Jerash

Jerash is the site of the ruins of city in Jordan said to have been founded by Alexander the Great after he had conquered Egypt and left for Syria. It is one of the Decapolis, a group of ten cities whose cultural heritage is a blend of Greco-Roman and ancient Arabian traditions of the Mediterranean Basin. The original Arab and Semitic inhabitants of the pre-classical period had named their city Garshu. When the area fell to the Romans, they Hellenized the city’s name to Gerasa, which later became the Arabic Jerash.

The Romans absorbed the city into the province of Arabia, which also included Philadelphia (modern-day Amman). According to the historian Josephus, the city was mostly inhabited by Syrians with a small Jewish community. The city was granted self-autonomy under Roman suzerainty, along with the other cities of the Decapolis. This enabled peace and security and the citizens began their efforts to economic development and institution-building. The city was sufficiently important to the Romans that Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash circa 130 CE. The triumphal Arch of Hadrian was erected to commemorate the event.

Gerasa or Jerash flourished till the middle of the eight century, when the devastating Galilee earthquake of 749 CE destroyed large parts of the city. Subsequent earthquakes, including the Damascus earthquake a century later only added to the destruction of city, which had been unable to rebuild. In 1120, after the region fell into the hands of the Turks, an officer by the name of Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin established a garrison of forty men in Jerash and tasked them with converting the Temple of Artemis into a fortress.

During the crusades, Jerash came under the control of Baldwin II, the king of Jerusalem, who gutted the city before abandoning it. The city was resettled but fell into oblivion until it reappeared at the beginning of the Ottoman rule. The German traveler Ulrich Jasper Seetzen discovered the city and recognized it as Gerasa. The city was rediscovered by the world and a series of excavations is gradually revealing the history of the pre-classical Jerash.

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