Jerash, Jordan - Haunting Heritage
08-09-2018    55 times
Jerash Jordan

Jerash is the capital and the largest city of Jaresh Governorate in Jordan, located 48 Km north of Amman, the capital of Jordan. As reflected in the name of the city, its history is a novel blend of the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean Basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient. During the pre-classical period the earliest Arab/Semitic inhabitants named their village Garshu. Later, the Romans changed the former Arabic name to Gerasa. However, subsequently the name was further changed to the Arabic Jerash.

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The modern city of Jerash is the site of the ruins of the old Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, which was also known as Antioch on the Golden River. It is evident from the Greek inscriptions that the city was founded by Alexander the Great and his general Perdiccas. It is maintained by many that, they settled the aged Macedonian soldiers here during the spring of 331 BC, when he left Egypt and crossed Syria en route to Mesopotamia.

Colonnaded Street, Jaresh
Colonnaded Street, Jaresh

Jerash and its surrounding area were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, after it was conquered by the Romans during 63 BC and later it became a member of the Decapolis league of the Greek cities. During those days, the city was mainly inhabited by the Syrians, along with a small Jewish community. In AD 106, Jerash was annexed to Petra by the Emperor Trajan, who ensured security and peace in this area, developed the city, constructed roads and more trade came to Jerash.

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Jerash was reborn as a Christian city under the Byzantines during the 3rd century. In 614, the city was invaded by the Persians and was captured by the Muslims in 635. The name of the city was changed to Sakib, in the late Ottoman period. But, the original name triumphantly reappeared in Ottoman tax registers by the end of the 16th century.

Jerash had been abandoned for quite some time, when the Crusaders arrived in the city in 12th century. The abandoned remains of glorious city remained neglected and buried under tons of rubbles and sand for centuries, till Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German Orientalist, discovered the site in 1806.

Oval Forum, Jerash
Oval Forum, Jerash

As luck would have it, a disastrous earthquake destroyed a large part of Jerash in 749 and it was followed by a series of subsequent earthquakes. In addition to the natural calamities, the city was also heavily damaged due to wars and other internal commotions. Jerash had already been abandoned for quite some time, when the Crusaders arrived in the city in the 12th century. The abandoned ruins of the glorious city remained neglected and buried under tons of rubbles and sand for centuries, till Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German Orientalist, discovered the site in 1806.

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Today, Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, which, apart from the Arch of Hadrian also include, among others, the Hippodrome, the Corinthian columns of the Roman temple of Artemis, the Temple of Zeus, the Colonnade of the nearly unique oval huge Forum, the Nymphaeum, two theatres and two communal baths.

The Arch of Hadrian, Jerash
The Arch of Hadrian, Jerash
Hippodrome and the Arch of Hadrian
Hippodrome and the Arch of Hadrian

Hadrian, the Roman emperor from 117 to 138, visited Jerash in the winter of 129/130 and an 11 m high triple-arched gateway was built in the city to celebrate his visit. The gateway was originally twice its present height and was possibly encompassed three enormous wooden doors. Known as the Arch of Hadrian, it has some unconventional architectural features. Its columns are decorated with capitals at the bottom, rather than the top. However, usually the capital forms the topmost broad area of a column, which mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it. The decorations above the base of the pillars, with the wreaths of carved acanthus leaves, are also rather unusual. Though basically it served as a commemorative arch, it was also an approach to the old Greco-Roman city of Gerasa.

The Jerash Temple of Artemis
The Jerash Temple of Artemis

Artemis of Greek religion was identified by the Romans with Diana, the daughter of Zeus. She was highly esteemed by the Hellenic population of Gerasa and was regarded as the protector goddess of the city. The temple of Artemis, dominating the city, was completed in AD 150, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius. The temple, with three entrances and a hexastyle portico with twelve columns, contained fine marble paneling and a richly decorated cult statue, within the cella or the inner chamber. Out of the twelve, eleven columns are still standing and the Corinthian capitals, decorating the columns, are properly preserved. Considered as the most beautiful and important temple of ancient Gerasa, it was converted into a fortress in the early 12th century, by a garrison stationed in the area. However, the fortress was subsequently captured and burned in AD 1121/1122, by Baldwin II, the King of Jerusalem. The inner walls of the ruined temple still bear the marks of the great fire.

Temple of Zeus in Jerash
Temple of Zeus in Jerash

The temple of Zeus, built in AD 162 over the remains of an earlier Roman temple, is located on the summit of a hill and towers high above the city. Once there was a magnificent stairway leading to the temple from the courtyard. The magnificent temple was badly damaged by severe earthquakes and erosion, yet it remains still retain the essence of its former granger.

The Nymphaeum, Jerash
The Nymphaeum, Jerash

The elegant Nymphaeum in the city of Jerash, constructed probably in AD191, is an elaborately decorated fountain, dedicated to the water nymphs. The two-storey construction was originally embellished with marble facings on the lower level, painted plaster on the upper level and topped with a half-dome roof. Once, water used to cascade through the heads of the seven carved lions into small basins on the sidewalk. In those days, such fountains were common in the Roman cities.

Forgotten and hidden for centuries under the ocean of sand, heaps of soil and tons of rubbles, Jerash stands for a fascinating example of Roman Urbanism, which is found throughout the Middle East. Jerash exquisitely represents a magnificent fusion of the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the traditions of the Arab Orient.

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Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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