Jerash, A Stroll Through Time

When one thinks of antiquities, they usually refer to Athens or Rome and they are right to do so. But let your mind wander to the outer reaches of the Greek and Roman Empires and here, you will discover some of the most well-preserved towns of the ancients. About 48 Kilometers north of Amman, we visit Jerash, one of the most intact Greco-Roman cities in the near-east, rivaling Pompeii for its marble-paved streets and towering structures.  Its founding is attributed to Alexander the Great and was later visited by Emperor Hadrian, for which still stands a magnificent Arch at the city’s entrance, constructed in his honor. It just so happens that Emma & Shelley are immersed in a book series based in Greek mythology and their imagination’s run faster than their feet can carry them as they squeal with delight at the discovery of fountains and temples in honor of gods and creatures they feel intimately akin to.  I yearn for the vision of youth so I might see these great relics through their eyes, colored with wonder and alive with the breath of contrivance.  Instead of Gods and mythical beings, however, the towns’ modern inhabitants are peddlers of plastic tchotch, and musicians eking out a living emerging from shadows and sneaking up on the unsuspecting tourist.  They make me uneasy for some reason and I call the girls in and discourage them running too far.  Emma’s face is like the inside of watermelon and she is nauseous from the heat, she is a pale English rose and wilts at the whisper of summer, this trip has been a tedious exercise is keeping her hydrated.  We sit in the shade of a pepper tree and drench her hat and shirt in water.  Shelley picks us some pink peppercorns, I didn’t know pepper grew on trees, it never occurred to me to think about where pepper came from.  Spices and fruits grow wild like weed here, I spot a fig tree jutting out from the crevice of an ancient wall, so out of place bursting with ripe fruit in this city of ghosts.  Unlike the ruins of Pompeii and Athens, Jerash is quiet and peaceful, absent are the throngs of tourists and inaccurate histories of the tour guides. I try to imagine this place in its glory days and what awe it must have inspired for travelers emerging from the vast deserts that once surrounded it.  The impressive colonnades in the center of the city would have been topped with sculpture, the cool baths with their mosaics offering a cool place to clean the dust and grime of travel away. The impressive hilltop shrines to the gods and goddesses beckoning one to worship and leave offerings. Now it is surrounded by traffic and the honking horns signaling modernity.  We are greeted by an unexpected but much-needed breeze and the deep pink color starts draining from Emma’s cheeks, perhaps her prayers at the Nymphaeum have been answered.  We stroll through cool dark and arched hallways and emerge in a perfectly preserved Greek theater with the classic semicircular steps 34 rows high. The structure is perfectly shaped to create an acoustic filter that suppresses background noise and passes on the high-frequency of performer’s voices. We take turns standing in its’ center to recite lines we can hear clearly from the highest steps.  Thousands of years have passed and the marvel of the mathematical genius that engineered this acoustic masterpiece is still alive and well. A local bagpiper appears out of nowhere, begging us to let him show off his talents, we indulge him his limelight and pay him accordingly for his haunting rendition of Amazing Grace to which he has added some Arabian flare.   It is the perfect curtain call for a day of discovery, for we are weary, parched and grimy, in need of a modern-day oasis.

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