If Jerash were almost anywhere else in the world, it would be mobbed by tourists. Yet Jordan’s unfortunate place wedged between Syria and Iraq means a lot of the people who should have been walking down Jerash’s wonderfully preserved Roman streets were holidaying somewhere else. I started my Indiana Jones-style explorations early, and for much of the time it felt like I had the city to myself.
After marvelling at the enormity of Hadrian’s Gate, and the profound statement it made about the power of the Roman Empire, I walked through the vast space of the magnificent Forum beneath the old Temple of Zeus, and down the extraordinary colonnaded Cardo Maximus. A journey made by countless feet over the thousand years that this city flourished.
I diverted off the Cardo Maximus, passing through Jerash’s Byzantine cathedral and a group of early Islamic-era houses on my way to one of the city’s most eye-catching sights: the Temple of Artemis. Dating back to the days when the Romans still worshiped the old Gods, the temple sits on an elevated site and has grand views across the ancient city to the modern city.
I saw some people inside the temple, young Jordanian’s setting up a coffee stall and selling jewellery. It was early so I had coffee and a chat while sat on a lump of ancient carved rock. The guy who ran the coffee stall was learning English from YouTube videos that taught a very British type of English.
He’d written down lots of phrases and we had fun discussing the meaning of sayings like, ‘Bob’s your uncle’, ‘Dog’s dinner’, ‘Sweet fanny adams’; weird British words like ‘Codswallop’, ‘Gobsmacked’ and ‘Shambles; and why he probably shouldn’t call anyone a ‘minger’. Afterwards he refused payment for the coffee, and I felt like I might have prevented him from inadvertently offending someone.
Wandering down hill I arrived back on the Cardo Maxiumus, the main street in any Roman town, near the city’s main water supply, the ornate Nymphaeum. I continued north along the arrow-straight street towards the Northern Tetrapylon (a gateway with four entrances) and the Northern Gate, which is impressive but can’t compete with Hadrian’s Gate.
As I walked back uphill towards the Northern Amphitheatre I was barely able to absorb the wonders of this place; so well-preserved is Jerash that you really get a feel for how the city functioned. Inside the amphitheatre I clambered up to the top row and was rewarded with spectacular views. I sat in one of the theatre seats, where countless others have sat over the centuries, and just drank in the atmosphere.
My revery was broken some time later by a small group of Chinese tourists who’d made their way to the furthest reaches of Roman Jerash. We said some quick ‘hellos’ and I realised that time had flown and it was way past lunchtime. I wandered back out into the city to explore a bit more and went to find something delicious to eat in modern Jerash.
* This inventive wordplay is the work of Jordan’s Tourism Board