Visiting Jerash

Jerash is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world. So why is it not better known and why is it not a World Heritage Site?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting Jerash from Amman

The enormous Roman city of Jerash was once an important centre for trade, with the grand monuments built here demonstrating the wealth and power that was accumulated within its walls.

Even many centuries after it was abandoned, the city still has many of its most important features intact, and when you visit Jerash you'll an incredible insight into the Roman Empire.

When you think of visiting Jordan, you can probably quite clearly see mental images of the big sites – Petra and Wadi Rum, for instance.

The rest of the country, though… well, perhaps it’s a little hazy. If you are like I once was, you may know you want to go but you’re not exactly sure what else there is to see in Jordan.

As it turns out, there is much more than just the icons, and some of these other attractions may very well turn out to be some of your favourite spots in Jordan.

For me, the ruins of Jerash is one of these places.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

I am rather embarrassed to say that I didn’t previously know much about Jerash. It’s embarrasing because it’s so important, so interesting, and so impressive.

The credit for most of this lies with the Roman Empire, which took control of the city of Jerash about 2000 years ago. In the centuries that followed, it turned it into a wealthy and powerful centre for trade.

The monuments that were built here are among the best that existed in Ancient Rome. But when you visit Jerash today, you’ll realise that the main reason it is such a fantastic place to see is that these monumental features have been extremely well preserved.

In fact, Jerash is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world… something that I didn’t realise existed in Jordan until I came here.

Why is Jerash famous?

The history of Jerash is one of the reasons it is famous, because it was a grand city of the Roman Empire that controlled major trade routes through the Middle East. But the main reason Jerash is so important today is because it has been so well preserved and offers an incredible collection of monuments in its original urban layout.

What happened to Jerash?

For hundreds of years, Jerash was a powerful city under Roman and Byzantine rule, but from the 8th century onwards, it had a gradual decline because of shifting trade routes, changes in politics, and a series of earthquakes. It was completely abandoned by the 13th century.

Is it worth visiting Jerash?

There is no doubt that it’s worth visiting Jerash, which is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world. There are so many things to see at Jerash and it’s an easy day trip from Amman. For many visitors, it will be a highlight of their time in Jordan.

Visiting Jerash puts you right in the centre of this archaeological marvel, as you walk the grandiose avenues between temples and theatres, imagining what it was like at its peak when 20,000 people lived here.

The easiest way to get to Jerash from Amman is with this tour company, which can also include some other nearby sights.

There’s lots to see at Jerash and it certainly helps to have a guide. I’ll go into a bit more about that shortly, but first let’s have a look at what to expect when you visit Jerash.

History of Jerash

Jerash was actually founded as a Greek city by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. But it was under the Romans about 300 years later that it truly began to flourish.

I have already written about visiting Petra, the iconic ancient city in the south of Jordan. To understand the history of Jerash, I think you need to view both of them side by side.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

Jerash and Petra existed at exactly the same time and were just 300 kilometres apart. And they were both in this economically glorious position of being in the middle of overland trade routes connecting the continents.

Jerash was the trading centre for the Romans, with goods coming in and out of their empire in Europe to the northwest.

Petra, on the other hand, operated as the trading centre for goods coming from Arabia, Asia, and Africa.

These two cities connected both these enormous spheres of trade, and they were each enriched by it.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

Jerash grew and grand buildings worthy of this wealthy city were built – theatres and temples, a hippodrome for chariot races, an enormous oval-shaped plaza surrounded by colonnades.

It was one of the most impressive Roman cities to ever exist in the world.

Of course, this was all helped by a decision in 106 AD by the Roman Emperor to bring the lands where Petra was under Roman rule. Imagine how much more you earn when you also control your major trading partner!

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

When the Roman Era came to an end in the 4th century, Jerash came under the control of the Byzantine Empire and it continued to be an important settlement as it adapted to Christianity.

From about the 8th century, a gradual decline began as trade routes shifted and the politics of the region changed. Significantly, a series of earthquakes also badly damaged Jerash, affecting the quality of life.

In the end, Jerash was completely abandoned by about the 13th century.

These days, Jerash is described as being in ruins, but don’t let that fool you. It may not look the way it did two thousand years ago but it’s still one of the best-preserved Roman cities that you will ever see in the world.

Things to see at Jerash

Before I visit Jerash, I have absolutely no idea of the city’s scale, and I’m immediately stunned.

After you enter, the site stretches out so far that you can’t see the end of it, just temples and other buildings on hills in the distance.

Measuring it as the crow flies, it’s about two kilometres from the entrance of Jerash to the furthest point on the other side. But, as you follow the paths and wander around to see all the different sites, it takes much longer to reach than you expect.

Although part of the enjoyment is to just explore and get a sense of the city, there are certainly some key things to see in Jerash that are worth looking out for.

Hadrian’s Arch

One of the first things you’ll see at Jerash is Hadrian’s Arch, a grand triple-arched ceremonial entrance.

Originally standing 22 metres high (and recently restored to be almost the same as it once was), it was built to honour the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian around 130 AD.

Although visitors may have passed through the gate, it was more about flair than serving any practical use. Interestingly, it features some design styles from the Nabataean culture who were ruling Petra at the time.


After you pass through Hadrian’s Arch, you’ll walk along the length of the city’s hippodrome.

This was the ancient sports field of Jerash and is 244 metres long and 50 metres wide, designed for chariot races and athletic events.

Once there would have been seating or up to 15,000 people – almost the entire population of the city – which suggests that it might’ve hosted regional games as well.

Oval Plaza

Probably the most important part of Jerash – certainly one of the most iconic – is the Oval Plaza. This huge open space is very unusual for a Roman city, which normally would’ve made its central gathering place a square or rectangle.

On two sides of the plaza are colonnades, where dozens of Ionic columns create the sense that the space is enclosed. The columns were added in the 2nd century, and other parts of the plaza, including the paving and the small monuments in the centre, came at different times, as the space changed with the styles of the time.

Oval Plaza, Jerash, Jordan

Sanctuary of Zeus

The Oval Plaza was actually built as a form of congregating space or entrance for the Sanctuary of Zeus, which is situated atop a small hill on the southern side.

This religious complex is spread over two terraced levels, with the Temple of Zeus at the top, with columns about 15 metres high.

Over the years, the sanctuary has changed its shape many times (in fact, caves on this hill were probably used for worship as early as the 7th century BC) but the temple you now see is from the 2nd century AD.

Temple of Zeus, Jerash, Jordan

The South Theatre

Behind the Temple of Zeus is another of the main highlights at Jerash: the South Theatre.

One of three theatres at Jerash, it is the oldest and largest. Because it was right next to the temple, it may have been used for some religious events, but it was definitely mainly for entertainment.

About 4700 people would have been able to sit in the theatre, which was divided into three sections based on the class of the spectators. On the stage, there’s an intricately designed facade that would’ve been incorporated into performances.

Southern Theatre, Jerash, Jordan

The Cardo Maximus

Stretching out from the Oval Plaza is the Cardo Maximus, commonly just called the Cardo. It is the main street in Jerash and is 800 metres long with hundreds of columns all along its length.

Perfectly straight, walking along the road gives you a good sense of how important urban design was for Roman cities. It’s also interesting to note things like the manholes to the drainage and the ruts created by chariots.

When you walk along the Cardo (which I recommend you do when you visit Jerash), you’ll also be able to peek into a few of the remaining buildings that once lined the grand avenue.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

Temple of Artemis

Follow the Cardo to the north and you’ll reach a collection of buildings that is actually large than the southern complex. Although the landmarks here are, in general, less important, there are a couple of note.

The first is the Temple of Artemis, which was the main temple in Jerash. Artemis was the patron goddess of the city and so her sanctuary was built on the top of a small hill.

Along with the imposing Corinthian columns, of which 11 out of 12 still stand, there are the large vaults on either side. You’ll have to imagine the marble that would once have covered much of the structure.

Temple of Artemis, Jerash, Jordan

The North Theatre

The other significant site in this part of Jerash is the North Theatre. Although it was probably originally used for civic meetings, it was later expanded to cater for events like concerts.

It’s not nearly as large as the South Theatre, so the two performance venues were likely used in tandem depending on what size an event needed. The North Theatre does also have the standard facade on stage, with three entrances, so the design is quite similar.

Northern Theatre, Jerash, Jordan

So, when you visit Jerash, I recommend you try to see all of these interesting attractions that I’ve mentioned. Amongst all of them are the ruins of other buildings, some pieces of art including floor mosaics, and the streets that connect them all.

Seeing these aspects of Jerash are also worthwhile because it paints a broader picture of how the city would once have been.

Is Jerash a World Heritage Site?

You may be wondering whether Jerash is a World Heritage Site. As you know, I try to visit as many as I can and this would seem like exactly the kind of place that should be added to the World Heritage List.

Well, it’s not – but that’s not from lack of trying. Jordan has actually asked for Jerash to be considered a few times.

The Cardo, Jerash, Jordan

The first time it was officially submitted for consideration was in 1985. Back then, UNESCO said it was a good candidate but that Jordan needed a better management plan for the site and needed to address some issues about the way it was being restored (some of the techniques were not up to international standards).

Jordan came back the next year, in 1986, with answers to some of these concerns but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy UNESCO. So the push to have it added to the World Heritage List was put on hold.

The next attempt was in 1995 and by this stage, most of the previous issues had been addressed – particularly the restoration techniques, which were now apparently much improved.

However, there was a new problem with concerns that the annual Jerash Festival had constructed permanent facilities on the site. So it was put on hold again.

In 2004, Jordan added Jerash to the ‘World Heritage Tentative List’ which is a new requirement for consideration since the last attempt. But, since then, there has been no official request to actually have it assessed again by UNESCO.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

So, who knows when it might actually happen? It seems a real shame that Jerash is not on the World Heritage List. By almost every main criterion, it is a worthy site.

The reasons it hasn’t been added may be valid but they also seem quite minor in the grand scheme of things. They are technicalities, rather than fundamental problems.

I think it’s really disappointing that, more than 30 years after it was first considered, the issues have not been resolved. Let’s hope that there’s a bit of a push from everyone involved to get Jerash the heritage status that it deserves.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

It is a glorious testament to human history, a symbol of the wealth this region once had, and a wonderfully preserved artefact of an empire.

Plus, besides all that, it’s just a fantastic place to visit and another highlight of Jordan!

Visiting Jerash

I would definitely recommend visiting Jerash, as it’s one of the best things to do in Jordan.

If you’re travelling around Jordan, the easiest option is to visit Jerash from Amman as a half-day trip (or a full-day trip if you add in some other sites). But it’s also possible to do from accommodation on the Dead Sea.

To get to Jerash, it’ll take just under an hour to drive and it’s fairly easy to do if you have your own car.

There is public transport from Amman to Jerash and it’s very cheap… but it’s also not very efficient, so won’t suit many travellers (more on that below).

If you don’t have a car, the best option is probably to take a tour – and there are lots of different options available to you, although most are private tours, rather than cheap large-group trips.

Have a look at the details closely – Some include guides and some are just transport. Some include the entrance fees, some don’t. Some will take you to other sights, and some will just go to Jerash.

My top recommendation would be this private tour from Amman to Jerash, which is decent value and gives you some options about what you would like to include.

If you want to see what else is on offer, I would recommend these three other tours:

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Regardless of how you get out there, I would recommend about three hours to see Jerash, especially if you have a guide or want to read up on some of the details when you’re there.

Even if you go relatively quickly, you will probably need almost two hours to walk through the whole site.

Jerash Roman ruins, Jordan

The archaeological site at Jerash doesn’t have a lot of shade, so it can get really hot in the warmer months. Make sure you take sun protection and lots of water (although there are a couple of places to buy more).

A few more bits of visitor information:

  • Unfortunately much of Jerash is not accessible for people with mobility issues.
  • There are often people at the entrance offering guiding services, if you haven’t arranged something in advance.
  • There is a small market after the main entrance, where you can buys snacks and drinks, along with souvenirs.
  • There are bathrooms at the Souvenir Centre and in the Jerash Visitor Centre.
  • There’s going to be lots of walking here, so wear the most comfortable shoes you’ve got!

This is a major tourist site, so the good news is that things tend to run quite smoothly and there are some modern facilities. But because there’s also respect for the heritage of the ancient site, large parts of the ruins won’t have much infrastructure at all.

Where is Jerash Archaeological Site?

The Jerash Archaeological Site is located in the city of Jerash in northern Jordan. It’s approximately 50 kilometers north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman.
The address is 7VGR+9HJ, Jerash, Jordan. You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Jerash Archaeological Site?

There are several ways to get to Jerash from Amman:
By car: It’s an easy drive and it will take about an hour to get to Jerash from Amman. You can use a hire car, or a taxi will cost around 40 JD (US$57). Parking at Jerash is free.
By bus: You can take a local bus from the Abdali Bus Station in Amman. There is no fixed timetable and you may have to wait until the bus is full before it leave. It costs 1 JD (US$1.40)
By tour: Day tours are a great (and popular) option if you want someone else to take care of all the logistics.

When is Jerash Archaeological Site open?

Jerash is open at the following times:
November to April: 8:00 – 16:00
May to October: 8:00 – 18:30

What is the Jerash Archaeological Site entrance fee?

A standard entrance ticket for Jerash is 10 JD (US$14.10)

Are there tours to the Jerash Archaeological Site?

If you are coming from Amman, I would recommend either this private tour that also includes Ajloun Castle and Umm Qais, or this private tour that will also show you around Amman.
If you’re not visiting Amman, another good option is this tour to Jerash from the Dead Sea that will also take you through the capital on the way.

If you come on a tour, your driver or guide will likely have somewhere they can take you for lunch. Often this can be a bit overpriced and touristy, so be sure to tell them that you would prefer something more local if that’s what you want.

Although it’s aimed at tourists, a pretty good option is YaHala Jerash Restaurant. For a more local restaurant, have a look at Zahrat Ballkis Mandi.

While you’re visiting Jerash, you may also want to o a few other things that are in this region north of Amman.

The two most popular sights are Ajloun Castle, a 12th century fortification built on the top of a hill, and Umm Qais, a town that is full of more Roman ruins.

However you choose to visit Jerash, I hope you get us much enjoyment as I did from discovering this incredible Roman city that is not nearly as well known as it should be!

8 thoughts on “Visiting Jerash”

  1. Such a wonderful place, even lots of places i seen on movie shoot. I would go once in life and want to enjoy like you. Images showing that you enjoyed your trip.

  2. Your photos and commentary on Petra and Jerash are spot on. Loved reading this and seeing your photos. We were there last October on a short 3 day tour from Tel Aviv and were blown away by both sites. We were expecting to be gobsmacked at Petra and were not disappointed but the big surprise was Jerash which we’d never heard of before going to Jordan. What an absolutely amazing site. It beggars belief that UNESCO has not declared it worthy of world heritage status!! Another big thumbs down for the UN and its highly political offshoots.
    However, this may have protected it in some perverse way as who’s to say that Isis and their ilk would not have blown it up by now if it had been listed. Thank you for your excellent, enthusiastic report which helped me relive some amazing and unforgettable days in Jordan.


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