Gadara PDF Print E-mail
Written by Micah Key and Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Water from afar
"Athens of the East"
Demons into Swine

A Visit to Gadara

Upon entering the site, one meets the jumbled buildings of an abandoned Ottoman-era village, first constructed in the 1890s by recycling stones from the ruins. West of the village is the West Theater, built entirely of basalt. It could seat around 3,000 and included special high-backed seating for dignitaries. In the middle of a row stood a white marble statue of Tyche, the Fortune of every Roman city, which can be seen today in the museum, sans head.

Plan of Gadara

Gadara: West Theater

East of this theater was the acropolis, now obscured by the ruins of the Ottoman village. To the north is the Basilica Terrace. Here we find the foundations of a Byzantine church built above a row of shops. Its atrium is surrounded by white pillars. These stand in stark contrast to the central octagon at the altar, which is ringed by black basalt columns that probably supported a dome. Behind the altar stands a thin pink marble pillar with a cross carved into it. The entire structure sits on remains of a monumental building from the 2nd century AD.

Gadara: The basilica terrace

North of the Basilica Terrace is the colonnaded Decumanus Maximus, running east-west. This was the axis of the city's development, for there was little level space to the north or south. The fertile plateau on the east was left to agriculture. The city developed, therefore, to the west.

Gadara Decumanus

N. Theater and TempleThe Decumanus passes Byzantine baths to the western gate. Just beyond is the site-enclosure fence, but across the modern road the Decumanus continues past the hippodrome to another monumental gate, 1400 yards from the starting point. From here the road ran over the plain and down the slope to the Jordan and Scythopolis , thence to Caesarea Maritima or Ptolemais (Acco), where ships could be found to Egypt or Rome. (See the satellite map above.)

At the eastern end of the Decumanus Maximus are the remains of the so-called North Theater, today a depression in the hill—the stone seats are gone, having been recycled. Built in the 1st century AD, it was designed to line up approximately with the axis of a temple (to Zeus?) erected between 150 and 100 BC, that is, before the conquest by the Hasmoneans. At that time the area was outside the walls. This temple was destroyed not by the Hasmoneans, rather during the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 AD). In fact, Josephus claims to have taken Gadara. (He was not yet a historian, rather a top general leading the revolt in the north). After Rome re-established control, a new temple was built, this time aligned precisely with the theater. 

The walls enclose an area that is largely unexcavated. Archaeologists have uncovered but a fraction of the story that lies beneath this grassy hill.