Posted in Jordan

Jerash, Jordan: Roman Ruins of Gerasa

This card is a bit of a mystery as I have no idea how I got it! I “found” it this morning while going through a file folder of “unsorted scans”. I scanned it back in June 2015 but that offers no real clues. It was probably included as a “stiffener” in an order of stamps from an overseas dealer…

At any rate, it is my only postcard from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (المملكة الأردنية الهاشمية‎‎ — Al-Mamlakah Al-Urdunnīyah Al-Hāshimīyah) and I’m happy to have it. Jersash (جرش) is the capital and largest city of Jerash Governorate (محافظة جرش), which is situated in the north of Jordan, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of the national capital Amman towards Syria. Jerash Governorate’s geographical features vary from cold mountains to fertile valleys from 820 to 980 feet (250 to 300 meters) above sea level, suitable for growing a wide variety of crops.

Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa (Γέρασα), also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. Ancient Greek inscriptions from the city as well as literary sources from both Iamblichus and the Etymologicum Magnum support that the city was founded by Alexander the Great or his general Perdiccas, who settled aged Macedonian soldiers there (γῆρας – gēras means “old age” in Ancient Greek). This took place during the spring of 331 BC, when Alexander left Egypt, crossed Syria and then went to Mesopotamia.

After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis league of cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace in this area, which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and encouraged civic building activity.

Jerash is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the “Pompeii of the Middle East” or of Asia, referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation, since Jerash was never destroyed and buried by a single cataclysmic event, such as a volcanic eruption. Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. It was the birthplace of the mathematician Nicomachus (Νικόμαχος) of Gerasa  (c. 60 – c. 120 AD).

In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the province, and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129–130. The triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard wintering there.

The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. Despite its decline, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad period, as shown by recent excavations. The AD 749 Galilee earthquake destroyed large parts of Jerash, while subsequent earthquakes (847 Damascus earthquake) along with wars and turmoil contributed to additional destruction.

However, by the year 1119, during the period of the ِKingdom of Jerusalem, a garrison of forty men stationed in Jerash by Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus converted the Temple of Artemis into a fortress which was captured by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem (1118-31), and utterly destroyed. Afterwards, the Crusaders abandoned Jerash for Sakib (Seecip) on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem with Seljuk Empire. They initiated a re-treatment of the eastern border of settlement. This, however, was not yet permanent, since Jerash re-appeared on Ottoman tax registers of the sixteenth century.

Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Ayyubid, Mamluk Sultanate, and Ottoman periods.

Most of the ruins of Jerash remained buried in the soil for hundreds of years until they were discovered by German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. In addition to the role of the people of old villages near Jerash, the process of building the modern city of Jerash was mainly done by the resettlement of Circassian Muslims by the Ottoman authorities; the Circassians came to Jerash from the Caucasus by the year 1885-6 after the Russo-Turkish War. Subsequently, a community of people from Syria came to the area by the time of the Emirate of Transjordan.

Excavation and restoration of Jerash has been almost continuous since the 1920s. Jerash has developed dramatically in the last century with the growing importance of the tourism industry to the city.

Jerash is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, closely behind the splendid ruins of Petra. On the western side of the city, which contained most of the representative buildings, the ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment, with the modern city sprawling to the east of the river which once divided ancient Jerash in two.

Recently the city of Jerash has expanded to include many of the surrounding villages, including Souf, Dairelliat, Thougretasfour, Jaba, Aljbarat and Majar. Other important villages in the governorate include: Kitteh, Sakib, Nahlé, Burma, Mustabah, Jubba, Raimoun (biblical Ramoth-Gilead), Kufr Khall, Balila, and Qafqafa.

Since 1981, the old city of Jerash has hosted the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, a three-week-long summer program of Arabic and international dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.

In addition, performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) were started at the hippodrome in Jerash. The show runs twice daily, at 11am and at 2pm, and at 10am on Fridays, except Tuesdays. It features forty-five legionaries in full armor in a display of Roman army drill and battle tactics, ten gladiators fighting “to the death” and several Roman chariots competing in a classical seven-lap race around the ancient hippodrome.

According to Jordan Times, the number of tourists who visited the ancient city of Jerash reached 214,000 during 2005. Director of Jerash Antiquities Department Mohammad Balawneh said that the number of non-Jordanian tourists was 182,000 that year, adding that the sum of entry charges reached JD900,000.