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Al-Birketein Roman pools of Jerash (Gerasa), Jordan

The geographical, geological and climate setting

Jordan is located at the crossroads of three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, and therefore has a biogeography comprised of four zones: Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Afro-subtropical and Saharo-Arabian. Jerash area is located in the Mediterranean zone.

More specifically, the Jerash Governorate (Mohafadha) lies in the NW part of Jordan and is partly covering the lower part of the Zerqa River basin. The Governorate has an area of 402 km2 (i.e. 0.4% of the total area of Jordan) and a population of 165,000 (3.5% of the Jordan population), half of them living in urban and half in rural settlements. The city of Jerash, the Gerasa of antiquity, is the capital of the Governorate, situated 48 km far from Amman. The population of the city itself is estimated at about 45,000 people.  

Despite its small size the Governorate has a considerable diversification in topography. Altitudes range from as low as 200 - 250 metres below sea level (King Talal Dam and Jerash Bridge, respectively) to 1050 metres above sea (Assfour, Souf), where snow fall is frequent in winter.

Jerash Governorate is bestowed by a relatively high precipitation and many springs, compared to other parts of Jordan. Numerous little wadis drain the Governorate emptying their flows in the main Zarqa River, especially during the short period of winter floods.

The topographical setting of the area combined with considerable amounts of rainfall and good soil enables agricultural produce. Citrus trees are grown in the lower valley while olive trees occupy the major share of the arable land in the upper part. Vegetables are also grown all over the Governorate, while a part of it contains Mediterranean forests with pine and oak trees. Such sites have a tourism potential in addition to the richness in archeologically interesting sites.

Jerash climate in general can be characterized as Mediterranean semi-arid with two distinct seasons; the long dry hot summer season extending from May to September and the moderate winter season extending from October to April.

The climate of Jerash Governorate is highly influenced by elevations. The western part which has elevations below 200 meters has scarce precipitation and is dominated by hot dry weather. The northern part, with elevations reaching 1000 meters, has a high annual precipitation (above 600 mm) and frequent snow falls. In the Debeen area which has an altitude of 750 meters and lies within the path of the humid west winds coming from the Mediterranean Sea the mean annual precipitation reach 500 mm. 

The historical and social setting

The area of Jerash was already inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC - 1200 BC). The city however was founded probably by Alexander the Great, or one of his generals, who settled their aged soldiers (Gerasa, Γέρασα = ageing in Greek). This is estimated at 331 BC, when Alexander left Egypt, crossed Syria and then went to Mesopotamia.

After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, the area becomes a Roman province. The Romans ensured security and peace in the area, which enabled economic development and encouraged civic building activity. An intense road network, public buildings, temples, theatres, public fountains, etc. are constructed during the Roman era. In this period the city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square meters within its walls. The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the decline of Jerash, aggravated by a series of earthquakes in 749 AD.

It becomes obvious from the above that the area has had a long record of prosperous economic and social development. The present setting is mainly a result of four centuries of Ottoman dominance. This long period was characterised by absence of a strong central state, social and political stagnancy, loss of communities’ institutions and anarchy. During the period of the Ottoman Empire the only political activities taking place were hostilities between peasants and the Bedouins which led to the rise of influential peasant families and strong Bedouins Tribal Sheikhs. This situation prevailed until the establishment of the Jordan State in 1922 when economic and social development started at a reasonable pace. Because of lack of financial and natural resources and centralised planning & implementation development has not reached its full potential and communities’ institutions have not yet reached a state of social and political maturity.

The social composition of Jerash is characterised by an homogeneous rural peasant society with strong family bonds, clans, strong kinship relations and Bedouins society (family tribe name: Bani Hasan) that is transferred to rural communities.

Another development was introduced in 1967 in the form of a huge immigration flux from Palestine. These immigrants consider this refuge as temporary with high feelings of alienation. Local and international political implications were hurdles against effective measures for improving living conditions of these refugees which results in a stress upon the limited resources, particularly water and infrastructure.