Think of Jordan and ruins and what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Petra, right? And more specifically, this view of the Treasury I bet.
It certainly was the one image of Jordan I had before I visited in 2010.
But there is a lot more to the country that just Petra. Being right at the centre of the cradle of civilisation, it is full of ruins from many periods throughout ancient history.
Umm Qais, the site of the Hellenistic-Roman ruined city of Gadara up in the north west corner of Jordan close to the boarders with Israel and Syria is one of the least well known, being less immediately accessible from the capital, Amman.
Dating back to 300 BCE, Gadara was originally built by the Greeks, but was later conquered by the Romans and then the Arabs until in 747 it was abandoned after being mostly destroyed in an earthquake. Nowadays, it consists of several colonnaded streets, baths, theatres, temples and hippodrome.
The day I visited Umm Qais with a friend, we had been sitting in our hotel all day, catching up on emails and enjoying the relative cool compared to the scorching midday heat. She would’ve been quite happy to stay in for the rest of the afternoon and evening, but I insisted that we go out, and so in the late afternoon, we caught a minivan from central Irbid to Umm Qais.
It was close to sunset when we arrived, and so the light was turning everything a deep, satisfying orange.
The few other visitors who were still there that late in the day were mostly in tour groups, and listened as their guide pointed out the Sea of Galilee (or Lake Tiberias) and the Golan Heights across the boarder in Israel.
The air was getting cool, but the stones, having been exposed to the heat of the sun all day, radiated warmth. I may have hugged one or two of the pillars to feel their warmth and played around taking silly pictures of myself on pedestals where I imagined there were once statues of equally buff and handsome men.
In the final rays of flaming sunlight of that day, the arches of the amphitheatre made for dramatic frames and allowed for some of my favourite photos from Jordan.
Meanwhile, local visitors and children admired the ancient architecture and played with the echoes in the amphitheatre as the sky turned slowly pinker, fading to dark blue.
I am the first to admit that I’m not very knowledgable abut history, nor am I really patient enough to educate myself, something which I suspect distracts from my ability to fully understand and appreciate places like this that I visit.
But as I stood there watching the sky darken, I wondered how people in 2000 years from now would see the cities we build today. Would they walk around taking silly pictures of themselves in inappropriate places? Would they be too busy to take the time to learn about the history of the very place they’re standing in?
When we decided to leave, my friend and I then discovered that the last minivans had already left back to Irbid. This meant we were stuck with the choice of hitchhiking the 25km back to town, or hiring an entire minivan ourselves. I voted for the latter, and while my friend grumbled at the expense, my inner child revelled in the decadence of having our own vehicle, if only briefly.
Although it was over four years ago now, my brief visit to Umm Qais has stuck with me.
The combination of the solitude, the desolation and the light from my few hours there has carved this place into my memory as one of the most tranquil, beautiful and in a way, melancholy places I’ve visited on my travels. If you get a chance, I definitely recommend visiting yourself.
Tips for a visit to Umm Qais
- Irbid doesn’t really have much to offer in the way of sights, but it is a good place to see how young Jordanians live as it’s a bustling university town. The main reason to come here is to visit Umm Qais.
- The site is relatively small and you can walk around it in under an hour.
- To get there, take a minivan from Irbid’s North bus station. This should cost around 0.25 JOD (€0.28, £0.23, US$0.35) and take 40 minutes.
- The few hours just before sunset are a great time to visit for enjoying the light, but don’t miss the last bus back!
- The entrance is just 1 JOD (€1.15, £0.90, US$1.40).