Dan and I spent an afternoon visiting the ancient city of Jerash (or rather, Gerasa) back in May on our trip to Jordan. It was a great experience and recommended! Here is some information on our visit.
WHAT IS “JERASH” A/K/A THE POMPEII OF THE EAST?
Jerash is now a modern city in Northern Jordan, a little less than 1 hour from Amman by car. While being its own city, Jerash is best known as the home of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, which is known, at least amongst archaeologist and historians, to be one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. Frequently referred to as the “Pompeii of the East” by those in the know (because its so well preserved, not because of any volcano eruptions), it’s definitely some of the best preserved ruins that I’ve seen worldwide. Modern-day Jerash is very much a tourist town, but ancient Gerasa enjoyed much success as a trading post and a favorite city of Roman Emperor Hadrian, before eventually falling out of favor and into ruin. Modern-day Jerash is now the perfect place to day trip from Amman.
HOW TO GET TO JERASH FROM AMMAN
The easiest way to travel between and Jerash is to take a car. There is parking on site. We hired a driver, which was easy as we didn’t have to think about anything. There are many tours going from Amman to Jerash every day and taxis also make the easy trip. Many tours pair a Jerash visit with a stop at Aljoun Castle or Umm Qais. We also visited Aljoun Castle on our day tour and I recommend it.
A bus also runs between Amman and Jerash, but that seemed too complicated for our half-day trip.
WHAT TO SEE IN JERASH AND HOW LONG TO STAY?
The main thing to see in Jerash is the ancient city! Some tourists stay the night, but a day trip from Amman will suffice for most. While tourists can walk through Jerash on their own, I recommend hiring a guide so you know what you are looking at in Jerash. English explanations are few and far between.
While I cannot possibly explain everything we saw in Jerash (it was a lot of information!), I will walk through some of the highlights for purposes of your own trip planning. In total, plan to spend 2 hours walking through Jerash’s main sites, more if you have a particular interest or want to participate in the Roman Chariot races or see the bagpipe performance (yes, bagpipes – keep reading!).
The first and most famous structure in Ancient Gerasa is Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian’s Arch is located out in the open prior to buying tickets, so everyone can see it. Hadrian’s Arch is a Roman structure built to honor the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian to the city in the winter of 129–130. It used to have wooden doors similar to those on the Souther Gate, but those are long gone. Arrive early to miss hawkers, who hang under the Arch, and take pictures without other tourists.
The next site that I visited is the Hippodrome (i.e. an ancient Roman chariot racetrack). While not in great shape currently, I enjoyed the Hippodrome more for the ability to climb on the seats and the views of Hadrian’s Arch from inside. Like Hadrian’s Arch guests can visit the Hippodrome without purchasing entry into Jerash. Apparently during non-COVID times, chariot races are put on for guests certain days of the week called the “RACE,” the Roman Army and Chariot Experience. Too bad we missed out.
After the Hippodrome, guests must pay about $15 USD to enter the the park holding most of the ruins, which I thought was very much worth the entry fee. Guests purchase tickets and enter the park at the South Gate, which is similar to Hadrian’s Gate, but smaller.
On entrance, guests will immediately see the Forum, which is a large oval space lined with many ancient columns. Its quite well-preserved ruins and very Instagrammable. In fact, its shocking how much better preserved this Forum is as compared to the Roman Forum in Rome! You’ll want a lot of pictures. If you have a guide, you will be treated to some very specific information about the Forum, its purpose, and even the guide pointing out chariot tracks in the ground.
We next walked down The Cardo, which is a colonnaded street that was once lined with shops, restaurants, buildings, and homes. It’s quite impressive that so many columns remain standing. Again, a guide will give you lots of specific information and point out really interesting bits that you may not notice otherwise. You will also walk by the beautiful the Nymphaeum, which I totally neglected to take pictures of!
We eventually ran into 1 of 2 Roman Amphitheaters on site (opposite end from the Southern Gate), and while the smaller of the two, this one was my favorite, probably due to the coloring on the floor. It was very cool to see without any other tourists in the theater.
The Temple of Artemis is also highlights of Jerash, which was a temple dedicated to Artemis, the patron goddess of Jerash. Be sure to ask your tour guide for some of the fun social media pictures here.
The second Roman Amphitheater, which is also a must see, is located near the entrance to Jerash and is still used for live concerts and productions! And, don’t miss the bagpipe players in traditional Jordanian military dress. I never got the full story on them, but they play very well for tourists and the Scottish thistle flower is found throughout Jerash (here’s an article describing the Jordanian relationship with the bagpipe/Scotland if you’re curious). The performance is free, but there is a box for tips. The bagpipe players were playing during our visit, despite COVID-restrictions. I missed a video; they were too fun to watch!
After walking all over Jerash, there is a small, very well air conditioned museum with Jerash artifacts just outside the entrance to the park. It’s worth a few minute stroll. Interesting, as you walk through Jerash you will probably see people actively excavating Jerash. Professionals think there is much more to be discovered here. We walked by many partially excavated sites that just looked so interesting.
DO I NEED A GUIDE
I do think tourists need a Jerash guide. Jerash is incredible, but there are very, very few signs telling tourists what they are viewing. Guides really give life to Jerash. Some tours from Amman come with a guide, but if you are on your own or your tour does not, there is a small trailer near the main ticketed entrance where guides sit and sell their services for approximately 30 JOR per 1 hour tour. I was skeptical about this, but our guide was terrific and well worth the cost. Guides speak a variety of languages and start when the park opens, but more arrive as the day goes on.
WHAT TO BRING AND WEAR TO JERASH.
Jerash is not a religious site, so tourist can wear whatever; however, keep in mind Jordan is a somewhat conservative country. I recommend brining water, especially in the summer, as it can get hot! Particularly since there is basically no cover in Jerash. I also recommend brining sturdy walking shoes and a hat (due to the sun and lack of cover) and wearing sunscreen. I wore low top hiking boots and still fell on the rocks, so the shoes are key.
FOOD AND DRINK
While I recommend bringing water to Jerash, you can buy water easily in the souk leading up to Jerash (described below). There is also a touristy restaurant next to the official ticket entrance to Jerash. We did not eat here, but it seemed fine. The restaurant sells ice cream and non-alcoholic drinks to go. I heard it described as “over priced” tourist fare. The soda I purchased was reasonable.
Between the parking lot and entering Jerash, tourists walk through a small, very touristy souk. Hawkers will try their best to sell you something. Its largely the standard Jordanian souk-fare, but be sure to bargain and pro tip from Dan, you can usually get a better deal if you bundle more items into your purchase. For example, you may be able to get 1 magnet for 1 JOR or 3 magnets fo 1 JOR, but the seller will not likely lower the price of 1 magnet alone.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Jerash: This is tourism Jordan’s official website regarding Jerash. Jerash puts on a festival for a few weeks in the summer that people raved about. Check the website to see if your dates align.
Our tour: We took the From Amman: Jerash, Aljoun Castle, and Umm Qais tour from Amman on GetYourGuide.com. There are lots of these types of trips available from Amman. Ours was private and only included Jerash and Aljoun Castle, not Umm Qais. It also did not include a tour guide, only a driver. I thought this was deceptive based on the description, but I don’t think its so uncommon. The prices is currently listed as a whopping $220 per person; we paid $50 per person. I would shop around for a lower priced trip.