Jerash (or Gerasa as it used to be known) is one of the best preserved Roman cities outside of Rome. The area has been settled since prehistoric times, but it did not become significant until General Pompey conquered the region in 63BC. Under the Romans the city prospered due to its position on the Via Nova Traiana, a highway between Aqaba and Damascus. The population reached 20,000 at its height. During the Byzantine and early Umayyad period, Jerash continued to thrive, but a devastating earthquake in 749AD left the city in ruins. Modern Jerash has a population around 30,000 and is built just to the east of the ruins, on top of the residential neighborhoods of Gerasa.
Visitors enter through Hadrian's arch, which was the Roman city's southern gate. Beyond that is the hippodrome, which features mock chariot races and sword fights every three hours during the day. It's a little silly, but still a pretty cool show. Through another gate is the main complex of ruins. The circular forum was the center of Roman civic life and is ringed with columns. To the left of the forum is the amphitheater, which once had a capacity of 5,000 (and still has a capacity of 3,000). Concerts and plays are still held there periodically throughout the summer.
Towards the end of the main street, which was once lined with shops and restaurants, is the Jerash's most spectacular ruin: the Temple of Jupiter. The stairs leading up to the temple are imposing and the surviving columns are magnificent. There's also a Byzantine church, with some well preserved mosaics (if you're not tired of mosaics by now). You can easily spend a whole afternoon here. As with most of Jordan's historic sites, you're free to explore just about anywhere you can reach. There's also a small museum on site which helps give a little context.
Ruins are a dime a dozen in Jordan, but Jerash is second only to Petra. It's also relatively easy to visit. Buses leave regularly from Amman's northern bus station and stop just down the street from the visitor's center and gift shop. Getting back can be a little more difficult as there's no designated bus station, but cars and minibuses to Amman shouldn't be too hard to find.
Hours: Open daily 08:00-16:00 October through April; 08:00-19:00 May through September
2.500JD Children (<15)