"I chose Gerasa because it contains so many fascinating examples of Roman architecture and is one of very few surviving places that can really convey the full scope of a Roman city. I also feel that it is somewhat overlooked when compared to more famous sites such as Pompeii and hopefully its inclusion here will encourage people to gain a greater appreciation for it"
"About this place": The ancient city of Gerasa (Jerash) was originally a small Arab / Semitic village known as Garshu. The name of the settlement has changed several times throughout the centuries; under the Romans, it was called Gerasa and in the Muslim period, Jerash, the name it still carries to this day. The excavation of two human skulls, gives a clear indication of human activity in the area as far back as the Neolithic.
Epistolic evidence, in the form of both (ancient Greek) inscriptions within the city and ancient literary sources, credits the founding of the Graeco-Roman city at the site in 331 BC to either Alexander the Great himself, or to his general Perdiccas.
Gerasa was part of the vast tracts of territory that came under the auspices of Rome in 63 BC thanks to the hugely successful campaigning undertaken throughout the Levant by Roman general Pompeius Magnus.
By the end of the 1st century AD, Gerasa had become a hugely prosperous city. Much of the city's richness was owed to trade and thus was greatly boosted in 106 AD when the Emperor Trajan annexed the Nabatean Kingdom and greatly improved the road network throughout his newly formed province of Arabia. Gerasa reached its peak around the beginning of the 3rd century AD when its population reached as high as 20,000 people. The city's glory days, did not, however, last for much longer; shipping routes began to take over as the primary source of trade and Gerasa began a slow decline.
Gerasa was able to maintain a relative level of success throughout the Byzantine period, but was dealt successive blows in the form of conquests, first by the Persians and then Muslims. A brief period of economic renewal was enjoyed during the early Muslim period, however, the city was hit by a series earthquakes beginning in 749 AD which dealt irrevocable damage to its infrastructure. The damage to Gerasa's physical structure was further exacerbated during the Crusades when the city was garrisoned and the Temple of Artemis converted into a fortress - this was captured and burnt and evidence of its fiery destruction is still visible today in the form of its blackened interior walls. In the post-Crusade period, Gerasa was utterly abandoned and remained so until its rediscovery under Ottoman rule. The city's ancient remains became buried in the sand, which accounts for the excellent preservation found at the site.
"What to see there": Modern day Jerash is also known by the names 'Pompeii of the East' and the 'City of a Thousand Columns', this is a testament to the quality of the surviving archaeology at the site. Serious excavations began in the 1920s and have continued virtually unabated ever since. The excavations have focused on the western side of the river as the majority of remains on the eastern side now lie beneath the modern city. Unlike at the actual Pompeii, very little evidence has been uncovered of the city's residential buildings (these would have been on the eastern side) and the vast majority of buildings on display were public and grandiose.
Unlike so many other ancient city sites, a large portion of ancient Gerasa has been sectioned off from the current city meaning that it is not encroached upon by modern buildings and that it is possible to get a real understanding of what it would have felt like to wander its streets in Roman times.
Hadrian's Arch: this is a massive triple-arched triumphal arch situated just outside the city walls to the south. It was built to commemorate the visit paid to the city by the Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD - 130 AD. The arch was partially reconstructed between 2005 - 2007 meaning that although it now stands to a height of 21m, only the lower 11m is original Roman construction.
Hippodrome: this is one of the smallest known Roman hippodromes (245 m x 52 m) and was probably built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. It originally had a seating capacity of 15,000 and was used for variety of sporting events, in particular, chariot racing. The arena has been largely reconstructed (using original materials where possible) and is, once again, being used as a performance space. RACE (Roman Army and Chariot Experience) puts on daily (except Tuesdays and Sundays) performances consisting of military displays, gladiatorial combat and chariot racing.
The Temple of Zeus: construction of this began in 22 AD, but was not completed until the 160s. Although badly damaged by both earthquakes and erosion, this is still an imposing structure. The temple was constructed on a large podium and is typical of Romano-Syrian architecture.
The Temple of Artemis: built between 150 AD - 170 AD, and situated within a colonnaded temenos. Of the temple's original 12 intricately carved Corinthian columns, 11 are still standing. Despite being badly damaged at several points in its history, first after an edict issued by Theodorius in 386 AD which made legal the destruction of pagan temples, and second when it when it was destroyed by Crusaders, the temple is still an important and beautiful example of Roman architecture.
Forum: this is a distinct oval shaped plaza (90 m x 80 m) which is surrounded by 56 unfluted Ionic columns. The forum dates from circa 300 AD.
The Western Baths: built during the 2nd century AD and once an impressive structure, these are now badly damaged, although some walls still exist to the height of a couple of metres. These also contain an example of an early pendentive dome.
Nymphaeum: this is a two storey structure dating from circa 191 AD and considered one of the most significant monuments surviving at Gerasa. The ornamental fountain would once have been covered with a half dome in the shape of a shell and although this has not been preserved, many interesting architectural features remain. In front of the fountain there are several standing Corinthian columns and a pink-granite basin, which is probably Byzantine in origin.
Cardo Maximus: the city's original main thoroughfare, which still runs for 800m straight through the centre of the site. The majority of the columns that line the way were reconstructed in the 1960s, but the well-trod and wagon-rutted paving stones are original.
The South Theatre: this is an extremely well preserved (although it has been partially reconstructed) example of a Roman theatre, first built between 81 AD - 96 AD and originally providing seating for up to 5000 spectators. The scaenae frons, stage and seating area are all evident. The theatre is used as a performance venue during the Jerash Festival of Culture & Arts.
The North Theatre: this is another example of a structure that is virtually intact. The theatre, built in 165 AD and later enlarged, was probably not used for performances but rather as a venue for government meetings - the names of some local officials can still be seen carved in the seating. The theatre has been damaged by earthquakes in the past, but has now been restored.
The above list only details the major points of interest at Gerasa, the entire site is resplendent with other examples of churches, temples, fountains and all the other structures of which a Roman city consisted, it truly is a must-see for any Roman enthusiast.