The Ghosts of Jerash

May 14, 2008

jerash-theatre.jpgThey follow you around this place. Sometimes they silently appear from behind golden pillars with authentic fake coins to sell. Sometimes they rise out of the ground in the middle distance, shimmering among the rocks,  and silently beckon to you to come and look at some ancient wonder, their dark robes flapping in the hot, dry, oven baked  air.  Other times you look behind you in the tunnels of the amphitheatre and wait for their silent appearance from around the curve of the wall. You hear their steps but never see them, no matter how quickly or how often you spin around. These ones only touch your skin on the back of your head, never your eyes. Read more

Walking Through the Roman City of Jerash

November 10, 2007

I took some photos and video when in Jordan recently. An earlier blog refers to that visit but the video gives a better feel for that place. I loved being able to walk through a place that gave such a sense of historicity yet connection with its inhabitants – all at the same time.

Taxi Story – The Jordanian

September 25, 2007

(In Jordan. To and from Jerash). Hello, my name is Ishmael. You want to go to Jerash? At this time of the day? OK, no problem, no problem. You want to visit craft store for souvenirs? You have enough souvenirs. OK. No problem. Did you know Ismael was related to Ibrahim in the Bible? It is an ancient name. I live just outside Amman. Look at all this countryside. In 1967 all these market gardens and this little valley was home to a million Palestinians displaced by the war. You want to look at that castle? OK, we are going to Jerash. No problem. Here (in Jerash) are all sorts of things to look at and I will show you where to start and will wait until you finish looking. Please don’t hurry. I am happy to wait. Did you enjoy that? It is a special place isn’t it? I brought my wife up here two months ago just to remind ourselves how special it is. When you live here you can forget. I have nine children. I am very lucky to have all good children. And very lucky that they can all do the things they want without worrying about their future or living like those Palestinians had to in 1967. The peace with Israel was the best thing that has happened to our country. My two eldest daughters have been in university. One studied biology and is now getting a job. The other is in her first year at university. All my other children are in school. The youngest is twelve. Two of my children were twins. Two of my daughters are married and each has two girls. (Laughing) I am a grandfather. It is a good thing and I like it very much. Do you mind if we pull over and buy fruit? Thankyou. Here, you will like these figs I have bought for you. It is Ramadan and I cannot eat until sundown but please, have these figs. Let me wash them first with this bottled water. And please, take this rhumahn (phon: = pomegranate). My wife will be happy with these eggplants and fruit, because all the family get together at Ramadan and they eat a lot. It is cheaper to buy fruit and vegetables on the side of the road than to buy in Amman. Thankyou for your talking. I have two nieces in Wollongong. One day I will visit Australia too.

Jerash – Roman City

September 23, 2007

Since the time I was a kid I wanted to walk around Roman ruins. There was something magical about all those columns. It was a desire fuelled even more when, for a year at high school, we studied Roman art and architecture and columns and plinths, capitals and inscriptions in detail. A year of Ancient (Roman and Greek) history at university kept the interest alive. And in their own quaint way the pictures of Asterisk and Obelisk continued to pique the fascination. Fortuitously I arrived back on a day with all the offices shut and a few hours of sunlight left. I grabbed a taxi driver (so to speak) and directed him to Jerash. No side trips to souvenir shops run by a distant cousin. To Jerash only. No, it’s not too late in the day. Heaps of time. Less talking more driving.

Jerash is a well preserved and partially restored Roman city on the outskirts of Amman. I happily wandered its streets for hours (and the driver seemed content to wait which was very decent of him). Here are the wide colonnaded streets, pavement still cut by chariot and wagon wheels. Here too the little lanes into roofless houses in high density apartment dwelling we would be very comfortable with. Cellars. Temples. Fountains. A hippodrome. Two amphitheatres still in working order and used for performances today. Shopping centres. Churches. An earthquake in 790 AD pretty much ended this city – all those blocks of stone resting on columns must suddenly have looked like a liability when the earth started moving.

But there are other durable pieces of stone work that can only be admired for their creativity and ingenuity. With some of the buildings stripped down you could see how they hung ceilings and floors two or three stories high – with a lot of cantilevering. There is a remarkable dedication in stone to the nymphs, a collection of fountains placed in a wall, fed by water down two kilometres of piping. The piping has gone, the fountains remain. Even the way the stone was dressed was mimicked in Victorian stone masonry 1500 or more years later and you can see the same style of work in London, Sydney, Philadelphia (which incidentally used to be the name by which Amman went by). Those cut pavers, the apartments with their cellars and an old well hint at real people walking around this place. They have an eerie presence still. Most poignant were the fallen stone decorations, on which you can still see the chisel marks of the masons. Nearly 2000 years dead yet his handiwork is still visible. As I was caught by the sight of it lying in the dust of centuries I thought of our yearning for immortality – a universal desire across all time to be able to spend all time crafting what we can do best. How disappointed that mason would be to see his work thrown down like this. Or would he be happy to know we are thinking of him? Happier still no doubt if he was still plying his craft.