Sunday, February 1, 2015

Jordan Day 4–Ancient ruins of Jerash

Donnette’s and my last day of our girls’ road trip in Jordan.
The drive from Petra in southern Jordan to Jerash in the north – just north of Amman, Jordan’s capital -  was about four hours on Route 15, also known as the Desert Highway. It was a boring drive compared to the King’s Highway through the mountains from the Dead Sea to Petra, but after our intense day of driving to Petra, and the intense day of sightseeing there, Donnette and I  were ready for a little bit of boring. Further south, if we’d had time to go there, we would have driven through  the amazing desert landscape of Wadi Rum. But, alas,we had to head north.

The decision to go to Jerash, which is Jordan’s second-most popular tourist destination after Petra, was a bit spur-of-the-moment. We were booked at the Marriott in Amman for our last night, and when I looked at the map it seemed that the Syrian border was a bit too close to Jerash for comfort. But this was purely psychological,we felt really safe in Jordan, and we decided that at 48km (30 miles) north of Amman, and the same distance south of the border with Syria, a detour to Jerash was worthwhile. We could tour the Greco-Roman ruins and still be able to get to the hotel in time to check in at a decent hour, and have our cocktails, and  get some dinner.
DSC01532It was a very worthwhile detour. Ancient Gerasa, as it was first called, was founded around 300 BC –although the area had been inhabited since the Bronze Age - by Alexander the Great, or perhaps one of his generals, as a sort of retirement community for soldiers of the Macedonian army – gerasmenos meaning “aged person” in Greek. It was conquered by the Romans in 63 BC, growing and flourishing as a trading center under Roman rule until falling to the Persians in AD 614.

A  major earthquake destroyed most of the city in AD 749, although small settlements in the area remained. Subsequent earthquakes and wars caused further destruction, and the ruins of the ancient city lay buried until the arrival of German Orientalist Ulrich Jasper Seetzen in 1806. Seetzen began excavations, and people returned to Jerash from the surrounding settlements. A  Muslim community, the Cirassians, emigrated to Jerash from the Caucasus in 1878, and more people came from Syria at the beginning of the 20th century.

DSC01539 As Donnette and I got out of the car, we were faced with the question of what to wear, both clothing and feet. It was November, but warm. We were still tired from traipsing through Petra, and I had the idea that, in comparison, this would be a “walk in the park.” I wanted to glide through the ruins in my long skirt and sandals, shaking the stones out like the people who lived there once did. The sandals that I had were really old –  I might have even owned them when I met Mark in 1997. They were flat and comfortable, if lightweight. I’d brought them sort of hoping that I could throw them away at the end of the trip. So I put them on and  grabbed my long-sleeved cardigan because we were, after all, in a conservative, largely Muslim country and it’s always best to have the option of covering one’s arms.


We paid our fee at  the souvenir marketplace at the south entrance, which was filled with merchandise that is now all too familiar to us both …

… and entered the ruined city through Hadrian’s Arch, a relatively late addition built to celebrate the Roman emperor's visit in AD 129-130. Hadrian, whose policy was to defend existing territory rather than conquer more, was named  one of the “Five Good Emperors” by Machiavelli.
The bones of the city are easy to see and interpret,  with well-placed panels giving just the right amount of information and interesting details.

The Hippodrome, or circus, was the stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. Performances called Roman Army and Chariot Experience are offered twice daily. 
Then we strolled the long promenade toward the Forum and the Cardo, a long colonnaded street that was the commercial heart of the city.
All along the way, we saw remains of what used to be workshops and stores …


… including the remains of an olive oil press.

Although it seemed like a pretty quiet day, there were the ubiquitous tour groups gathered in the Forum. We preferred to read the interpretive signs (that cute blonde is Donnette.).
We saw the grooves that the Roman chariots made, still visible in the stone, just to the right of Donnette.
Zeus Temple

We spent about three hours in Jerash, taking photos, soaking up the landscape, and blending into it. It was bigger than we’d anticipated, but we were able to make a pretty complete tour of the walled city which included temples to Zeus and Artemis, theatres, baths, more  temples, and churches. And the mosaics! I love the ancient mosaics.
From where we stood, Jerash seemed like two cities: the ancient city to the west, populated by visitors and ghosts, and the modern city to the east, which has benefitted from the growth of tourism and  the arrival of  waves Syrian immigrants and Palestinian refugees. Although it’s not on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, it seems like it should be, or maybe could be someday if they can meet the  strict criteria and management requirements.
And then, as we wound down, rested, and got ready for the trek back across the city to Hadrian’s arch and the parking lot, as the sun lowered in the sky, the call to prayer rose up out of the in the east. Muslim communities have mosques everywhere – they are supposed to be only a five-minute walk to pray. The same call was reaching our ears from near and far, so that it resonated, reverberated, and resounded upwards from the mosques dotted among whitewashed modern buildings, over the ancient walls and through the columns, bouncing off of the mosaics of the church where we were resting. It was a sound we hear each and every day in the UAE. But here, it was a gorgeous, timeless, and riveting sound. Without speaking, we both knew that we needed to sit, and listen. And reflect.

This was Donnette’s and my fourth day of traveling together, and I had noticed several things. First, we were really bonding. Not that we talked a lot, but we just  … got each other. We had so many things in common – born in Michigan the same year, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember, but was getting spooky … I was kind of feeling like we were soul sisters. If  Donnette and I  were in high school together, we would still be friends. We told each other some stories about our lives, which at our age means there is a lot to choose from. I was thinking, wow, this is really a great girls’ trip, and what an opportunity to get to know Donnette. Maybe we were lucky that we didn’t get on each other’s nerves (at least not that I know of) but the message is, if you get a similar opportunity to travel with someone, take it.
But what I really noticed was that we stayed together. Now, that may seem an obvious thing to do, but it struck me because Mark and I have developed a bad habit of NOT staying together. We wander away from each other; somehow, we have both emerged as the Pack Leader. But then, I find myself spending half my time looking for him (right, girls?) With Donnette and me, that didn’t happen. Why? I think because we were being friends, and it isn’t nice to ditch your friend. And sometimes, married people who have been together for a long time forget these things. Sometimes you just take each other for granted. It’s that simple. When you travel with a friend, especially a new one, you are more considerate.
Trekking back, we noticed some ongoing excavation sites,had a great view of the Forum from the hillside …
… and stopped in at the south theater to hear some Arabic bagpipe music. Bagpipes are believed to have been invented in the Middle East. Not Scotland.
Then we decided to document the day with  a timed-release selfie together. I set up my tripod, dashed over, and  we posed together on the ruins of a wall, while a small group of Jordanian men passing by noticed us.

Oh, dear. One of them came over and insisted on taking our picture for us with my camera. I tried to tell him we didn’t need him, we have a tripod, but he would not be deterred. So we posed for one more, but I figured I needed to cut this short, or we would have trouble shaking the guy off. He then started trying to direct us, so that he could keep taking photos. “One more! Smile!” “No, no, we have to go now!”


I had to run up and literally grab the camera –nicely – away from him, thanking him profusely. Yes, we did notice that the men behaved a bit differently here than in Abu Dhabi. They’re a lot more … friendly.
It was on the final push back through the south entrance to Hadrian’s arch that the old glue gave out and my sandal finally came apart. Yes! Perfect timing. Now I could finally throw them away.

The Marriott in Amman was the nicest of the three, and the busiest, bustling with business suits and military uniforms. We had the benefit of the executive lounge, with its free drinks and snacks, so we headed up there. We got the last free table, but soon a group of four men came in, and Donnette suggested we ask a pair of young women (the only other women in the room, or almost) if we could join them, and free up our table which was greatly appreciated by the group of men. The women were American, and they seemed a little take aback when we joined them, (who are these middle aged mom/grandma types moving in on us?) but we were soon exchanging names and stories. It turned out that they were American, based in Washington DC, and working for the US Citizenship & Immigration Services, interviewing refugees. How interesting! I pictured them going into the refugee tent camps that I’d been thinking I was seeing in the desert, but they said, no, they usually see people in their homes or apartments. Oh. Really.
Then I realized that I had been making a broad and erroneous assumption, visualizing refugees fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and living in tent camps. This may be true some of the time, maybe a lot of the time, I don’t know; but many refugees have education, skills, and money when they leave. And the tents we saw as we traveled through the country were probably Bedouin camps. It was yet another lesson in how superficial my knowledge of the places we visit is. You cannot really know a place unless you have lived there.
Visiting Jordan has fueled my interest in the this land and its stories, its history: of religions, conquest, and never ending turmoil. It’s a fascinating place.
Thanks for reading.

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