If I had to chose the one thing I love the most about the Middle East (besides the food), I would have to go with the great depth of history to be found there.
Few places in the world can boast of having such well-preserved historic monuments and such well-known historic sites as the Middle East, and Jordan is no exception.
The range of historical monuments and wealth of art in Jordan continued to surprise me on my trip there. Perhaps one of my favorite sites during the whole trip was getting to visit the ancient city of Jerash, just 30 miles north of the capital, Amman. Early on our first day in town, we piled in a big bus and headed out to tour this vast ancient city. To say I was excited is a massive understatement.
When you are as big of a history nerd as me, exploring Jerash is up there with Ephesus in Turkey and Pompeii in Italy as some of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins to be found nowadays. Bring it on, Jordan.
Being that it was our first full day in Jordan, I didn’t really know what to expect when we climbed out of the bus into the hot April sunshine. I learned two things very quickly. First, there is very little shade to be found in this massive tourist sight and coming without a hat or sunscreen meant I was gonna fry. The second fact I learned was that Jordanians have got to be some of the friendliest, kindest people I’ve met on my travels!
The two main things that surprised me the most about Jerash and what distinguished it from other ancient cities I’ve made nerdy pilgrimages to, is how vast it was and how well-preserved it was. We spent hours walking from one side to the other, and didn’t even get to see everything (I guess I have to come back).
Over the years in Europe, I’ve visited more ancient ruins than I can count. Nothing turns me than some well-preserved corinthian capitals or Roman triumphal arches. Sadly, I am not joking. No matter where I am, I try to make a point of visiting as many historical sites when traveling. Do you enjoy visiting ancient places and spaces or do they make you yawn?
I’ll leave you with plenty of pictures to try not to bore you too much if ancient history isn’t your thing – which is totally fine – we all have our faults
To pique your interested in antiquity, I suggest watching HBO’s popular series Rome. Wildly inaccurate, it is still very entertaining, and season 1 features Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, aka General Pompey who was an important player in Jerash’s history if you want to put a face to a name.
Conquering many territories in the East all in the name of Rome, Pompey eventually took Jerash in 63 BC, returning home to a triumph two years later before joining the infamous Triumvirate with Julius Caesar and the easily forgotten Crassus, only to start a war and die fleeing from Caesar in Egypt around 48 BC. I really cannot comprehend why people find history boring. Roman history is so violent and dramatic, I find it frightfully fun to read about. Then again, this might explain why I don’t have a boyfriend.
Nicknamed “Pompeii of the East,” which I find a little excessive – Pompeii is in a league all of its own. It’s not everyday you find mummified plaster remains of people who died in a volcanic eruption; nonetheless Jerash should not be missed on any trip to Jordan or this part of the world.
Like many places in Jordan, Jerash is much overlooked by foreign tourists. When we were there, most of the people were local schools on field trips. Now normally when I am traveling, to encounter busloads of obnoxious preteens on a school trip is enough to make me want to run screaming in the opposite direction. But not this time.
As soon as the first group of them saw us, they got quiet, pointed as us and started whispering to each other. Quickly, I did a double take to make sure I hadn’t accidentally tucked the back of my skirt into my underwear or something equally embarrassing. But as it turned out, they were interested in us because we were the exotic Americans (plus a few Canadians).
Oh la la. Now that is not a role I find myself in often when traveling.
As the bolder girls moved forward, they would come up and surround us, asking us a few questions in English, practicing what they learned in school, before running off giggling. It was adorable.
As we wandering along the perfectly preserved Greco-Roman streets amid dozens of tall columns, we listened to stories and details about the places we were seeing face to face.
Eventually we ended up in the large theater, tilting our heads up towards the sun like sunflowers and watching the groups of school kids run around and play in the stands. Eventually we meandered our way down to the stage floor, where I was bombarded by a group of teenage girls in neon headscarves begging me to take a picture with them.
As I quickly fluffed my blond mop, I smiled and said “go ahead.” It’s not everyday that I get tons of people wanting my photograph. Nevermind the fact that they were probably fourteen. They quickly lost their attention when a group of men in traditional Jordanian garb started playing bagpipes, and all the kids formed a moshpit around them and started dancing.
It was a strange day.
As they noticed us, they switched their tune and started playing Amazing Grace.
Ok, so a really strange day.
Laughing, they started playing more traditional songs and we all joined hands and danced around them in a big circle while the schoolkids took photos of us. It was strange, hilarious and really fun all at the same time, and I now have good memories of my time in Jerash thanks to all the people I got to meet.
What has surprised you when traveling? Have you ever heard of Jerash? Would you like to visit Jordan?
P.S. I mailed about 20 postcards to readers who sent me their addresses on my Facebook page. Has anyone gotten one yet?