hadrian, which was built to honour the emperor’s visit around 130 AD. Having travelled from Rome myself, it was fascinating to see how far the Romans had come to the east, and I imagined what it must have been like for Hadrian when he visited the town.
The arch displays some unusual influences that are possibly Nabataean, or belonging to this ancient Arab people. For example, there are acanthus designs on the base of the columns.
Walking on into the city, on the left we passed the huge hippodrome, where chariot races and athletic competitions took place. This made me think of the Circus Maximus and other similar sites back in Rome.
The next interesting spot I reached was the large oval plaza. This was a really impressive circular space surrounded by first century ionic columns, with altars at its centre.
I then began my walk along the Cardo Maximus, the main street that crossed through Jerash. This used to have shops on either side of it, the remains of which can still be seen today. Here I am at the start of it, to give you a sense of the scale of the columns that used to flank the entire stretch of the road:
Further along there are a group of buildings that were converted into churches. Firstly there is the 2nd century AD Temple of Dionysus, which was made into a church around the fourth century AD and contains a shrine to Mary. Another church with incredible floor mosaics was dedicated to St. Cosmas and St. Damian, two twin brother doctors who worked in Syria and were martyred in the fourth century. They also have a very beautiful and ancient church in Rome, overlooking the Forum.
Floor of St. Cosmas and St. Damian in Jerash, Jordan, photo from Vicki Andree
Next to the cathedral, along the Cardo Maximus, was a pretty Nymphaeum, a Greco-Roman fountain structure dedicated to water nymphs, constructed around 191 AD.
After admiring the Nymphaeum I walked up to the most atmospheric part of Jerash: the temple of Artemis. The Goddess of hunting, daughter of Zeus, was considered the patron of Jerash. Almost all of the Corinthian columns of this 150 AD hill-top temple are still standing. The inner chamber may have originally contained a statue of the goddess. I stayed a while on this hill to take in the mystical ambiance.
These were the highlights of my visit to Jerash, though there are many other points of interest, including a theatre, a mosque and a marketplace.
It was fascinating to see this incredible Roman-influenced site in the east. It is a huge tourist draw for Jordan, one of the most popular after Petra. I hope the revenues it brings in are being channeled into the right places, to benefit the local area. I also hope that one day you and I will get the chance to see similar priceless gems in this part of the world!