I had booked onto the ‘Highlights of Jordan’ small group tour by G Adventures – and while, yes, I probably could have done Jordan more cheaply by going it alone (in particular some of the meals), I have no regrets about the fact that all of my transport and most of my main costs were sorted before I even entered Jordan. I also felt it was beneficial for my dissertation to ensure that I learnt as much as possible about the country while I was there, and would have hated to miss anything in the short time I had. As a bonus, it was a great group full of interesting people and our tour guide – Ayman – was exceptionally knowledgeable and wonderfully eccentric, so there was never a dull moment.
On our first day, we set off to Jerash to visit the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa situated in the north of Jordan – and it is considered to be one of the best preserved Roman cities outwith Italy. Much of the city was destroyed by earthquakes, and more still has been covered by modern Jerash, which I only say to impress upon you just how large the city of Gerasa must have been in its prime as what has been restored is incredible. A truly magnificent place (particularly for someone like me who cannot get enough of ancient ruins – you should have seen me in Pompeii!) We entered through Hadrian’s Arch, built commemoratively for a visit to the city by the Emperor Hadrian, and explored the hippodrome before heading through Philadelphia Gate into the city itself.
Gerasa was a meeting and trading point for traders coming from the North, South, East and West. We were greeted first by a vast oval forum, built in the Greco-Roman period and surrounded by an impressive colonnade. I’m not sure that my panoramic does it justice but it was huge. We then ventured up to the South Theatre, the larger of the two Roman theatres in Gerasa, which offers impressive views over the city and hosts the Jerash Festival of Music and Culture each summer. The column at the centre of the oval forum was recently erected to carry a flame during this festival.
Once again we had the city pretty much to ourselves, which definitely adds to the experience. We strolled northwards to explore some of the many varying places of worship on the site, first passing the remains of the Temple of Zeus, built in the 2nd Century AD, and soon reaching three Byzantine-era churches built together – churches of St Cosmos and St Damian, St John the Baptist and St George. Each church has mosaics on the floor, in various stages of disrepair, but the one on the floor of St Cosmos and St Damian is the best preserved. Following this, we approached another completely different building of worship: the Temple of Artemis, a vast, impressive precinct with fantastically preserved Corinthian columns.
There was so much to see in this city! It’s incredible to think that what has been uncovered is believed to be less than 25% of what was actually there (I hope I’ve written that down correctly, but I’m sure someone will keep me right if not!) We explored the smaller North Theatre (which is where the main image for this blog was taken!), looked out towards Damascus Gate and strolled back towards the Forum on the Cardo Maximus (main street) which is still paved in its original stone – you can even see the indentations made by chariot wheels! The Cardo even had an underground sewage system and would have been lined with shops, as well as a large fountain which would have been faced in marble and decorated with nymphs in its prime, but is still impressive today no-less. You could just picture the chaos of Gerasa’s marketplace in its day, people congregating, trading, bartering and arguing, camels and chariots clanking over the stones, the exotic smells and mingling languages under the hot sun. I’ve definitely missed things but I could go on for days. Wonderful stuff.
I will note that it felt absurd to be wandering around in my element so close – just 30 miles south or so – to the suffering of Syria, and it was saddening to learn how much my tour guide missed being able to take tour groups to Damascus and Palmyra. I’d like to thank him for painting a beautiful picture of what Syria once was and what he hopes it one day will be again.
All too soon it was over – although I consoled myself because the best (Petra) was still to come! I popped into the market to use the bathroom, and on my way in a man offered me a Jordanian headscarf to try on. I mumbled that I would get him on my way back, and carried on, instantly forgetting. However, on my way back, there he was, standing in the middle of the hallway with a headscarf primed and ready at my head height and next thing I knew it was tied round my head. I was happy to purchase it, especially as we were the only group there that morning, but drew the line at the traditional thobe and ‘beautiful dress for your daughter’ that I was then offered. Once everyone had bought what they wanted and refreshed themselves, we headed back onto the minivan and set off for a definite Bucket List activity – the Dead Sea!
Next time: the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, Madaba, and Karak Castle! And then: PETRA!