October 22, 2014

Jerash: Cultural Festivities, Roman Architecture and Phenomenal Photo Ops

Arguably one of the most well-preserved and extensive set of Roman ruins outside of Italy, Jerash is one of the crowning jewels in Jordanís tourism crown. The site of human habitation since the Bronze Age, the Jerash ruins stand today side by side with the modern town of the same name. While never buried by a volcanic eruption Ė although its concealment by sand is responsible in large part for its equivalent degree of preservation Ė the ancient city of Jerash, Jordan is often compared to Pompeii due to the extent of the site and the massive archaeological excavations that have taken place. On a tour of Jordan a few years back, David and I had a chance to spend the day there. Here are some tips on what you can expect to experience.

First of all, prepare yourself to be wowed by the quality of the architectural ruins.

A fairly complete oval forum with connected columns, a hippodrome, Hadrianís arch, Roman baths, numerous temples, an ancient bridge, lengthy colonnaded streets and the remains of the original city walls are just some of the features youíll be able to witness as you explore the city on foot. Thereís also a small museum on site with numerous artifacts. Word to the wise? Bring an umbrella or a rain poncho. The ruins are enormous and if the weather opens up on you, youíre pretty much screwed. Yes, we got drenched. Enough said.

Take some time to enjoy lunch at Jerash.

You can of course bring picnic supplies depending on the weather, but there is a restaurant in the middle of the ruins where tourists can take a break. As I mentioned above, the Jerash ruins encompass a large area so youíll definitely want to get off your feet a couple of times during your visit. I wouldnít call it the most atmospheric restaurant in Jordan (although there are a few vying for the title in my mind), but the buffet is excellent, and if you need a break from either the spring rains or summer heat itís worth your time and money to enjoy some decent food out of the elements.

If you are visiting Jerash sometime around late July and early August, youíll be fortunate enough to attend the Jerash Festival.

Held every year, this festival brings the ancient ruins of Jerash alive with cultural performances in the old theaters, Roman chariot re-enactments in the forum and additional nighttime events where the entire site is festively lit. Lovers of music, theater and historical costumes will not be disappointed with the Jerash Festival. While we took our tour of Jerash in the early spring, we did luck out and see a group of gentlemen in traditional dress putting on a live Jordanian bagpipe and drum performance (video) in one of the ancient theaters.

If you arrive independently to experience the Jerash ruins without a tour group, expect to do your own thing.

This worked for us, because we wanted to take our time with photography. Since it was raining on and off quite extensively that day, this took longer than usual. While you can certainly arrange a group tour if you like, itís actually really cool to take along your Blue Guide and experience this extensively-preserved Roman city at your own pace. There are plenty of spots to rest and get your bearings as you figure out which temple / street / historical doohickey you are standing in front of. Take advantage of them so you can completely appreciate what you are seeing. This is world-class stuff.

Catching a bus to Jerash from Amman is simple enough, if you can read basic Arabic.

Ummm . . . yeah, that was Davidís job. Thank God he took that basic Arabic class or things might not have gone so smoothly. Catching one back proved a bit more difficult, so we ended up paying a few dollars to someone with a construction van who was there from Amman doing contract work. OK, so the toolboxes werenít exactly the most comfortable chairs. The point is we made it back fine and didnít have to stand out in the pouring rain waiting for a bus that may or may not come. Our adventures aside, you can always book a private driver or rent a car. This was just how we rolled on that particular day.

While I have no idea why more people arenít aware of this archaeological treasure, I do know itís a site I can recommend wholeheartedly to anyone taking a comprehensive tour of the Kingdom of Jordan. If you love climbing around ancient ruins for fun, youíll have just as much fun at Jerash as you will at Petra.


Photo Credits: These pictures of Jerash were photographed by the folks here at Trek Hound. However, they and other images from Jordan are available for online use through a creative commons agreement with our sister site, Pictures of Travel Places.