Gerasa (Jerash), the Decapolis city

Jerash is a city of the Decapolis located on the eastern side of the Jordan, approximately 37 miles (60 km) SE from Galilee and 80 miles (129 km) north of Amman (the Decapolis city of Philadelphia). The Decapolis cities are mentioned in association with the ministry of Jesus. As most of the necessary general information is already in other articles, we recommend you take the time to read the main Decapolis article. Some claim that the Bible perhaps has as a specific reference to Gerasa (Jerash). For this reason also read the article on Gadara where we examined this possibility.

Map of ancient city ruins at Jerash

A quick history of the city:

Evidences have been found that this site was a settlement location stretching thousands of years before the time of Christ. It's year round water supply was a prime reason. At an altitude of 1640 feet (500 meters) it also was blessed with excellent visibility over surrounding low-lying areas as well as with a temperate climate. The early Semitic village was called Garshu

In the 3rd century B.C., Gerasa (Jerash) became an urban center and a member of the Decapolis, a group (perhaps loose federation) of Greek (Hellenistic) cities. Notice that the name is merely a Hellenized form of the early Semitic one.

First century historian Josephus (Wars of the Jews 4.1) makes historical reference to Gerasa (Jerash) dating back to the late second or early first century B.C. He notes (Wars 4.1.8) that Alexander Janneus took Jerash by force in order to gain the treasure of Theodorus, the ruler of Philadelphia (Amman), who had stored it there for safe keeping (one source said that it had been stored in the Temple of Zeus, but I could not confirm this).

Temple to Zeus

Soon after Rome took control of the region, under Emperor Pompey, in 63 B.C., Gerasa prospered under its semi-independent status within the Roman Empire. It also greatly benefited from its position on the incense and spice trade route from the Arabian Peninsula to Syria and the Mediterranean.

Emperor Trajan, 106 A.D., annexed the wealthy Nabatean kingdom and formed a province of Arabia which brought Gerasa even greater trading wealth at the cost of most of its autonomy.

In 129 A.D. the Emperor Hadrian visited the city and, in honor of this visit, the city raised a monumental Triumphal Arch at the southern end of the city. As one of his favored cities, it flourished both economically and socially. By circa 130 A.D., the city was at its peak and remained so for over a century, having a population at the beginning of the third century estimated at around 20,000.

Arch to honor Emperor Hadrian (under restoration)

The mid to late third century began a period of decline, precipitated by a change in trade means and routes. By the mid fifth century Christianity became the major religion of the region and subsequently a number of churches were constructed at Jerash, often constructed from stones taken from pagan temples. The city enjoyed a renaissance as a Christian city during the Byzantine era, reaching its zenith during the reign of Justinian (circa 527-65 A.D.).

The decline of the city began with its invasion by the Persians in 614 A.D and conquest by the Muslims circa 635-636 A.D. Successive damaging earthquakes in 749 A.D. did serious damage to the remaining city and saw a decline in the city's population to around 4000. By the Crusader period it was considered to be uninhabited.

The ruins of the city were rediscovered in 1806 by a German traveler. The city had been buried in sand which allowed for excellent preservation of the ruins.


South Theater

South Theater Stage

Nymphaeum (Public Fountain)

Main Street (Cardo)

Grand staircase (Propylaeum) up to the Temple of Artemis

Temple to Artemis

Inside temple to Artemis

North Theater

Passage at North Theater


Forum Cardo

Forum Cardo Detail

Forum Cardo taken from top of North Theater

South Tetrapylon

North Tetrapylon

Ruins of shop on opposite side of Hippodrome (on upper left)


South Gate

North Gate under reconstruction

Arches at Hippodrome

Entrances to Shops Near Hippodrome

Hippodrome seating (Shops are on the back side of this seating).
The Hippodrome was built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian over an earlier Greek style earth-banked racing arena.
The seating area (cavea) was four meters deep with sixteen rows of seats.
It is the smallest known Hippodrome at 244 meters by 52 meters, seating only 15,000 spectators.


Three Churches

At least 15 Byzantine churches have been uncovered at Jerash and it is likely there are more. Three of the nicest are grouped together round a shared atrium. At the north, the Church of St. Cosmos and St. Damian, twin brother doctors who were martyred in the 4th century A.D., has the most splendid floor mosaics to be seen in Jerash. An inscription dates the mosaic to 553 A.D., and the mosaics include an image of the churchwarden Theodore with his wife Georgia, praying with widespread arms. In the center, the church of St. John the Baptist dates to circa 531 A.D. Its mosaic floor, now damaged, included images of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the cities of Alexandria and Memphis in Egypt. The church of St. George, at their south, was built in 530 AD, and continued to be used after the earthquake of 749 AD. Its mosaics were therefore destroyed when the 8th century Christian iconoclastic movement banned the representation of humans and animals.

Some of the amazing mosaic floors found in the Three Churches


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