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The history of Jerash is a blend of the Graeco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient. Indeed, the name of the city itself reflects this interaction. The earliest Arabic/Semitic inhabitants named their village Garshu. The Romans later Hellenized the former Arabic name into Gerasa, and at the end of the 19th century, the Arab and Circassian inhabitants of the then small and rural settlements transformed the Roman Gerasa into the Arabic Jerash.

It was not until the days of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC that Jerash truly began to develop into a sizeable town. But it was during the period of Roman rule, especially in the 2nd century AD that Jerash enjoyed its golden age.

Soon after Rome took control of Syria, Jerash was named as one of the great cities of the Decapolis League; a prosperous confederation of ten Roman cities linked by powerful commercial, political and cultural interests. This brought great economic benefits to Jerash and trade flourished with the Nabataean Empire based in Petra.


In 106 AD, Emperor Trajan annexed the wealthy Nabataean Kingdom and formed the province of Arabia. This brought even greater trading riches pouring into Jerash which enjoyed a burst of construction activity. The city received yet another boost in stature with the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD. To honour his visit, the citizens raised a monumental Triumphal Arch south of the city. Jerash’s prosperity reached a peak at the start of the 3rd century AD when it was bestowed with the rank of Roman Colony.

As the 3rd century progressed, shipping began to take over as the main route for commerce. Jerash fell into decline as its previously lucrative trade routes became less travelled and therefore less valuable.

By the middle of the 5th century, Christianity had become the major religion of the region and numerous churches were constructed in Jerash. Many churches were constructed of stones taken from pagan temples – and the remains of several can still be seen today.

A powerful earthquake in 749 AD seriously damaged the city and hastened its decline.

The Crusaders described Jerash as uninhabited and it remained abandoned until its rediscovery in 1806, when Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveller, came across and recognized a small part of the ruins. The ancient city was buried in sand which accounts for the remarkable preservation. It has been gradually revealed through a series of excavations which commenced in 1925 and are still ongoing.