Saturday, February 9, 2008

Exploring Amman and Jerash

Yesterday I got the chance to explore some of the fascinating sights in and around Amman. Mustafa, one of the IRD drivers, took myself and Leonard (a finance officer from one of our Iraq programs) to the Citadel, Roman Theater and Jerash.

The Citadel ruins sit on the highest hill of Amman (Jabal al-Qala'a) at about 850m above sea level. The Roman leaders picked a great spot to build; the view of Amman sprawled out on the surrounding hills is quite impressive. Square buildings, mostly white limestone, go on and on for as far as I could see!

Artifacts found at the Citadel have been dated to the Bronze Age (BC 2000). The citadel ruins are quite impressive. There is an old temple, the Temple of Hercules, which back in its day had a great view of the Roman Theater down below! All that remains now are some stones which give an idea of the floor plan and big Corinthian columns.
The Citadel’s most impressive building is the Islamic Umayyad Palace, built in the 8th century. The palace was an extensive complex of royal and residential buildings but it wasn’t home to the Royals for long (only about 30 years) when it was destroyed by an earthquake and never fully rebuilt. There was lots of ruins here to explore and try to imagine the layout and what it was like back then!

The National Archeological Museum, also on the Citadel grounds, is a very unassuming little building but it has a remarkable wealth of artifacts including 6000 year old skulls from Jericho, pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and some of the world’s earliest sculptures dating back to BC6500.

After visiting these sites in Amman, we traveled about 45 miles North to the city of Jerash. The countryside north of Amman gets a little bit more temperate and allows for some farming, mostly of olives. Within the modern city of Jerash lies the ruins of the large ancient Roman City known as Gerasa. This city is considered the most well preserved of all ancient Roman ruins in the Middle East. Artifacts found within the city grounds date back over 6500 years! I’ve been to Rome and seen the ruins there, but I can’t recall any that were as grand as these (except maybe the coliseum).
I spent a good 3 hours wandering among the ruins. Outside of the city walls was the Hippodrome, which was the old sports field for chariot races. As I entered the city through the South Gate I stepped into a huge oval plaza, or forum, that was quite well preserved. From here I got an initial grasp of just how big this old city really is! To the north is a large colonnaded street that stretches for almost 1km to the North Gate. On either side of the street are the ruins of many, many buildings that used to be churches, markets, residences, palaces, fountains, temples, etc.

Wandering through these ancient ruins, imagining the history, it’s amazing to look out to the opposite hill and see the modern city of Jerash with its many Arab style residences piled right next to each other on the side of a hill. It’s a definite picture of contrasts!

It was so great to be able to see these sites. Photos don’t do justice, you have to see these places to even come close to understanding the size, grandeur and history…regardless, many pictures are posted on my photo site!

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