Today we woke up to blue skies and warmer weather. Great weather for a day trip to Aljoun and Jerash to learn more about the history of the Crusaders and Romans.
Aljoun and Jerash are northwest of Amman. We rented a car in Amman so we could take day trips today and tomorrow. It makes it easy to get around. And since we’ve now had more than 1 1/2 years of driving in Pristina, we believe we can handle any kind of traffic!! I should say, Sharon believes she can handle any kind of traffic. When we rent a car, we’ve found it’s best for me to handle the GPS/directions and for her to drive. And it works well for us!!
So let’s get on the road.
Aljoun is about a 55 kilometer drive north and west of Amman. Visitors go to this small town to see the Aljoun Castle. The castle, which was built in the 12th century, sits on a high hill overlooking the town.
The castle was initially built as a strategic location for the Muslims to defend themselves against the invading Crusaders. The castle’s history after that includes being demolished by the Mongols, serving as a military garrison for the Ottomans and being partially damaged by earthquakes in 1837 and 1937.
The strategic location that was picked for defense hundreds of years ago, today gives visitors impressive views overlooking the valleys surrounding it.
Jerash is about 25 minutes from Aljoun and is one of Jordan’s most popular tourist attractions. It has a history different than that of the castle, because it was founded much earlier. This area has been inhabited since Neolithic times. It was Alexander the Great who turned the area into a city prior to the Roman period. It is because of the Roman period that tourists come to the city. Jerash has some of the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.
We have visited many Roman sites during our travels, but this is one of the most impressive we’ve seen. It is a remarkably preserved site, primarily because of the dry desert air. One of the criticisms I had seen of the site was the lack of signage. But there must be new signage because we found it to be very thorough and helpful. In fact, the signs had the logo of USAID on them, so they must have been funded through that program. USAID is also a program that has helped Kosovo in many different ways.
So let’s go visit what is known as the “Pompeii of the Middle East”.
When one enters the site, they enter through Hadrian’s Arch. This triumphal arch was built to honor the visit of emperor Hadrian. It is one of the largest known arches of the Roman Empire. The featured image for today’s post shows this grand arch.
We’ve all heard about the Roman hippodromes. That’s where chariot races were held. The hippodrome in Jerash is the smallest known hippodrome, but it is also the best preserved, particularly the arched “carceres”. These served as the starting gates where the horses would be positioned. You can see them in the background of the picture below. It is believed this hippodrome could hold up to 17,000 people.
They perform a show at the hippodrome featuring Roman legionnaires, gladiators and chariots. We found this Roman Army and Chariot Experience show more informative than entertaining. Did you know that gladiator fights did not always end in death? Gladiators made their living fighting. It was also quite costly to train a gladiator and feed him. In fact, some of the gladiators would become big stars in the Roman world. Much different than portrayed in movies.
Forum and Cardo Maximus
One of the highlights of the site is the Forum with it’s columns set in an oval shaped plaza. This area was constructed in the 1st century AD.
From the Forum is the colonnaded Cardo Maximus. This served as the main street for the Roman community and extends for 800 meters.
In September of last year, Andrea Boccelli performed his first concert in Jordan on this historic site. What a night that would have been to see!!
Other Landmarks Built by the Romans
End of the Day
We left Jerash with the sun getting lower in the sky which created a nice backdrop with the ruins in the foreground.
And on the drive back to Amman, a spectacular sunset. A perfect end to a great day of History Thru Travel.