Jerash, Pella, Jordan

Jordan //

Jerash and the north

The rolling hills of northern Jordan hold some of the loveliest countryside in the whole Middle East, with acres of olive and fig trees, patches of ancient pine forest and fields of wheat interspersed with fertile, cultivated valleys that point the way west down to the deep Jordan Valley. This is the most densely populated part of the country, and every hill and wadi has its village. Many of the local people are from ancient Syrian or Transjordanian families, but plenty of towns also have a significant population of Palestinians, who continue to farm the East Bank of the Jordan much as they did the West Bank and Galilee before having to flee in the wars of 1948 and 1967.

In biblical times, this was the greater part of the area known as the Decapolis, and extensive ruins of important Roman cities survive, most notably at Jerash, north of Amman, and Umm Qais, in the far northwest. West of Jerash, the ruins of an Arab-built Crusader-period castle dominate the hills above Ajloun, which is also the location for the lovely Ajloun Forest Reserve, set amid isolated woods of evergreen oak, now also the venue for fascinating rural walks and local village projects.

To the west is the swelteringly subtropical Jordan Valley, more than 200m below sea level, carrying the trickling River Jordan south to the Dead Sea. Ongoing excavations here at the Decapolis city of Pella have revealed continuous habitation for at least five thousand years before the Romans arrived. Above the southern Jordan Valley, the rolling hills of the Balqa region that rise towards Amman hide low-key towns and villages, such as the graceful old Ottoman capital Salt and its neighbour Fuheis.