The ancient Roman city of Jerash (originally known as Gerasa) is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman sites in the world. It’s often referred to as the Pompeii of the Middle East and it’s a must-see for history and archaeology lovers.
Dating back to the 1st century AD, the ruins give you a feel for what Roman streets and markets might have been like all those centuries ago. Considering how old it is and what it has been through, the Jerash archaeological site is extremely well preserved. Most of this ancient city was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD. The ruins were, however, re-discovered in 1806 by German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen and have been in the process of excavation ever since.
The site is huge and with excavation still happening, allow yourself plenty of time to get lost in these incredible ruins. We’d recommend at least two and a half hours and more if you have the time, especially if you want to visit the museum as well.
Where are the ancient ruins of Jerash?
The archaeological ruins of Jerash are only 50 kilometres away from Amman, the capital of Jordan, so it’s an easy day trip to add to your Jordan itinerary.
How to get to Jerash?
The cheapest option is to go there by public bus. From anywhere in Amman, catch a yellow taxi to the Northern bus terminal and take a bus to Jerash from there. The Jerash bus station is only a five-minute walk from the entrance to the site. Public buses in Jordan do not run on a schedule. So turn up, buy your ticket and the bus will depart when it’s full!
A one-way ticket to Jerash from Amman on a public bus costs around 1 JD/person.
If you are travelling around Jordan by yourself and have hired a car, take Route 35 out of the city. The drive is easy and only takes about forty-five minutes.
Hire a driver
If you don’t like any of the above options, another easy way is to hire a driver for the day to take you to the ruins. You will need to negotiate the cost depending on how long you intend to stay at the site. It’s cheaper to hire a driver for the day than to pay for a taxi both ways.
What’s there to see in the archaeological site?
Hadrian’s Arch or Triumphal Arch
The first thing you see when you enter the site is the Hadrian’s Arch. This impressive arch was originally constructed to honour the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian but was eventually meant to become the city’s southern gate. It is one of the largest known arches of the Roman Empire. The thirteen-meter tall arch was once twice its current size and included three enormous wooden doors.
This huge arena was originally 245 metres long and 52 metres wide, seating more than 15,000 spectators at a time for chariot races and other sports. It is unclear when construction began but it is estimated between the mid-second and the third century AD.
The northern part of the hippodrome was transformed into an amphitheatre for gladiator fights during the late 4th century, while the southern part was mostly abandoned.
It was then turned into a quarry between the 6th and 8th centuries when the stone was taken away to repair the city walls. During the plague in the 8th century, the area was used as a mass grave for burying hundreds of victims. The earthquake of 749 AD led to the final destruction of the hippodrome.
For those wanting a taste of old Roman fun, there are daily performances of the show “Roman Army and Chariot Experience” held inside the hippodrome. This show involves gladiator fights, legionaries and two-horse chariot races.
The South Gate
North of the hippodrome stands the imposing South Gate. It is believed that the South Gate was constructed around the AD 129/130. Originally serving as the main entrance into Gerasa for those approaching from Philadelphia (now called Amman, the Jordan capital). It has striking similarities to the later built Hadrian Arch.
Not far from the impressive South Gate, is the Forum. The Forum is right in the middle of the ancient city and is one of Jerash’s highlights. It dates back to 110 AD and is a massive oval plaza framed by fifty-six Ionic columns and paved with limestone slabs. The Forum is ninety metres long by eighty metres wide and has an unusual oval shape which was necessary to connect the Cardo Maximus with the Temple of Zeus. It was once used as a marketplace and was the main focus of the city’s social and political life.
To appreciate the forum at its best, you need to see it from above. You can get this view by climbing the steps to the Temple of Zeus.
The Colonnaded Street (Cardo Maximus)
The Colonnaded Street is the main street of this ancient Roman city. During Roman times, it was called Cardo Maximus. It was the main artery of the city and was lined by two rows of columns on each side. Walking down this street to the North gate is pretty impressive.
Located on the western side of Cardo Maximus, the Nymphaeum is Jerash’s main ornamental fountain. Constructed from around AD 191, it was dedicated to the water nymphs. The two-storey Nymphaeum was beautifully decorated with a marble facing on its lower level, painted stucco on its upper level, and was topped with a half dome. Water spouted from the mouths of several carved lion heads, out into a large pool at the front.
The North Theatre was built in 165AD and originally only contained fourteen rows of seats. It was mainly used for performances and city council meetings. In 235AD, the theatre was doubled in size to its current capacity of 1,600.
Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was built on one of the highest points and dominated the entire city. This temple was built as a shrine to Artemis, the patron goddess of Gerasa. The construction of the Temple of Artemis began in the 2nd century AD, but it was never finished. Only twelve columns out of the planned thirty-two were erected. Nowadays, only eleven of them still stand.
The South Theatre was built in 90 – 92 AD and can seat more than 3000 spectators. The South Theatre was originally a two-storey structure and the first level of the stage has been reconstructed and is still in use today. The theatre has remarkable acoustics, allowing a speaker at the centre of the orchestra floor to be heard throughout the auditorium, without having to raise their voice.
Climb up to the last few rows of seats for an amazing view of the ancient city, as well as the modern city of Jerash.
The Archaeological Museum was established in 1923. In 1985, it was moved from inside a vault in the courtyard of the Artemis Temple, to a renovated old rest house.
The museum is home to large collections of pottery, glass, metals, mosaics, coins, precious stones, figurines, statues, stones and marble alters.
Things to know before your visit
How much is the entrance fee?
Jerash costs 10 JD/person to enter, which includes entrance to the Archaeology Museum.
If you want to find out more in-depth information about the site and learn more about its history, you can hire a private tour guide. Many hang around the entrance.
What are the opening hours?
The site’s winter hours are from 8 am till 4 pm, while summer hours are 8 am till 8 pm. Fridays and official holidays are open from 9 am till 4 pm. During the month of Ramadan, the site is open from 8 am till 3 pm.
When is the best time to visit?
Leave Amman as early as possible to reach the site by opening time. We visited in January, which is low season in Jordan, and arrived just before opening. There was no-one else insight and for the first half-hour, we nearly had the site to ourselves. Eventually, a coach-load of tourists arrived but we had a head start on them and it was perfectly quiet and enjoyable.
Find accommodation in Amman
If you’re looking for accommodation in Amman, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major hotel search engines. We use them all the time.