Pella, near the modern Arab village of Taqabat Fahl, was one of the cities of the fabled Roman Decapolis. It's of great importance to archaeologists because it reveals evidence of 6000 years of continuous settlement. Many of the ruins are spread out, and a bit of imagination is required to get the most from the site, but the superb setting just above the Jordan Valley can be reward enough, particularly when the land blooms in spring.

At the base of the main mound (on your right as you pass through the entrance) are the limited remains of a Roman gate to the city. Atop the hill are the ruins of an Umayyad settlement, which consisted of shops, residences and storehouses. The small, square Mamluk mosque to the west dates from the 14th century. Carved into the southern side of the hill is the recently excavated Canaanite temple; constructed in around 1270 BC, it was dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal.

The main structure, and indeed one of the better preserved of the ruins, is the Byzantine civic complex church (or middle church), which was built atop an earlier Roman civic complex in the 5th century, and modified several times in the subsequent two centuries. Adjacent is the odeon (a small theatre used for musical performances). It once held 400 spectators, but you will need considerable imagination to picture this now. East of the civic complex church are the low-lying remains of a Roman nymphaeum (public fountain).

Up the hill to the southeast is the 5th-century east church, which has a lovely setting perched high above the lower city. From there a trail leads down into Wadi Malawi and then climbs Tell Al Husn (note the remains of tombs cut into the hillside), atop which are the stones of a Byzantine fort and a Roman temple. There are good views of the Jordan Valley from here.

Outside the main site, about 200m north of the main entrance, are the ruins of a small Abbasid settlement. There are also a few limited Palaeolithic ruins (4km away), Roman baths and a rock bridge (3km away), reached via the road past the turn-off to the (now closed) Pella Rest House.

Enquire at one of Pella's guesthouses about how to get to the rubble of a Hellenistic temple high on Jebel Sartaba to the southeast. From there, Jerusalem is visible on a clear day. The return hike takes a good couple of hours.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Jordan attractions

1. Beit She’an National Park

7.54 MILES

Beit She’an’s extraordinary Roman ruins are the best place in Israel to get a sense of what it was like to live, work and shop in the Roman Empire…

2. Mar Elias

8.73 MILES

This little-visited archaeological site, believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Elijah, gives you just the excuse you need to explore the…

3. Ajloun Forest Reserve

9.71 MILES

Located in the Ajloun Highlands, this small (just 13 sq km) but vitally important nature reserve was established by the Royal Society for the Conservation…

4. Biscuit House

10.14 MILES

Delicious Jordanian delicacies are prepared for sale in RSCN Nature Shops in this cottage-industry kitchen. With an on-site cafe selling locally produced…

5. Soap House

10.15 MILES

Ever wondered what pomegranate soap smells like? Local women demonstrate the art of making all kinds of health-promoting soaps using natural local…

6. House of Calligraphy

10.15 MILES

You don’t have to be a linguistic scholar to enjoy the dynamic rhythms of Arabic script. Reinforcing Islamic heritage, the women in this workshop aim to…

7. Gan-Garoo Australian Park

10.55 MILES

Kids will love this delightful little corner of Australia, where – amid Aussie vegetation – they can pet and feed friendly, free-range kangaroos. Another…

8. Ajloun Castle

10.83 MILES

This historic castle was built atop Mt ‘Auf (1250m) between 1184 and 1188 by one of Saladin’s generals, ‘Izz ad Din Usama bin Munqidh (who was also…