Jerash & Ajloun

The old Roman city of Jerash lies about an hour north of Amman, about fifty kilometers from the Syrian border. Jerash, known in Roman times as Gerasa, was along with Amman (known then as Philadelphia) two of Jordan's most important members of the Roman Decapolis of cities in the Middle East. Jerash's fluorescence was after its conquest by the Roman General Pompey in the first century AD, and is believed to have been home to more than 20,000 inhabitants.

Jerash's gate is one of the better preserved parts of the walled city. Jerash was originally divided into two parts with this part being the public center, and the part which is the present day town of Jerash being the residential part that was linked by causeways. Immediately to the left as you enter the gate is the remains of the old hippodrome, where chariot races are still staged for tourists.

Ringed by columns, one of the central meeting areas for Jerash's residents was the well preserved Forum or Oval Plaza. One of the things that has amazed Karen and I is how blue the sky is here. After close to a year in Asia, where landscapes are diminished visually because of the haze caused in large part because of swidden agriculture, the skies here are startlingly clear. In parts of Thailand and Laos we found that locals were so accustomed to the smoky haze, that when we inquired about it, the response was usually "...what smoke?"

Above, the colonnaded street known as Cardo Maximus passes the cathedral (below), just one of more than a half dozen churches that dot the site. There is even the remains of one Synagogue on the site.

As the guides at Jerash will eagerly point out, these towering columns (left) near Jerash's largest temple, the Temple of Artemis, actually sway in the breeze. By wedging a coin under the column at its base you can actually see the movement cause the edge of the coin to go up and down. Despite the movement, there are thousands of columns here that have lasted more than 2000 years. Top right are two men in Bedouin dress that play the bagpipes in the ancient Roman Theater. These men are unpaid performers who work only for tips. You may note that one of these men appears in the masthead at the top of the page, which I made about a week and a half ago. I point this out for a reason. As I was returning to work on this page this morning I was reading some news stories on Yahoo when I came upon this piece of xenophobic hysteria about Rachel Ray being accused of being "sympathetic to terrorists" for wearing a fringed scarf in a Dunkin Donuts ad (hers was actually Paisley). Dunkin Donuts was forced to pull the ads. I swear that I took these photos before I new it could be construed as unpatriotic. I mean, just look at the deceptively sweet looking old man who tricked us into taking his photo. Certainly he must be a terrorist. I'll shut up about this now because I still want to be able to come home in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately this creates a dilemma about souvenirs.

A view back towards the entrance shows a little bit of the scale of this site. Beyond the columns in the foreground you can see the columns which surround the Oval Plaza (left center). Beyond the plaza the open flat area is the hippodrome. At top right in the distance is the Roman Theater.
      Our driver Khalid suggested that we visit the Qala'at ar-Rabad, the ar-Rabad Castle, at Ajloun about fifteen minutes west of Jerash. The castle, which sits on a hilltop commanding views of the valleys all around, is one of Jordans best examples of military architecture. Unfortunately, the signs on most of the items of interest inside the structure, including the description of how a catapult was used for hurling huge stones, were so comically mis-translated to such an extent as to render them indecipherable.

As you can see by one of the entrances to the castle, the castle perimeter was of a formidable construction designed to repel attack. Once inside yet another level of hefty interior walls provide even more protection. The castle's hilltop vantage point meant that an approaching enemy would be easily anticipated.

Inside, the castle's hallways give some idea of its scale.

Above left, this window niche reveals a thick wall with a thin slit that widens on the inside giving archers a wide field of view. From the castle rooftop the ridge of hills, just barely visible on the horizon, is Palestine.

On the roof of the castle the young girls at left brew coffee and tea for sale to tourists. As we approached Amman on the way back home, Khalid pointed out the settlement of al-Baqa at right. Al-Baqa, home to roughly 300,000, is one of the permanent settlements for Palestinian refugees here since the establishment of Israel in the forties. Jordan's 1.7 million Palestinian refugees make up approximately one third of the country's population. This does not take into account new refugees fleeing the effects of Israel's recent blockade. These are not the only refugees in Jordan though. Jordan has experienced a large influx of refugees from Iraq as well. The latter, however, although still referred to as refugees, are largely some of Iraq's wealthiest residents who have fled draining a substantial portion of that country's wealth.