By Antonio Malara
Jerash was the last stop of the unforgettable trip to Jordan, we arrived very late after more than an hour of travel from Gadara. The plan was to have lunch there but when we sat down in the beautiful restaurant right near the archaeological site, it was already 3:50 PM. There and then no one noticed that we were definitely late and we had lunch as if we were actually ahead of our time. Probably the carefree air of the end of the trip had alleviated all tensions making us forget that that last visit was not only important but also demanding. In other words, the last possible entrance to the Jerash site seems to me to have been for 5 PM and we got there only ten minutes before they closed. This is because towards the end of the lunch someone more careful noticed that it was very late, so thanks to the charisma and severity of Don Valerio who started giving orders out loud, we succeeded in our goal.
At 4:50 PM we were inside the site or more precisely we were outside the Arch of Hadrian from where we could also see part of the hippodrome, the final part shaped like a curve. The Arch of Hadrian was a huge entrance "door" formed by three large arches, a larger central one and two smaller sides. Four columns along the structure and two niches above the small arches completed the structure together with the triangular architrave. The great arch was not only beautiful and imposing but also in perfect condition, looking at it closely there were still many details even on the capitals. Jerash appeared suddenly immediately after crossing the arch, developed on an immense hill we could see all its great extension. In the distance was an incredible series of arches more or less large according to their distance, on the left there was the long wall of the hippodrome. Here too the dominant color was yellow this time because of the stone with which the ancient city was built. On the right, however, we could see the panorama of the new city which, however, did not interfere with the view of the ancient Greek-Roman city. The long road led us to the "Southern Gate", this structure was similar to Hadrian's Arch but much smaller and much of the upper structure had collapsed. Also in that area there were high walls that were intact, truly incredible, they seemed to have been recently built as they were preserved. While we were standing there, I noticed that compared to the other sites seen in Jordan, Jerash saw the presence of many guardians scattered throughout the site. However they were more of a deterrent, careful and vigilant but never intrusive or severe with tourists.
The walk led us to the Forum this was truly suggestive and singular. A huge circle formed by yellow columns all joined by beams which, thanks also to the flooring made of large stone blocks, gave the impression of having gone back in time. In fact, if up to that point Jerash gave the impression of an archaeological site, arriving at the Forum really seemed to be in a historical period before Christ. Personally, that structure gave me the impression of a "Bernini's Colonnade" but from a different era. Perhaps because it reminded me of the work present at the Vatican, I had the impression of having been there before, but having never been to Jerash and having never seen a similar structure, I thought that that feeling was a mix of memories between things seen and dream. The Forum not only evoked ancient times but its particular structure (it was more egg-shaped than round) gave photographic cues and different perspectives based on the position in relation to the columns.
Arriving at the Southern Theater, we went from a new structure to a much more familiar one, the visit to the theater was interesting and entertaining but not overwhelming from an architectural point of view. The theater, much larger than that of Gadara, was very well preserved except for some parts of the terraces which were almost eroded. However that particular, in that context, seemed a positive note, the mark that the theater was truly ancient. The same goes for the stage, it was so well preserved that if it were not for the lack of some walls behind it, it looked like an ancient but recently built architecture. We witnessed a short musical number performed by three men, one of whom played the bagpipes and two used small drums. In general, the theater did not impress me that much because since I was a child I have been many times in the Greek Theater of Taormina, very similar in structure but much bigger and in a breathtaking panoramic context.
The time available to us was not much and after the visit to the theater the group broke up so that everyone was free to see the part they preferred. In general we were recommended to see a particular structure and with my sister we headed towards it. We arrived in a hilly part from where it was possible to see both the ancient Jerash with its columns and the modern city behind them. We started taking photos with unique perspectives and continued our journey like this, stopping near ancient walls or some particular structure to immortalize everything. Surely what Jerash was not lacking were the columns, it was incredible how many there were, as I walked I tried to imagine how they could be placed in the urbanized context. Surely in its time Jerash must have been a stupendous and fascinating city, a unique and impressive architecture.
At around 6 PM we arrived at the Temple of Artemis which was the site we had been recommended to visit. The temple was also very characteristic because of its columns and also for its position. There were about ten columns and the temple was in a higher position than the road. This meant that the columns were even more impressive and being distributed even in depth, they gave a beautiful three-dimensional effect. To access the temple we had to climb a small staircase which, due to its design, I believe, was recently rebuilt just to give access. Inside the temple, beyond the base of the columns distributed on the surface, there was only a sort of altar, empty and in the shape of an arch. From that raised perspective, however, there was also a much broader view of the new city, even if I had already seen it from other points, from the temple, however, I was able to see it from a new perspective. Right there an episode happened to me from which I learned and which made me reflect. I had my sunglasses tucked into the front pocket of my jeans and a local boy asked me in a bit basic English what brand they were. It was a pair of black Carrera with the detail of a white stripe that crossed the top which was flat. I instinctively told him the name of the brand and he told me they were beautiful. He looked at the sunglasses, smiled and pointed there saying: "beautiful". I had a moment of hesitation and was about to give them to him then I thought I would still need them for the trip. Actually there were only a couple of days left but at that moment I didn't notice. In a hurry, I greeted the boy and together with my sister we went down from the temple. Shortly after, I was already regretting not having given them to him and if I remember correctly I gave it a try and went back to look for the boy but with no luck. Even today that episode makes me reflect on consumer capitalism; I care about the accessories I buy and keep them with care but today we tend to buy an object and then stop using it after a short time. The excitement of the purchase passes almost immediately and I must admit that if I had given those sunglasses to the boy I would have been happier than I was when I bought them. The happiness of seeing someone less fortunate than us, being happy thanks to our gesture.
Our walk led us to the Cardo Maximus, this was a very long road made up of large stone blocks and lined with columns for its entire length. This after the Forum was the second place that had managed to take me back in time. All that stretch of road together with the well preserved columns was a sight I had never seen before. A detailed reconstruction of the past, like in the movies, a dream scenario. There too we took advantage of the uniqueness of the place and together with my sister we took dozens of photos to immortalize our journey through time. To tell the truth, we did more, to make the scenery even more unique, we waited for everyone to go away and we took photos as if we were alone, the only travelers in time.
On the way back to the Forum we continued to play taking pictures of the columns, the undisputed protagonists of Jerash. Once we arrived at our destination we met with the others and took an epic group photo with the columns behind, the importance of that photo is not only linked to the memory but it was the way to give the right perspective to make people understand the greatness of the hole. In other words, while it was difficult to identify individual people, we could instead count the large columns behind us.
Our visit to Jerash lasted about an hour and a half and on our way back to Amman we were surprised by a beautiful sunset over a river. When the guide saw that everyone was trying to take photos from the bus, he said: “but let's stop so you can take the photos more comfortably”. Even if the visit to Jordan ended there, our journey would continue for another two days between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In any case, that was our greeting to that beautiful land, a place that cannot be forgotten.
As I write this post, I continue to argue that the trip to Jordan was the most beautiful I have ever done and I will probably understand why when one day in the future I reread all the posts I have written about this beautiful land. Perhaps it was the dominant yellow of the land and stone with which the monuments we saw were built, perhaps the red of the desert. Most likely the fact that this place was real, natural and authentic. A place where unbridled capitalism that tells every single individual what to do and what to think, had not yet taken root. I have already said of how the Jordan Valley reminded me of my childhood made up of dirt places, no rules or homologations because this is the true nature of the human being, what makes him free. Like any place you love, you want to see it again, but the fear that Jordan has globalized a bit scares me and the only thing I would never want to do is change my original feelings.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800