Thursday, February 26, 2015


A Roman holiday in the Jordanian sands

Executive summary by darmansjah

A warm desert breeze whispers softly through Jarash’s hundreds of Roman columns, the bruised and fallen, the proud and unbending alike. It swishes about the Oval Forum, witness to this city’s ancient glory. Just 30 miles north of Jordan’s capital, Amman, Jarash was a part of the Decapolis, a set of semiautonomous cities that stretched across the Levant. With the visit of Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 129, it became the temporary seat of an empire. A new city has arisen, but Jarash remains home to some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world.

“The city was covered by sand for so many years. Today, you can still feel how these people lived,” says tour guide Ayman Khattab. You can see the scars of chariots on the original stones along the Cardo Maximus. At the Hippodrome, you can almost hear the clash of gladiator battles. And at the South Theater, contemporary sounds emerge. Its annual summertime showcase of national and international music and poetry is Jordan’s preeminent cultural event. A modern concert surrounded by these ancient stones deserves a standing ovation. —Benjamin Orbach

Travel Tips

When to Go: Mid-April through June and September-October

Relevant Dates: The Jarash Festival of Culture and Arts is a multiweek, midsummer event typically beginning in early July.

Where to Stay: Lodging is limited in Jarash and abundant in the capital, Amman. Indulge in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Amman or the newly renovated (November 2012) Sheraton Amman Ali Nabil Hotel & Towers.

How to Get Around: Jarash is an easy day trip from Amman. Public buses are available, but hiring a taxi, private driver, or rental car is more efficient.

Where to Eat or Drink: In Amman, head downtown to Hashem for quick and cheap local eats (falafel, hummus, hot mint tea), and to stately Fakhr El-Din Restaurant for a sumptuous Lebanese feast. Save room for the dessert: Halawet el Jebn (sweetened cheese with semolina).

What to Buy: Skip the tourist bazaar in Jarash. Instead, spend an evening meandering through the coffee shops, boutiques, and shisha (hookah) cafés lining Amman’s lively Rainbow Street. Buy spices, kaftans, and trinkets from the traditional souks along King Faisal Street.

Cultural Tips: Dress conservatively. Revealing clothing is inappropriate and shorts are rarely worn outside of hotel pool areas.

What to Read Before You Go: Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar (2005). Originally published in France in 1951, this first-person narration blends fact and fiction to reveal inner workings of the emperor and his time.

Fun Fact: The wall in Britain is not the only place to get a feel for the extent of Hadrian’s empire. One of Jerash’s main attractions is Hadrian’s Arch, built to commemorate the emperor’s visit in A.D. 129.

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