The Main Cardo of Jerash – A Monumental Roman Road

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The Roman city of Gerasa and the modern Jerash (in the background).

The Cardo of Jerash was particularly splendid roman road – a visual statement about the importance of the city within the eastern Roman Empire

The main cardo of Jerash was the city’s backbone. Running from north to south, it was begun towards the end of the first century AD when the city became a Roman. By this time, Jerash was linked via trade to crucial towns in the eastern Roman Empire such as Petra, Bosra and Damascus. These links made the city rich and the city displayed its wealth and standing through major public buildings such as the sanctuary of Artemis, bathhouses baths and theatres. A were accessed via the main cardo.

But the city did not just display its wealth and standing through its buildings. For the cardo itself, with its covered pavements, monumental road junctions and nymphaeum was also designed to impress.

The Oval Forum and Tetraphylon

The oval forum and north and south tetraphylons mark Junctions and changes in direction along the main cardo whilst at the same time making impressive visual statements about the centre of Jerash.

The Oval Forum. This unique structure was not actually the forum of Jerash but a plaza designed to link in the southern entrance of the city to the main cardo. Measuring 66m by 99m, the plaza is a roughly elliptical shape edged with ionic colonnades and paved with even blocks of stone arranged in concentric rows. It disguises the abrupt change in direction that accompanied the approach into the city via the south gate and the junction with the main cardo. The disguise is smooth and the plaza itself, overlooked by the temple of Zeus and southern theatre would have made an impressive welcome to the city.

The South Tetraphylon and Circular Plaza. This arrangement marked the junction between the main cardo and the south decumanus of Jerash. It also marked the southernmost entrance to the city centre. Whilst the date of the plaza is undetermined, the tetraphylon can be dated to the second century AD. It consisted of four, four metre square towers, each consisting of four Corinthian columns resting on a podium and topped off with a decorative entablature. Movement around each tower was free flowing and allowed a clear view in all directions of the roads about the plaza and the nearby shops.

The North tetraphylon marked the northern extent of the centre of Jerash and the junction of the main cardo with the northern decumanus. It was built for a practical purpose. The main cardo was widened in the second century AD but this expansion did not extend beyond the northern extent of the tertraphyon. The structure, which consisted of a four way arch, masked the sudden change in the road width whilst providing a beautiful monumental structure to mark the northernmost extent of the city.

Roman Shops and the Macellum

The grand public buildings of Jerash’s city centre had some more mundane neighbours. The public food market or macellum was entered via the main cardo and its numerous shops ran its length, sandwiched between the grand monuments.

These mundane structures were aggrandized by the cardo itself. The pavements that fronted them were covered by colonnaded porticos which effectively shaded the pavements, whilst dressing up the frontage of the buildings behind them. The levels of these columns were varied to accommodate the street level and keep the line of the portico visually in line. In the second century AD, the original ionic colonnade replaced with a more decorative Corinthian format when the main cardo was widened

The Nymphaeum

To mark the widest point of the newly revamped main street, a grand nymphaeum or public fountain was built in the second century AD. Its remains can be seen today, situated between what became the cathedral complex and the temple of Artemis.

Remains show the fountain to have been two stories high. The lower levels were covered in green marble whilst the upper part was plastered and painted in red and green. Statues were designed to act as conduits for water pouring into the main basin.

Whilst the nymphaeum was making a powerful visual statement about the wealth of Jerash, it also had a practical use for its people. At pavement level, the main basin had lion headed fountains, where passersby could collect water.

Sources:

  1. Browning, I, 1982. Jerash and the Decapolis.Chatto & Windus: London
  2. Gates, C, 2003. Ancient Cities: The Archaeology of Urban Life in the Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome. London: Routledge