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Towards the Syrian border in Jordan, north of Amman, you find some astonishing remains from Roman times and an important Muslim castle. The two Roman remains are of the Roman cities Gadara (Umm Qais/Qays) and Gerasa in the modern town of Jarash/Jerash. The Roman ruins of Jerash should be (!!) a UNESCO World Heritage site. The castle of Ajlun is just in between them and is a perfect spot to have lunch. These three sites make a nice day tour from Amman and this is exactly what I did with my family during our Christmas holidays in Jordan.
Roman ruins of Jerash
If you drive from Amman early morning you can visit the Roman ruins of Jerash and Ajlun castle before lunch time. First drive to the Roman ruins of Jerash (sometimes written Jarash) which are located an hour drive north of Amman. In Roman times the city was called Gerasa of which you can visit now the remains. We arrived at the parking lot and we saw a big arch and it was difficult to see more behind the arch; we first thought it was a small place but soon it seemed we were totally wrong.
Let’s start with a bit of history. Excavations show settlement dating back to the Bronze Age from the 32rd to the 12st century BC. A recent discovery of human skulls might date this to the Neolithic period even centuries older. The city Jerash, or in Roman times called Gerasa, was built by Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC. Jerash flourished from the 1st century AD onwards and reached a huge population size. It was during the Persian invasion the city declined and an earthquake finished it off. During the time after it was inhabited by small groups for small periods of time. Currently most of the Roman ruins of Jerash have been excavated but this still continues today and more is discovered every year.
We bought entrance tickets and walked towards the arch, which is called the Hadrian’s Arch after a Roman emperor. There we realized that the Roman ruins of Jerash are enormous. Behind the arch you find the hippodrome which is very nice preserved with some churches next to it with beautiful mosaic floors. If you walk further you come at the side entrance where our tickets were checked again and you walk into the forum surrounded by a colonnade. My eyes where wide open and surprised by the preservation state of the Roman ruins of Jerash. They are so awesome! See more in the gallery below. So beautiful!
We continued our walk clockwise stopping first at the two theatres. From there we walked along several small temples and other structures towards the temples of Zeus and Artemis. You have then arrived nearly at the end of the Roman ruins of Jerash. Here you can see some baths and before continuing back to the entrance over the colonnaded street to the forum. The state of preservation as I said is just amazing; I have never seen something like this before. After our eyes had seen all of it and just standing for 10 minutes at the forum to absorb the beauty we continued to the Ajlun castle.
The castle of Ajlun
The Ajlun castle is located a short drive from Jerash and best visited directly after the Roman ruins of Jerash before taking lunch in Ajlun city. When you approach the castle you have a great view on the hill-top with the Ajlun castle.
The Ajlun castle is a 12th century castle built by the Muslims. It protected the people from the crusaders which were camping on the other side of the Jordan valley with several Bedouin groups. During several centuries it protected the three Wadi’s around it. In the mid-13th century it got partly destroyed by the Mongols but also restored again. It has been in use till the early 19th century when an earthquake destroyed most of it and again in the early 20th century. Today it is open for the public to visit the partly restored castle.
The Ajlun castle is easily explored in an hour. You find several passage ways, halls which are mainly empty and the top some destroyed parts of the castle. You have a beautiful view over the Wadi’s around the hill which you can see in the gallery below. The castle houses a small museum with artifacts from the region. We finished exploring and went to Ajlun city for a small snack after which we continued more close to the Syrian border to Umm Qais.
Umm Qais Roman Ruins
Umm-Qais is a city in northern Jordan where Jordan, Israel and Syria come together. In ancient Roman and Greek times the city was called Gadara of which the remains can be visited now. The drive up the hills gives great views over the sea of Tiberias; an amazing drive to see how green the north of Jordan is! Once we arrived at the parking lot people were really surprised to see a western family driving all the way up there. We felt really welcomed!
The Roman city dates back several centuries BC and the most important remains are the theatre, the main road with a colonnade, the hippodrome and several temples and minor buildings. The very interesting thing is that many buildings are built from the local black basalt stones giving the remains a totally different look as other Roman remains; a uniqueness. We arrived pretty late afternoon due to quite some stops on the way there including Pella which you should skip; it’s too much for a day. At the time of our visit the war in Syria was still ongoing but we did not notice anything of that except a plane flying over so now and then; we felt perfectly safe this close to Syria.
We walked the site for an hour or so ending at the restaurant on site when I looked at the menu it said Jordan beer. As Jordan is a Muslim country I didn’t know they had their own beer. My first experience with Carakale beer of which I visited the brewery later (trip report here). We ordered some typical Jordan dishes with Jordan wine and beer. At that time the sun disappeared behind the Roman remains we continued our journey back to Amman which was still almost a two-hour drive away.
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Gallery Roman ruins of Jerash, Umm Qais and the Ajlun Castle
Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.