Day 3: Jerash, Ajloun Castle, and a home hosted dinner
Thursday, Day 3. Jerash and Ajloun Castle, home hosted dinner
The day started early with an hour long trip north to Jerash, an ancient 6500 year old city about 27 miles from the Syrian border. Jerash is said to have the best preserved expanse of Roman ruins outside of Rome. About 25% of it has been excavated over the past 70 years. We entered through the impressive Hadrian Arch and started to realize how immense Jerash is.
The gigantic hippodrome originally seated 15,000 and was home to chariot racing and other events, Much more recently it offered chariot racing re-enactments, but sadly, COVID shut that down.
We wandered through the Zeus temple amphitheater where hoards of school groups had gathered. (Field trips near the end of school, just like the states). It was so lively with students spontaneously dancing to a bass drum and bagpipes. The bagpiper saw us Americans and broke into a rendition of Amazing Grace that somehow morphed into Yankee Doodle and was a real crowd pleaser.
We walked miles through many sections of the ruins, through the forum, a large oval plaza, and the long Cardo main road that had huge diagonal original stones. They were placed diagonally so that chariot wheels did not get caught in the ruts. In a few places you can see the outline of wheel ruts right in the limestone.
There was also the ruins of a Byzantine era Greek Orthodox church with a largely intact mosaic floor.
A very large temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, protector of the city, was the tallest structure in the city.
We had a pleasant lunch at the nearby Green Valley Restaurant.
We then headed west to the town of Ajloun, transitioning in time from the ancient Greek and Roman period to the middle ages. Here we visited a medieval fort known as Ajloun Castle. It was built in 1184 by Saladin to defend northern Jordan from the invading European Crusaders. Our guide Mohammed told us that while the crusades were fought for control of the Holy Land, it was not really a religious (Christian versus Muslim) fight, but rather a political (European versus Arab) fight. To support this he points out that a large percentage of Saladin’s army included Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Arab Christians).
It is said that from the top of the castle on a clear day one can see the skyline of Jerusalem and into the Golan Heights. Unfortunately, it was hazy out so our view, while very nice, was not did not expand that far.
It was an exhausting and jam packed day, but after only an hour to clean up, we were brought to the home of a lovely widow. OAT includes at least one home-hosted dinner on each trip and this one was really quite lovely. Our host was joined by her daughter, a very funny and outspoken young woman who had just two weeks ago, given birth to her second child. One by one, the entire family joined her- her daughters’s husband, a sous chef at a local restaurant, her other son, a renowned executive chef, and finally her mother and aunt who lived nearby. The chicken with basmati rice dish was delicious, and after dessert, some of us got to hold the newborn and play with her 2 year old as well. We enjoyed this tremendously and think it is one of the nicest ways to meet the locals.