Jerash (Gerasa) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Jerash (Gerasa)
Walk in Gerasa
Artemis Temple

A Walk in Gerasa

We begin our walk with Hadrian's arch, which was positioned, we have seen, in accordance with the sacred geometry that ruled all the monuments in Gerasa. Hadrian succeeded Trajan, whom he'd helped in putting down a revolt by Diaspora Jews (115-117). No sooner was it quelled than preparations for another rebellion began in Judaea itself. Like the first revolt of 66-70 AD, these later uprisings were sparked by a belief that the time of the birthpangs had reached its climax and redemption was about to occur. We have no Josephus, however, to describe the revolts against Trajan and Hadrian; the sources are scanty and contradictory.

It seems likely that the Jews of Judaea were encouraged by the following fact: thinking to consolidate the empire and make it more defensible, Hadrian had pulled the Roman army out of all the lands conquered by Trajan east of the Euphrates. (The same policy led to the building of his famous wall in England.) The spectacle of a unilateral Roman withdrawal may have fired the Jews into thinking that they could make their land into a "hot potato" and win the same liberation.

By 129, the revolt was in full swing, led by a man nicknamed "Bar Kokhba," "son of a star," whom the rebels identified as the Messiah. (For this unconventional date, see Mantel, pp. 237-242.) The uprising spread beyond Judaea: the legion stationed at Bostra in Provincia Arabia was obliged to get involved. These circumstances explain why Hadrian wintered in Gerasa in 129-30 (Kraeling, p. 49). The arch commemorates his stay.

Hadrian's arch at Jerash

(A similar arch of Hadrian's, though much built over, is the so-called "Ecce Homo" on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem; it dates from after the revolt, when he banished the Jews from Jerusalem and rebuilt the city in Roman style. Pieces of a third Hadrianic arch have been found twelve miles south of Scythopolis, on the border between Galilee and Samaria.)

A few steps away is the hippodrome. It lines up, like the arch, toward the Temple of Artemis and the North Star. Exactly one Roman stadium long (244.05 meters) and 52 wide, it is the smallest known circus in the Roman East, estimated to have seated 15,000. It is also among the best reconstructed. The Gerasa hippodrome currently hosts R.A.C.E. (the Roman Army and Chariot Experience), a company that specializes in reenactments of marching formations, gladiator combat and actual chariot racing - all performed by Jordanian army regulars.

The race at Jerash

Continuing on the axis mundi, we reach the South Gate, similar in design to Hadrian's arch. Here we enter the oval plaza and begin to understand why there's so much fuss about Jerash:
Oval Plaza at Jerash

An oval plaza is unusual. (Many consider it the forum of Gerasa.) The Ionic columns were typical for the first century AD, so it was probably built in the initial surge of construction during the reign of Vespasian. A temple to Zeus had recently been finished after decades of work, and it stood on the same north-south axis as the nearby theater and the streets of the residential section (still visible today) between the decumani.

The Zeus Axis at Jerash

The photo below is shot from the platform of the Zeus temple.
Oval Plaza as seen from Zeus temple's platform

If we look at a detail in this picture, we can make out parts of the earlier shrines:
Early sanctuaries at Jerash

Standing with the five people in the picture above, then looking a little to the left of the camera, we see the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, as rebuilt in 166 AD:
Jerash: Temple of Zeus

Behind the temple is one of Jerash's best-renovated buildings: the South Theatre. It was erected during the reign of the hated Domitian (c. 92 AD), whose name was inscribed - and later eradicated - on several donors' inscriptions. The climb to the top row is worth the effort: it is the highest point in Gerasa. From here one can get an idea of the scope of the city, much of which remains to be excavated. This and the North Theater are central to the Jerash Arts Festival, an annual event. Combined, their almost 5000 seats fill up for performances by the world's greatest Arab singers.
Jerash: South Theater

Descending, we head back to the Oval Plaza and proceed through the Cardo.  The colonnades of the Plaza are Ionic, but those of the Cardo are Corinthian, a style typical of the buildings erected in Gerasa during the city's boom period in the 2nd century AD. The Gerasenes widened the street and replaced the Ionic columns from Vespasian's time.
Jerash: The Cardo

Less than a hundred meters up the street, on our left, is the macellum (Latin) or agora (Greek), a market. Eighty meters more and we reach the south Tetrakionion ("four columns," of which only the square foundations remain), where the group is standing in the photo below. Roman urban planners liked to place four columns at the intersection of the Cardo with the Decumanus, the main east-west street. In Gerasa there were two Decumani, as well as a Sacred Way, each joined by a bridge to the residential section.

Jerash: Many Pillars

About 100 meters north of the junction and west of the Cardo is the entrance to the so-called Cathedral.  Built on four rising terraces around 400 AD, it is the oldest church yet found at Gerasa. The steps leading up to it are two centuries older. They belonged to a temple, the basis of which has been found beneath the church.

A little farther with the Cardo and we reach the city's fountain or Nymphaeum, so named for the statues of nymphs that once graced such structures. Roman cities vied with one another for splendor, and the Nymphaeum of each was its central jewel. In Gerasa, as elsewhere, little remains, but that little remains quite something. Note the holes for pipes and the central basin:

Jerash: The Nymphaeum

A few steps further and we come to four huge columns, flanked by thirteen smaller on either side. We are on the sacred way that led westward and up to the Temple of Artemis. We shall not ascend yet. (We'll come back to this temple on a separate page). Rather, we continue north toward what looks like a gate. It is the entrance to the North Tetrapylon "four arches." Before reaching it we visit another, smaller theater on our left, entering from the back.

Jerash: The North Theater

This is the North Theatre, built in the 2nd century as an odeon (a small covered hall for poetry and music) with fourteen rows of seats. (Some of the seats have holes to hold the posts of the canopy.) The upper eight rows were added later, expanding the theater's capacity to 1600.

Unlike its companion to the south, the theater is on the axis of the master plan. In its earlier phase, it may have functioned as the city council. Some of the seats have names inscribed in them, and some of the names are preceded by phyl in Greek, an allusion to the tribes (phyloi) that sent representatives. Each of the ten or twelve tribes would have sent fifty. That would have filled most of the odeon.

The pillars at the top of the photo on the left above belong to the North Decumanus. We follow this eastward to the Tetrapylon ("four arches"), which has been rebuilt as a covered structure. From here to the north we find ourselves on the Cardo in its original, first-century form. The pillars and capitals are again Ionic, and the road is narrower. You can see in the satellite photo below that the north gate is subtly angled in order to meet the traffic from Pella.

Jerash: The northern section

We head back through the Tetrapylon in order to visit the Temple of Artemis.