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Cardo, Decumanus

Cardo and Decumanus / © Foto: Haupt and Binder, Universes in Universe

Cardo, Umayyad/Abbassid Mosque, Tetrakionion, South Decumanus, Umayyad Houses

The colonnaded streets of Gerasa are among the best preserved of their kind in the Near East. Although their orientation deviates from the strict Greco-Roman scheme, the usual designations of the main axes are used for them: Cardo for the central north-south connection and Decumanus for the two major transverse streets that cross the Cardo at right angles in the south and in the north.

Until the early 2nd century AD, the course of Gerasa's streets was based on the terrain and the traffic routes that developed over time. It was not until the city became part of Provincia Arabia, founded by the Roman Empire after the annexation of the Nabataean Empire in 106 AD under Emperor Trajan, that planned expansion and reconstruction began. As far as possible, the older street network has been overlaid by a rectangular (orthogonal) grid (J. Seigne, p. 12)

The 800 m long Cardo does not run exactly from north to south as usual in the Hippodamian scheme, but slightly offset to the north-northeast because of the Chrysorhoas (Gold River, today Wadi Jerash). It was gradually developed into a representative processional and commercial road leading along the partly steep hills on the west side of the river valley from the North Gate in a straight line to the Oval Plaza and across it to the Sanctuary of Zeus Olympios, the most important cult site of Gerasa at that time (see also Oval Plaza).

The north gate is dated to 115 AD by a dedicatory inscription that names Emperor Trajan as the founder and savior of the city. From here important trade routes led to Pella, Scythopolis, Gadara and the Mediterranean.

The northern section of the Cardo in front of the north gate is the oldest. It was built in the Trajan-Hadrian period (Trajan reigned until 117, Hadrian subsequently until 138), and its columns have Ionic capitals very similar to those on the roughly contemporaneous Oval Plaza (see the capitals of the Oval Plaza).

The southern Cardo. On the right, in the background, the Oval Plaza and the Sanctuary of Zeus Olympios. In the back, on the left, the so-called Camp Hill, where the oldest settlement nucleus of Gerasa was located and where nowadays the museum stands.

The dating of the different phases of construction and reconstruction of the Cardo is facilitated by a series of inscriptions with dedications, consecrations and naming of donors. More about this at the respective monuments.

The Cardo is paved with rectangular slabs laid diagonally, which reduced the risk of the joints being worn out by wagon wheels. At irregular intervals, the paving is interrupted by transversely laid slabs, as can be seen in the left photo with the wheel grooves in the foreground. The width of the roadway varies in different sections between 6.20 m to 7.60 m. There are slightly raised sidewalks on both sides of the roadway and drainage holes in some places. About 1 m below the pavement ran the main sewer, the cloaca maxima.

The columns, capitals, architraves and postaments of the porticoes along the streets are built of limestone. Along the colonnaded streets, especially around public buildings and intersections, stores were located in the rear of the porticoes.

Stores at the Cardo

Raised columns in front of the Macellum

The intercolumnia (distance between the columns) vary in different sections. The height of the columns also varies greatly, ranging from just over 5 m at the northern Cardo to the Artemis Propylaeum, which are about 16 m high. Raised columns were used to highlight entrances to important public buildings, for example, those in front of the Macellum are about 10 m high and those to the left are 7.20 m high.

Umayyad / Abbassid Mosque

At the intersection of the Cardo with the South Decumanus, the foundations of a mosque were uncovered.

With the victory of the Muslim army in the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, the Byzantine or Eastern Roman era ended in Transjordan and the Islamic era dawned. Gerasa was not much destroyed during the conquests, but the city suffered greatly from a plague epidemic.

When the rule of the Umayyad dynasty (661- 750) began in the region, the majority of the population initially remained Christian, so many churches continued to be used. However, gradually more inhabitants converted to Islam and the city needed mosques This one was built in the first half of the 8th century, probably under Caliph Hisham, son of Abd al-Malik (724/743 AD), on the site of an earlier Roman villa. It consisted of an open courtyard with porticoes on three sides and a large prayer hall (39 x 14 m) divided into three naves by two rows of columns.

(From information at the site)


The intersection of the Cardo with the South Decumanus has been extended to a circular square (diameter about 44 m) with a Tetrakionion in the center. As can be seen in the drawing (from a sign at the site) below, it is a structure made of four unconnected pedestals, each with 4 columns on it.

The monument dates from the time of the Tetrarchy between 293 and 305 AD, when the Roman Empire was ruled by four emperors of equal power. According to information at the site, statues of the tetrarchs Diocletian, Maximian Hercules, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius are supposed to have stood on the pedestals. On the two eastern pedestals (the two on the left in the photo) Latin dedications for two of the Roman tetrarchs have been preserved: one for Constantius and the other for Maximianus or Galerius.

(Reconstruction drawing from an information at the site, originally published in Kraeling, Plan XV)

The individual pedestals with a niche on each side have an edge length of 4 m and stand 6 m apart. Originally, each pedestal supported four columns of pink granite from Aswan in Egypt, crowned by an entablature.

The quarter-circular perimeter of the square, interrupted by the colonnaded streets, housed stores. In front of each of the facades, adapted to the curvature, there were two half-columns with Corinthian capitals on a high pedestal.

View from the Tetrakionion to the west into the South Decumanus.

South Decumanus

On the photo one can see in the foreground the western section of the South Decumanus with the houses from the Umayyad period. The columns a bit behind belong to the Church of St. Theodore. The very high columns are part of the Temple of Artemis.

The South Decumanus, the second largest colonnaded street of Gerasa, crosses the Cardo in a west-east direction at right angles. It is about 620 m long, its carriageway was 7 m wide, it had no footpaths and the porticoes consisted of columns about 6 m high with Corinthian capitals.

The archaeologists found remains of houses and cisterns from the 1st and 2nd century AD at the South Decumanus, which were destroyed for the construction of the new road, around 165 AD. Therefore, the new construction could be started only after that, around 170 AD. An inscription on a column near the bridge over the Chrysorhoas indicates that the paving stones were laid in the 3rd century. The South Decumanus was never completely finished, because it did not cross the entire city area.

On the photo above there is a tower at the very end of the road. This is the minaret of the mosque on the other side of the Wadi Jerash. The South Decumanus was one of two roads that crossed the river and connected the neighborhoods on both banks.

1 - Tetrakionion, 2 - Bridge over the Chrysorhoas (Gold River, today Wadi Jerash), 3 - Great Eastern Baths, 4 - Mosque, 5 - Macellum, 6 - Houses from the Umayyad period

The columns on the first photo belong to the South Decumanus, which continued over the bridge crossing the Chrysorhoas to the eastern part of the city. Nowadays it is interrupted by a fence and a busy modern road. But the walk around the outside of the archaeological site and across the reconstructed bridge is worthwhile, because on the other side you can visit the ruins of the Eastern Baths, one of the largest and best preserved bathing complexes of the ancient Orient.

Residential houses from the Umayyad period

On the north side of the South Decumanus, the remains of residential buildings were uncovered, dating back to Umayyad domination (661- 750). It is "one of the few surviving early Islamic residential complexes and probably the most complete known to date in Jordan." (The Umayyads, p. 149) It was built in place of a residential quarter from the Roman and Byzantine periods that was demolished for it, mainly with its recycled stones and on the old foundation walls.

A large Umayyad house dated to 660 was about 13 x 21 m, had the main entrance at the Decumanus, a living area of 200 square meters and the usual utility rooms (kitchen, storerooms). The lower lying rooms were entered through doors from the courtyard. Larger rooms were divided by an arch in the middle, a feature of Islamic construction found to the present day in simple 19th century houses in some villages. There was probably an upper floor, accessible from the courtyard by stairs. The underground sewage system was connected to that of the urban exterior and apparently dated back to Roman times.

In the 8th century, the large house was divided into smaller units. Probably after an earthquake, potters briefly operated four kilns on the site.

(From information at the site and in The Umayyads, pp. 149-151).

(© Text by Universes in Universe from information in different sources.)


Cardo, Umayyad / Abbassid Mosque, Tetrakionion, South Decumanus, Umayyad houses
Jerash Archeological City
Location on map

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