JERASH, near Amman, Jordan
After a rather heavy-hearted account of a brief stay in Syria, we move on to the next part of the Middle East journey: Jordan. Although small and almost landlocked, Jordan is a country of a relatively high development with an “upper middle income” economy in the region. It is also a major tourist destination, thanks to the ruined city of Petra, Dead Sea and Wadi Rum, the desert of Lawrence of Arabia. After a little more than a week in Syria, my first impression of the Jordanian capital Amman was the reemergence of global businesses and commercialism. We started our Jordanian route from the very north of the country at Jerash, one of the best preserved classical ruined cities in the world.
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In the morning we took a minibus from Amman’s Abdali Bus Station (now closed) to Jerash, about 50km north of the capital. Known as the City of Gerasa or Antioch on the Golden River in the Greco-Roman period, Jerash is now a major tourist attraction in Jordan. Many have compared Jerash to Pompeii in terms of the extent and level of preservation. To me, they are actually two very different archaeological sites. Founded by Alexander the Great or by Seleucid King Antioch IV in 331 BC, Gerasa flourished in the Roman period as a trading hub. The three of us entered the Arch of Hadrian, wandered around the site and visited the ruins of Temple of Artemis, saw many Corinthian columns, early churches, the Oval Piazza, and two theaters. At the second theatre, a band of musicians, dressed in military uniforms, were playing ceremonial music on the stage and prompting us to stop for a while. We exited the ruins through the north gate, and hired a taxi to the bus station. At the station, we met an old man who claimed to be an experience tour guide. He told us a bit about his journey to Hong Kong back in early 1970’s, and recommended a cheaper Amman bound bus to us.
The 22m high triple archway was erected in 130AD to commemorate the visit of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The Oval Forum and Cardo Maximus, the colonnaded road are the most recognizable features of Jerash.
The Oval Forum is bounded by 56 Ionic columns. The large square was probably used as a marketplace and a social gathering spot.
With the beautiful scaenae frons (stage backdrop) and proscenium (front face of the stage), the South Theatre is another popular attraction in Jerash.
Built between AD 81 and 96, the 5000-seat South Theatre is famous for its acoustics.
Just like many other tourists, we came across a band playing Jordanian Scottish bagpipe at the South Theatre of Jerash.
The Jordanian Scottish bagpipe is a legacy from Emirate of Transjordan, the years of British protectorate before 1946.
Artemis was the patron saint of Gerasa. Built in the 2nd century AD, the Temple of Artemis was one of the most important building in the city, at least before the end of the 4th century when pagan cults were forbidden.
Temple of Artemis has several beautiful Corinthian columns.
Each column weighs over 20 tons and are 39 feet tall.
Built in AD 165, the North Theatre was used for government meetings in the Roman times. Many seats are inscribed with names of city council members.
RUINS OF EPHESUS, Selcuk, Turkey
After breakfast, a staff of Homeros Pension drove us to a bank for money exchange before dropping us at the world renowned archaeological ruins of Ephesus (Efes). Ephesus is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey, thanks to its close proximity to the cruise port and airport in the resort town of Kusadasi. The magnificent facade of Ephesus’ Library of Celsus is the signature image of Classical ruins in Turkey. Two thousand years ago, Ephesus was one of the greatest Greek and Roman cities in Asia Minor. Founded in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greeks, Ephesus reached its peak after the Roman takeover in 129 BC. From 52-54 AD, Paul the Apostle stayed in Ephesus and probably wrote his Gospel in the city. Ephesus was named as one of the seven churches of Asia in the Book Revelation, indicating Christianity was quite popular back then. In the Byzantine era, major earthquakes, shifting of trade routes, and sacking by the Arabs all contributed to the downfall of Ephesus. Its glorious past was eventually forgotten, and Ephesus was eventually abandoned in the 15th century. Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the magnificent Library of Celsus and the 25,000 seat theatre exemplify the former grandeur of the city. Already in ruins since 401 AD, the Temple of Artemis has little remained except a restored column. The restored facade of Library of Celsus remains as the biggest draw for visitors.
Seats for up to 24,000 spectators, the splendid great theatre of Ephesus was the first impressive building that we encountered in the site.
It was the time in the year where poppies flourished.
Right by Celsus Library, the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates was a arch of triumph built in 40 AD during the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor and the great nephew of Julius Caesar.
Popular with tourist advertisements, the facade of the Library of Celsus is the most famous image of Ephesus. Named after Celsus, a Roman consul in Rome and later the provincial governor of Asia, the library was built by Celsus’ son Aquila and filled with over 12,000 scrolls of reading materials acquired by the money of Celsus left behind.
From 117 to 262 AD, the Library of Celsus served as an important public space in Ephesus for 145 years, where people came to read the rare scrolls under natural light at the main floor. In 262 AD, the library was destroyed by fire caused by earthquake or Gothic invasion.
The statues at the library facade symbolize wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valor.
Episteme, the Greek philosophical term of “knowledge”, was depicted as one of the statues at Library of Celsus.
The imposing Library of Celsus is the most popular photo spot in Ephesus.
After the destruction in 262 AD, the facade survived for another 800 years or so until the tenth or eleventh century. Lying in ruins for about a thousand years, the facade of Library of Celsus was restored in the 1970s.
As an important Roman city, Latin inscriptions can be found all over Ephesus.
Beyond Mazeus & Mithridates Gate, a Corinthian colonnade marks the Agora, the former commercial heart of the ancient city.
Paved with marble stone and flanked by colonnade, Curetes Street was one of the main treets in Ephesus.
Along the street, there are lots of interesting architectural details for all visitors to discover.
The Odeon was used for political meetings, concerts and theatrical performances.
Roman relief of the Memmius Monument
Nike, the goddess of victory, was depicted on a marble relief.
Arch with relief sculpture at the Temple of Hadrian.
Headless Roman statue at Curetes Street.
The Hercules Gate at Curetes Street marked the separation between uptown and downtown.
Beautiful frieze at Hadrian Temple revealed the high craftsmanship of the Roman builders.
RED BASILICA & ASCLEPION, Bergama, Turkey
Below the acropolis hill of Pergamon stands the town of Bergama and the scattered ruins of ancient Pergamon. A short taxi ride took us from the acropolis to the Red Basilica in Bergama. Originally a temple built by Roman Emperor Hadrian dedicated to Egyptian deities, the basilica was later converted into a Christian church in the Byzantine era. The brick structure itself is massive and red in colour, and hence the name Red Basilica. Massive red brick structures were common in Roman Italy at that time, but was something rather new and unique in Asia Minor. We stayed for roughly half an hour to appreciate the structure’s grandeur from the remaining archways and masonry shell.
Outside the Red Basilica, we had a quick bite at an pancake eatery. The town was pretty laid back, with donkeys wandering on the street and artisans sitting in front of shops weaving carpet. We ventured further uphill behind Bergama, passed by a military base, to the ruins of Asclepion, a medical complex in the Greek and Roman times. Most of the remaining buildings we saw dated back to the Hadrian’s time. There were theatre, pools, libraries, temples, and houses. Patients who came to Asclepion were offered spiritual treatments at temples, as well as physical exercises and spa services at the adjacent facilities. After a full day of sightseeing, we headed back to Izmir and then transferred to Selcuk.
At 21:00, we arrived at Selcuk Bus Station. A guy named Michael approached us to sell us bus tickets. At last, we bought from him tickets to Pammukale for the day after tomorrow. The van from Homeros Pension finally arrived and took us to the beautifully decorated guesthouse.
Bergama was quite a laid back town in the Aegean region of Turkey.
Sleepy street scene of Asclepion in midday.
Dated back to the 11th century, Bergama is famous for its carpet weaving. Most Bergama carpets are made with wool.
Donkeys and ponies were quite common in Bergama.
The Red Basilica was one of the largest surviving Roman structures in the Greek world.
The enormous structure formed only a part of an even larger religious complex.
Unlike Ancient Rome, red masonry used in such enormous scale was something new in Asia Minor
One of the rotundas of the Red Basilica is now occupied by a mosque.
Asclepion, the ruined medical centre in the Roman times, was a well known treatment centre in the classical times.
There were hardly anyone else when we visited Asclepion.
The theatre of Asclepion revealed that the ancient medical centre was once also served as a social venue.
Fine details at the theatre stair.
Ionic columns and remaining frieze and cornice could still be found at the ruins.
In times of Antiquity, Asclepion was the 2nd most popular medical treatment centres just after Epidauros in Greece.
ACROPOLIS OF PERGAMON, Bergama, Turkey
At 19:00 we bid farewell to the hostel staff and left Sultan Hostel of Istanbul. We took the T4 bus from Hagia Sophia to the Taksim Square. We headed over to the office of Kamil Koc and waited for the departure of our first night bus in Turkey. At 09:00 the next day we arrived at Izmir, where we transferred to another bus for Bergama, the town where the famous Classical Greek city of Pergamon once stood in the 3rd century BC. We hired a taxi from Bergama’s otogar (bus station) to the acropolis archaeological park. I was quite excited for arriving at the ruined acropolis of Pergamon, largely due to my 2003 visit of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, where the Great Altar of Pergamon was restored and displayed for the past 90 years. Seeing the Great Altar of Pergamon in Berlin’ three years prior to the trip was probably the main reason why I chose to stop by Bergama on our way to Selcuk from Istanbul. In the archaeological park, the acropolis where the high altar once stood was pretty much in ruins. A few notable structures, including the Trajaneum (where a headless marble statue in Roman armor stood in a courtyard) and the Greek Theatre, claimed to be the steepest theatre in the ancient world, represented the highlights. Near the base of the theatre lower, we stopped by the ruined Temple of Dionysus to pay a little respect to the God of pleasure and wine.
As the capital of Kingdom of Pergamon during the Attalid dynasty (281-133 BC), Pergamon was one of the major cultural centres in the Greek world. After 133 BC, Pergamon became part of the Roman Empire, and assigned as the capital city of province Asia. As trading routes shifted to Constantinople during the Byzantine era, the once Greek and Roman metropolis was transformed into a medium size city, but maintained its religious importance as it was mentioned in the Book of Revelations as one of Seven Churches of Asia. Then came the Ottomans who transformed Pergamon into a Turkish city with mosques and bath houses that we know today. From the first visit of German engineer Carl Humann in 1864 to WWI, the Germans had made numerous expeditions and archaeological excavations at Pergamon. Most of their findings are now on display at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. After WWI, artefacts found on site were being restored and exhibited at Istanbul or the Bergama Museum.
Probably the most famous Classical artefact in Berlin, the Great Altar of Pergamon has been moved to and reconstructed in the German capital about a century ago.
The statue of Athena Parthenos was found in the ruins of Library of Pergamon in 1880.
Today, the most prominent remaining structure at the Acropolis of Pergamon is the Greek Theatre. With a seating capacity of 10,000, the theatre was the steepest in the world.
Below the theatre lies the town of Bergama.
Off to the side at the base of the theatre once stood the Temple of Dionysus.
Looking up the theatre from the Temple of Dionysus allowed us to fully appreciate the scale and steepness of the theatre.
A series of stepped walkways allowed the ancient audience to disperse efficiently.
Fragments of classical cornice and frieze could be found all over the archaeological park.
One of the most remarkable structures in the acropolis is Trajaneum, the only Roman building on site.
Completed by Emperor Hadrian, the Trajaneum was used to worship Zeus as well as Emperor Trajan, Hadrian’s predecessor.
Occupying the summit of the acropolis, Trajaneum sent a clear message to the citizens of Pergamon that the Romans were fully in charge of the once Hellenistic city.
The Corinthian column capitals still look spectacular after 2000 years.
It was a pleasure to wander around the ruined acropolis and looked for the remaining architectural details.
The statue of Hadrian could still be found in the acropolis.