The ruined city of Jerash is Jordan's largest and most interesting Roman site, and a major tourist drawcard. Its imposing ceremonial gates, colonnaded avenues, temples and theatres all speak to the time when this was an important imperial centre. Even the most casual fan of archaeology will enjoy a half-day at the site – but take a hat and sunscreen in the warmer months, as the exposed ruins can be very hot to explore.
The site covers a huge area and can seem daunting at first, especially as there's virtually no signage. To help the ruins come alive, engage one of the knowledgeable guides (JD20) at the ticket checkpoint to help you navigate the main complex. Walking at a leisurely pace, and allowing time for sitting on a fallen column and enjoying the spectacular views, you can visit the main ruins in a minimum of three to four hours.
At the extreme south of the site is the striking Hadrian’s Arch, also known as the Triumphal Arch, which was built in AD 129 in honour of the visit of Emperor Hadrian. Behind the arch is the hippodrome, which hosted chariot races in front of up to 15,000 spectators.
The South Gate, originally one of four along the city wall and built in 130, leads into the city proper. One of the most distinctive sites of Jerash, the forum is unusual because of its shape and huge size (90m long and 80m at its widest point). Fifty-six Ionic columns surround the paved limestone plaza, linking the cardo maximus with the Temple of Zeus.
The elegant remains of the Temple of Zeus, built around 162, can be reached from the forum – a worthwhile climb, even if only for the view. Next door, the South Theatre was built in the 1st century with a capacity of 5000 spectators. From the upper stalls the acoustics are still wonderful, as demonstrated by the occasional roving minstrel or drummer.
Northeast of the forum lies the cardo maximus, the city’s main thoroughfare, also known as the colonnaded street. Stretching 800m to the North Gate, the street is still paved with its original stones, rutted by the wheels of chariots that once jostled along its length.
The colonnaded street is punctuated by the nymphaeum, the main fountain of the city, before giving rise to a superb propylaeum (monumental gateway) and a staircase. The Temple of Artemis, towering over Jerash at the top of the stairs, was dedicated to the patron goddess of the city, but alas it was dismantled to provide masonry for new churches under Theodorius in 386.
Further north is the North Theatre, built in 165 and now restored to its former glory.
The small museum contains a good collection of artefacts from the site.
The entrance is south of the ancient city, close to Hadrian’s Arch. The ticket office is in a modern souq with souvenir and antique shops, a post office and a semi-traditional coffeehouse. Keep your ticket, as you will have to show it at the South Gate.