January, 2001

Friday is my rostered shower day (how I long for a shower!) and also excursion day, this week to Jerash. We are on the road in the mini-bus by 8.30. We stop first at Ajlun Castle, occupying unbelievable steepness, and a rabbit warren inside. The views are stunning, out over red soil, olive trees and rocky landscape to hazy hills. I avoid the rush to souvenir stalls and enjoy a short prowl around inside the ruins.

The main destination is however Jerash, the most complete of the three Roman ruins I’ve encountered, and according to some the most complete outside Italy.

First we visit the hippodrome where one of the archaeologists has been analysing human remains, a pile of bones and traces of lime, maybe victims of the plague. She gives a graphic description of the dangers of chariot racing.

Then we’re let loose on the ruins and I manage to extricate myself from distracting company. The cardo paving is still there and although it’s been disturbed by earthquake the wheel-marks of chariots are visible in the stone, a tangible link with the busyness of this wealthy Roman city, beautifully sited in fertile countryside. The agora is quite small, with a fountain in the middle and spaces behind the columns for shops. I pass a tumble of stones, the ruins of the baths, and the stone dome of an Umayyad mosque.

There are two theatres in good repair, still in use for the Jerash festival where you can experience theatre, orchestral and traditional music, and an arts and craft market. I sit on the stone seats after taking giant strides to reach them.

But I really encounter the grandeur that was Rome at the temple of Artemis, walking up the stairs, flight after flight, and just about reaching the top before the towering columns become visible, then more steps to the sanctuary area.

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