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Jerash, located 48 kilometers north of Amman is considered one of the largest and most well-preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world outside Italy. To this day, its colonnaded streets, baths, theaters, plazas and arches remain in exceptional condition. Within the remaining city walls, archaeologists have found the ruins of settlements dating back to the Neolithic Age, indicating human occupation at this location for more than 6500 years. This is not surprising, as the area is ideally suited for human habitation.
Jerash is fed year-round with water, while its altitude of 500 meters gives it a temperate climate and excellent visibility over the surrounding low-lying areas.
The history of Jerash is a blend of the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient. Indeed, the name of the city itself reflects this interaction. The earliest Arab/Semitic inhabitants, who lived in the area during the pre-classical period of the first millenium BC, named their village Garshu. The Romans later Hellenised the former Arabic name of Garshu into Gerasa, and the Bible refers to “the region of the Gerasenes” (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). At the end of the 19th century, the Arab and Circassian inhabitants of the small rural settlement transformed the Roman Gerasa into the Arabic Jerash.
It was not until the days of Alexander the Great that Jerash truly began to prosper. After falling under the rule of the Seleucid King Antioch in the second century BC, Jerash was conquered by the Roman Emperor Pompey in 63 BC. It was during the period of Roman rule that Jerash, then known as Gerasa, enjoyed its golden age.
As the third century progressed, shipping began to supplant overland caravans as the main route for commerce. Jerash thus fell into decline as its previously lucrative trade routes became less traveled and less valuable. This trend was speeded by frequent uprisings against the Romans—such as the destruction of Palmyra in 273AD—that made the overland routes more dangerous.
In the year 330 CE, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and proclaimed it the state religion of the empire’s eastern, or Byzantine, half. By the middle of the fifth century, Christianity had become the major religion of the region and numerous churches were constructed in Jerash. In fact, most of these were built of stones taken from pagan temples. No more churches were built after the year 611 AD.
Jerash was hit further by the Persian invasion of 614 AD, which also sacked Damascus and Jerusalem, and by the Muslim conquest of 636 AD. The city was rocked again in the year 747 AD by a series of earthquakes, and its population shrunk to about 4000. Although the site was occupied in the early Islamic period until around 800 AD, Jerash was nothing more than a small rural village.
The Crusaders described Jerash as uninhabited, and it remained abandoned until its rediscovery in 1806, when Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveler, came across and recognized a small part of the ruins. The ancient city was buried in sand, which accounts for its remarkable preservation. It has been gradually revealed through a series of excavations which commenced in 1925, and continue to this day.
Visitors to Jerash in late July or early August can enjoy the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts an exciting celebration of both Jordanian and international culture. The ancient Roman amphitheater comes to life once more as dancers, musicians, acrobats, theatrical troupes and others from all over the world come to celebrate the link between ancient and modern culture in Jordan.

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