DECAPOLIS CITIES

Sunday, February 28th. Reported by Gary Lindberg

We were joined at breakfast by Ben and Pat, who had flown in from Cairo late last night to catch up with us. Shortly thereafter we were off to northern Jordan. Along the way we saw many black flags of mourning flying from homes and vehicles, as the Jordanian citizens mourned the recent death of King Hussein.

In the Jabbok River valley the terrain consisted of terraced farmland and rock strewn hills. In northern Jordan the land is mostly flat into Syria and mountainous into Israel. In Irbid we noticed a heifer tied in front of butcher shop with his fate, a side of beef, hanging right in front of him.

Umm Qais (known in the Bible as the region of the Gadarenes, part of the decapolis) was founded around the end of the 4th century B.C. and was the beginning of a prestigious cultural center. A large church was built there to commemorate the miracle of the Gadarene Swine (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). The panorama from Umm Qais offers a breathtaking view of the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee, and Syria to the Northwest.

Umm Qais is being excavated, having just recently been vacated by the army. It was part of the border military zone until peace between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994. We visited a theater, under reconstruction and held a short Sunday service in the remains of the church. We read the scriptural passages about the story of the Gadarene swine and sang several songs. Then after we were on our way to our next site, Jerash, another of the cities of the Decapolis.

Jerash lies about 30 miles north of Amman and is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. Excavations started in Jerash in the 1920s. Entering the South Gate, we stepped into a newly excavated warehouse which David told us was connected with the Temple of Zeus, just behind it. From there we went to the Forum, also called the Oval Plaza. We climbed up to the theater, one of the most impressive and best preserved theaters in the Middle East. It was built during the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.) and was restored to its present splendor in 1953. The Theater could accomodate up to 3000 spectators.

From the theater we walked back through the forum to the Cardo, a colonnaded street more than 800 meters long. However, it soon began to rain at this point and our visit to Jerash was abruptly ended. However, on the way out of town we stopped at the hippodrome, now under reconstruction. Horse races were held here for a relatively brief time before it was converted into an industrial area for pottery production. But now it is one of the best preserved hippodromes in the world. Though our tour was cut short the impressive history and beauty of the remains made this stop a favorite.

We traveled back to Amman to tour the Citadel. Amman was also one of the cities of the decapolis, known then as Philadelphia. Now the capital of Jordan, it's built on seven hills and boasts a population of over 1.6 million.

Some ruins on the top of the Citadel are still under excavation and restoration, as we could plainly see as we visited the Temple of Hercules. A tour of the archaeological museum allowed us to see many unique treasures of past civilizations, including some of the Dead Sea Scroll artifacts, such as The Copper Scroll.

The view of Amman from Citadel Hill was beautiful. Our hotel was then just a short distance away, through a tunnel and back up another hill. After dinner we walked through downtown Amman, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the bus terminal area and getting a brief tour of Amman's Roman Theater in the moonlight. Right across from the Theater is Amman's "Everything One Dinar" store.

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