By Antonio Malara
Gadara is the sixth chapter of my trip to Jordan and actually the last day we spent in this unique land. For that day it was planned to visit Gadara in the morning and Jerash in the afternoon, however the first visit we made was Pella, another city where there was an archaeological site. In other words, on the last day we would only see the remains of Roman cities. Personally, that morning I didn’t know of the further visit to Pella nor did I know the place.
Pella was about an hour away from Amman and we got there around 10:40 AM. We got off the bus and walked a bit until we arrived on a hill overlooking an incredible valley. Actually on the left side of the landscape there was a mountain that reminded me a little of Machaerus in shape, only that it was much smaller, it represented the only element of "disturbance" to the view. There on the hill where we were there was a structure, one part of which had a very large porch from which we could admire the valley while staying cool, under it a beautiful huge purple plant that created an incredible contrast with the yellow of the land that surrounded the place. The archaeological site was divided into two distinct parts, one on our left (under the small mountain) and the other a little larger just below us. Access to the site was closed with fences, I believe because it was still under construction. However, from our dominant position we could clearly see everything that the site offered. In the part below the mountain there were several standing columns and then many others lying on the ground. This was the reason that made me think that an excavation phase was in progress. On the horizon there was a square structure all in stone while just downstream another part that saw a series of columns all standing, probably remains of some temple.
This was roughly what we could see of the site but after a while I understood the true meaning of that visit. In a short time Don Valerio with the help of others of the group (I recommend reading Amman where I introduce the people who have been part of this trip) set up an altar on a table. Shortly thereafter he celebrated a mass in a setting and context that was simply unique. Although I did not follow the masses carefully, I still appreciated and enjoyed that moment and when we left shortly after the end, I was already homesick for the place.
We arrived in Gadara around 1 PM and already outside the parking lot where we stopped, we could see a large, very ancient wall. Personally I had not studied the details of the city of Gadara or Jerash, I only knew that they were ruins of Roman cities that dated back BC so I knew what I expected from an aesthetic point of view. I must say that during the whole trip I made the acquaintance of the "discovery" I mean that when we have only superficial knowledge of a place, we get excited more when we visit it in person. It had happened to me several times in Jordan and I was confident that the same thing could also happen while visiting Gadara. The impact with the city was singular in the sense that the site was not held as an archaeological place but as an ancient city still populated by people. Right after the entrance, on the long dirt road that ran alongside ancient walls, it was full of young people wandering around looking for some coins. I want to clarify that they were polite and correct only that they rightly hoped in the goodness of the tourists who always had some money to give. The singular fact was that these guys, respecting the place as well, lived their days there, in the ruins of ancient Gadara, giving a soul to a place that otherwise would have been too predictable. Of course this also meant that the place had no guardians, either for safety or preservation. Precisely for these reasons, Gadara immediately seemed to me a real city, a place in ruins perhaps because a hurricane had just passed rather than a city of a couple of centuries earlier. As I walked through the ruins I thought this and enjoyed the city with a different mood.
Just after a few minutes of walking we passed by the theater, the entrance was formed by a very high arch that covered a staircase, all in stone. Right there under the large arch of the entrance there was a young man, perhaps a worker who gave the right perspective to understand the size of the place. We didn't stop to see the theater as that visit was scheduled for the return. The dirt road led to a hill where on the right there were other ruins represented by a series of low arches one behind the other and above them the remains of columns. Looking from the left side, however, there was a view of the hills outside the walls of Gadara, a more modern landscape that in that context did not excite me that much. After this part we turned onto the main road, this was wide and long all in stone and almost entirely preserved. Here and there there were stone blocks missing from the road and all around was a continuous of remains, above all I was struck by entire columns completely lying on the ground. Arriving at a stretch of the road there was an ancient staircase that led to what looked like a square that overlooked the city, in reality it was the remains of the Byzantine Octagonal Church. This place was rectangular, with a view on part of Gadara and from there we could also see the Sea of Galilee. This area was surrounded by columns that seemed placed there more by logic than by chance because they formed a certain geometry. Personally, that place immediately fascinated me, it reminded me of a real place not of ruins. A place from another world like that seen in a science fiction movie or cartoon. In fact, as a child I watched one that was set in space but without time, the characters went around on board single-seater spacecraft designed in two-dimensional way and they often stopped in places that resembled the remains of the church where I was.
Continuing to climb we arrived at the Rest House, a sort of bar with services created in one of the ruins but still intact. From there the view was even more beautiful because we could see everything and have a greater awareness of what we had visited. From there Gadara had shrunk however from that point it was possible to look at its urban planning and appreciate the view of the Sea of Galilee which was much wider. The Rest House was a high natural magic as Jordan had accustomed us by now and right out there, under a tree that protected us from the sun and surrounded by other smaller and colorful trees, Don Valerio called us all together to read a another story. Unfortunately I don't remember the content but only a joke he made to us; as he spoke he referred to something that was similar to what we had seen in Pella the day before. Someone pointed out to him that we had visited Pella that morning and he slyly replied: “I know, I wanted to see if you were paying attention”.
On the way back, we stopped at the theater and visited it “inside”. It was in the typical Roman style but what struck me besides the very dark color of the stone was the fact that it was very small. The semicircle had a small diameter and very steep seats, I thought that design had to be perfect for viewing the shows, certainly still today if they had to do some theatrical representation or a concert, the view on the stage would be perfect and enjoyable better than in a new theater. That was the last visit and our farewell to Gadara, in all we stayed there for about an hour and at 2 PM we left to reach Jerash where we would have lunch and dive back into the past by visiting another site from the Roman era.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800