Second only to Petra in tourist appeal, the ancient city of Jarash is remarkable for its long chain of human occupation. Here at a well-watered site in the hills of Gilead, remains from Neolithic times have been found, as well as Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and others. Jarash's golden age, however, arrived with Roman rule. Today it is acknowledged as one of the best-preserved province cities of the Roman Empire. Jarash was a member of the Decapolis, a dynamic commercial league of ten Graeco-Roman cities.
When Emperor Hadrian visited Jarash in 129 AD, it was already thriving. To honour its guest, the city raised a Triumphal Arch, just one part of a massive building programme. Today you can walk beneath the imposing South Gate and then make your way up the 'Street of Columns' - the Roman Cardo - running 600 metres north from the Oval Plaza. As you step over the tracks of chariot wheels, still visible in the paving stones, imagine prosperous citizens window-shopping beneath a covered sidewalk.
Jarash was an open city of freestanding structures richly embellished with marble and granite. Its engineering was so advanced that large parts of the city still survive today. Much more has been painstakingly restored by archaeological teams from around the world.
Held at Jarash from about mid July to mid-August, this festival features folklore dances by local and international groups, ballet, concerts, opera, popular singers, sales of traditional handicrafts, local theatrical plays and poetry competitions... all in the brilliantly floodlit dramatic surroundings of the Jarash ruins. The Jarash Festival is a must-see if you're visiting Jordan at the time, and worth coming for specially. Programmes are available from the Jarash Festival office, tel. (06) 5675199.
WHAT TO SEE
The star attraction in Jarash are the ruins themselves. Guidebooks, maps and information are available from the Visitors' Centre near the South Gate, tel. (02) 6351272. Opening hours 07:30-19:00 daily in winter, 07:30-20:30 in summer. Admission fees for Jarash are 5 JD.
Jarash Archaeological Museum situated in the ruins, tel. (02) 6352267. Hours 08:30-17:00 in winter, 08:30-18:00 in summer, 10:00-16:00 on official holidays. Opens daily. Admission free.