Often referred to as the ‘Pompeii of Asia’, the ruins at Jerash are one of Jordan’s many attractions. They are one of the Middle East’s best examples of a Roman provincial city, known at that time as Gerasa. Remarkably well preserved through the centuries by the dry desert air and being buried in the sand, they are a magnificent sight. Read on to discover our experiences of Jerash with kids.
The city was obviously one of great importance and wealth but how did Gerasa, not on a major trade route, become so important? The answer lies in the soil. This area is very fertile and perfect for growing fruit. Figs, apples, plums, berries and olives all grow on the surrounding hillsides, these fruits enabled the ancient farmers to prosper. The city flourished between the first and third centuries AD. Its fortunes peaked around the beginning of the third century when the city boasted a population of 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants.
Located just 50 kilometres north of Amman it makes for an easy day trip. Yet many miss it from their itinerary preferring to concentrate on the sites of southern Jordan.
Described as one the 10 Great Decapolis Cities of the east, it is truly one of the most spectacular examples of an ancient Roman city. Well preserved remains of all the Roman structures can be seen here – forum, cardo maximus, hippodrome, temples and theatres.
The city declined with a devastating earthquake in 747 and its population shrank to a quarter of its former size. Other than a brief occupation by the Crusaders in the 12th century, ancient Gerasa eventually became covered in sand. The new city, modern day Jerash, was built on the neighbouring easterly hillside.
Gerasa was rediscovered in 1878 and has now been largely excavated and rebuilt. Many however, claim what you see today is only a third of the original city, the rest being still buried under the sand and modern city of Jerash.
We started exploring by passing through Hadrian’s Arch. The 13 metre tall arch was built to honour the visiting Emperor Hadrian.
A little further on and you pass the Hippodrome, built sometime between the first and third centuries AD. This ancient sports field (244 metres long) was once surrounded by seating for 15,000 spectators, hosting chariot races and athletic competitions. Approximately 200 metres from the Hippodrome you reach the South Gate, one of the four entrances along the city walls. Here we met our tour guide.
From here we toured the rest of the ancient Roman city of Jerash. Firstly the Forum with its columns arranged around an oval plaza. This immense space lies in the heart of the city, linking the main thoroughfare (Cardo Maximus) with the Temple of Zeus. It served as a marketplace and was the main focus of the cities social and political life.
Jerash’s superb colonnaded Cardo Maximus is straight as a Roman road! Along its 800 metre length were once 500 columns, many of them reassembled today. The city’s principal thoroughfare is complete with manholes to underground drainage and ruts worn by thousands of chariots scored into the original flagstones! Along the Cardo Maximus are some great ruins in various states of restoration such as the Nymphaneum, Cathedral, Northern and Southern Tetrapylons, and the Western Baths.
The Temple of Zeus, built in AD 162, towers above the city, enough of its beautiful building remains to understand its former importance.
Entering the South Theatre through a wooden door within the arches, there’s little to suggest what lies beyond. As you emerge into the theatre you can not fail to be impressed. Built in the first century AD and once housing 5,000 spectators, amid two storeys of seating, the theatre is almost perfect. Climb to the top of the seating for a bird’s eye view down into the theatre. Climb up onto the stage and pretend to be an actor in Roman times. Our boys loved spending time in this magnificent open-air Roman theatre. Every summer the Jerash Festival of Culture & Arts is held which includes shows held on site in the ancient Roman theatre. This i’m certain would be an incredible experience.
Children will love the realistic Roman city (particularly if they’ve already studied the Romans). Ours were enthralled by the stories of Roman life told to us by our guide. They particularly loved the Cardo Maximus with its chariot grooves in the flagstones and the South Theatre. There is ample opportunity for climbing and running around, pretending to be Romans, so children are easily entertained.
One point to mention, you won’t find health and safety barriers here, so keep your eye out on what kids are climbing at all times.
COST OF VISITING JERASH
Entry for non-residents is 10JOD, children are free.
Jerash is one of the attractions that are part of the Jordan Pass.
Guides can be hired at the South Gate. 20JOD should get you a guide for two/three hours.
TOP TIPS FOR EXPLORING JERASH WITH KIDS
- The site is open 8am to 4.30pm in the winter, to 7pm in the summer.
- You need at least 3 hours to visit Jerash properly.
- The best time to visit is spring or autumn when it’s not too hot.
- The site is very exposed with little to offer in terms of shade. Bring water, wear sunscreen and hats.
- There is nothing to eat within the site itself (although there is a cafe at the South Gate) so bring snacks if needed.
- Sturdy walking footwear is recommended.
- Explain the Roman way of life to children before coming. They will then be more interested in the site.
- The site is definitely not buggy friendly.
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