We left the hotel early in order to cross the border to Jordan. This was relatively painless although it took much longer than anticipated. Moving 35 people through the lines simply took longer on both sides, and with only a couple of exceptions the security people did not hassle us.We met our guide, Mohammed, who helped us through the entry process. Mohammed guided for me in 2013 and I recognized him immediately. We took the short cut to Jerash, through a number of smaller Jordanian villages. This was good for the students to see and I have already had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip.
Jerash is a large Roman city with several structures which illustrate what a huge imperial city looked like in the late first century and early second. First is the Hadrian Gate on the south side of the city. When Hadrian went on a grand tour of the Empire, many cities honored him with a new Gate or arch. Jerash built this new gate well south of the city, but it does not appear the city ever expanded south as planned. Second, just inside the gate is a large hippodrome. Only one section has been restored but the ends of the structure are clear.
Third, after passing through the actual south gate of the city there is a spectacular Oval Plaza leading to the Cardo (the central street in a Roman city). From the Oval Plaza you can see the Roman Temple of Zeus, which is built on top of the Hellenistic Temple. There is a small museum below this temple but I have only been able to enter it once (it is closed most of the time?) .
Forth, a short walk up the hill from the Plaza is a very nicely restored Roman theater. All the acoustics are restored so people can speak from the central part of the stage and be heard throughout the theater. I enjoy watching the students speak a few words, the step on to the central stone and hear their voice projected all around them. Virtually every time I have visited this theater a Jordanian bagpipe player and drummer are there to show off the acoustics. In this case, they nearly sparked a rave among a few of the students).
Fifth, we walked across the hill to the Temple of Artemis. This is an incomplete temple, like Sardis it does not seem to have been completed. I have read speculation that the eastern Empire became increasingly Christian so work was stopped, but it is just as likely they ran out of money. Guides like to demonstrate how the pillars flex just a bit by putting a spoon in the lower crack and pushing the pillar. It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway? Perhaps this one pillar is the best example.
We walked down the sacred ascent to the Cardo, which is probably the easiest route, but it would be better to walk up from the bottom to experience the Temple as a second century Roman would have. I noticed a Latin inscription with the name Diana and a Greek inscription opposite it about three-quarters up the steps. They were unidentified and I am not at sure where they were originally located.
Sixth, walking down from the ascent to the Temple we joined the Cardo and worked our way back to to the Oval Plaza. This central colonnaded road is lined with shops and a few sacred spaces. I noticed there are far fewer inscriptions at Jerash than Ephesus or Perge (for example). I am not sure if there were many Greek inscriptions and they have been moved or lost, but compared to virtually every city we visited in Turkey, Jerash is inscription-less.
It was extremely hot, perhaps as high as 95, but a slight breeze made the walk endurable. We rested in the shade drinking water and eating ice cream for. A vendor who was only charging a dollar. Naturally most of the students saw this as an opportunity to eat three.
By now it was getting late in the day and traffic through Amman was terrible. It is always terrible, but an accident had the bus at a standstill. This accident put us as much as 45 minutes behind schedule so we had to skip the Madaba Map (which is an interesting visit but difficult to get to quickly). Instead we visited Mount Nebo, the place where Moses died after viewing the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-2). Several students asked about whether this is really the place, so I pointed out it is Mount Nebo and the best viewpoint to see the land in the area is there, and a pass through the mountains is at the foot of the mountain. So it is plausible this is Nebo, even if it is not at the exact place of the Church.
Speaking of the church, they have finally completed renovations of the church and as of October 2016 here is a nice museum display of the mosaics. The renovations have also changed the way groups walk up to the viewpoint (it is much nicer and paved for an easy walk).
I wrote this post on our long drive south to Petra. Tomorrow morning we will hike down to Petra, a Nabatean city and one of the “wonders of the ancient world.”