In Northern Jordan, there is an old town called Umm Qais. Umm Qais is the largest city in Bani Kinanah Department and Irbid Governorate. Umm Qias today is divided into three main areas; the archaeological site (Gadara), the traditional village (Umm Qais), and the modern town of Umm Qais.
Umm Qais' old name during the Greek civilization was “Gedara '' which means fortress, then in the Ottoman era its name changed to be “Makis' ' but this pronunciation wasn't fixed with the Arabic language. At that time, because people mispronounced the word “Makis”, they pronounced it Umm Qais. Another story says that it was called “ Makos' ' which means Taxes in Othmanic language and Umm Qais was derived from this word.
In the 2nd century A.D. The theater was built against the western slope of the Acropolis. Its auditorium offered space for approximately 3000 visitors and – like the semicircular orchestra – is built entirely of basalt.
The auditorium (cavea) is built in three storeys, which are divided into wedge-shaped sections of seats. Underneath the second storey runs a fastened corridor (crypta). Four entrances (vomitoria) gave access from the corridor to the upper part of the auditorium. Many earthquakes hit Umm Qais and the nearby cities, because of that most of these entrances collapsed. . Likewise very little remains of the former stage building (scaenae frons), which once blocked the view of the surrounding landscape.
Theaters played a huge role during the old era; they were a stage of tragic plays, comedies, and religious and political festivals were held in these theaters.
The so-called West Theater, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, was only one of the three theaters used by the Gadarenes. There was also the larger North Theater and a third small theatre at Hammat Gader in the Yarmouk Valley.
The West Theatre (1st and Early 2nd Century AD)
The smaller West Theatre, built with well-hewn basalt blocks, is still relatively well preserved, with its seats (the cavea area), vaulted corridors (vomitoria), and white marble goddess statue (which most probably represented Tyche; the city goddess of Gadara and Philadelphia). The theatre stands free on a sloping piece of ground, from there you can see a fascinating view over the Ghor, Norhtern’Ajlun, Palestine, and the Lake of Tiberius. The stage part of the Theatre is in ruin. The Theatre could be accessed from several locations, one of which is from the area of the Basilica Terrace to the north. The smaller West Theatre enjoys a diameter of 53 meters. Honored guests and notables used the lower row of large seats with their high backrests, just above the orchestra; these seats also may have been used by political leaders who possibly gathered in the theatre for municipal council meetings.
Roman Shops along the Cardo C. 100-200 AD
The shops form a line of twenty vaulted rooms which align the basalt pavement of the cardo running north-south along the western slope of the Acropolis, branching off from the main street Decumanus Maximus (running east-west). Between the Theater and the Decumanus, a large terrace is situated at the bottom of the slope. Functionally, the shops buttress the Terrace’s retaining wall as they were built against it. The construction of the Terrace, the Theatre and the Vaulted Rooms is dated in the Roman period, tentatively at the end of the first or in the second century AD. The collapse of the façade of the Vaulted Rooms along the Cardo was presumably caused by the earthquake of AD 749.
Eleven of the rooms are still covered with barrel vaults. Where the vaults have disappeared, traces of the contours of the vaults are still visible on the retaining wall of the Terrace. The walls of the Terrace and of the vaulted rooms, including the façade, were constructed by using basalt blocks in combination with opus caementicium ( a type of Roman concrete). The barrel –vaults were built of white fine limestone blocks and rested upon the basalt dividing walls. The space in between the vaults is filled up with opus caementicium and so a flat roof has been achieved. The total height of the façade, from the lower stone course including the upper course, was established at 3.84 meters with a length of about 97.4 meters.
Ground Plan of the Basilica and Crypt during the 6th Century AD.
The almost square basilica was built between 360 and 370 A.D. Its central nave is situated exactly atop a Roman mausoleum: the circular opening is visible in the floor of the basilica. The apse was constructed upon a Byzantine crypt, presumably where a local saint had been buried.
It is possible that during the Byzantine period the sumptuous Roman mausoleum was associated with the miracle of Gadara, which is described in the New Testament (Matt. 8:28). According to the Gospel, on his way from Lake Genezareth in Gadarene country Jesus met two possessed men, who obviously dwelled in the tombs on the outskirts of the city. Jesus healed them of their affliction by driving out their devils into a herd of swine, which thereupon plunged into the waters.
As with other miracles performed by Jesus, this story could have been the reason why Gadara developed into an important place of pilgrimage.
Until the Early Islamic period the basilica was used as a Christian church. A short time after the Crusader it was rebuilt as a mosque, and the entrance of the prayer room was shifted to the north and a prayer niche (mihrab) was installed in the southern wall.
From the Hellenic hilltop settlement built in the second century B.C, the town of Gadara expanded steadily during the Roman period. This expansion was in a westerly direction along an east-west orientated inter-regional road axis as the adjoining plateau here provided sufficient space for settlement. Unlike many other towns of the Roman Empire, which were built on a regular grid of streets like a chess board, the layout of Gadara was structured by this axis, the length of which extended to 1.5 Km.
From the first century AD onwards this main road formed the backbone of Gadara’s urban development, A row of fur gate-buildings (no 21,22,25,28) along this east-west axis marks in chronological order the town’s gradual westward expansion from the first to late third, or early fourth century AD.
Paved with basalts slabs, the east-west axis was up to 6.5 m wide. In the Roman period, the road was in some sections lined with colonnades in front of which were pavement; behind the colonnades were the so-called tabernae which presumably served as trader’s stalls in this period.
Various public buildings such as the Nymphaeum, the podium monuments and the Propylon(an entrance building) in front of a sanctuary are situated along the road. These buildings accentuate the different urban sections along the road and serve as architectural highlights.
Today many column sections stand or lie to either side or even on the road having been re-used by later generations. Presumably even in Byzantine times new buildings were constructed from this material along and partly on the road.
Of any crossroads which may have crossed this East –West axis or branched off the main road to the South only the street of shops and a narrow street in the west part of the town close to the five-axis basilica can be seen today.
The Basilica Terrace (the Octagonal church and its Atrium) 6th Century & Before
The Basilica Terrace at Umm Qais is composed of two coherent parts: the 6th century octagonal basilica church to the south, and its rectangular atrium (colonnaded courtyard) to the north. Both the octagonal church and the atrium were built by re-using basalt columns and capitals. Important architectural features of the Church include the apse, in the altar, the narthex and the circular passageway around the octagonal church. The Terrace had been mentioned in travelers’ accounts as early as 1890 when the German traveler Shumacher visited the area and concluded that the Basilica was built on the ruins of an older temple.
The colonnaded courtyard is accessed from the Decumanus Maximus by means of three entrances. The central space was open to the sky and was surrounded on all sides by a colonnaded and roofed passageway. A square church that existed next to the atrium was destroyed by earthquakes, but its remains still exist today such as remains of semi-circular apses, one at each corner. The Octagonal church was later on built in the center of this square church. It is important to understand that the Terrace with its atrium, octagonal church and narthex, are part of a larger amalgamation of buildings and features including the North Theatre and the vaulted rooms along the Cardo.
Nymphaeum (Fountain Building) and Thermae ( Public Bath) of Gasara 2nd Century AD
This ancient monument stands to the right of the Decumanus Maximus due west. Recent archaeological excavations (including the finding of a public urban water supply and piping system) had asserted the fact that the building could have been the city’s public fountain (Nymphaeum). Current remains of the Nymphaeum are proof of an elaborate and finely decorated building with statues, semi-circular niches facing the street, and cornices. The Greco-Roman name “nymphaeum” is derived from sacred water pools dedicated to the nymphs, or the Greco- Roman water goddesses who lived near lakes, rivers, and other water resources. Such nymphaea, or fountain buildings, were common elements on Greco-Roman urban layouts in Provincia Arabia; they were well attested in other cities.
Across this Nymphaeum and further to the west along the Decumanus Maximus , one also finds the ancient public baths (thermae) dating to the 4th century AD. The southern façade on the 30-50 meter complex once stood an impressive 12 meters high and was supported by two vaulted rooms still visible today from the south. Such buildings represent a testimony to an active public life during Greco-Roman times in Gadara keeping with the reputation of a cultured city which vaulted pleasures of the mind and the spirit.
During the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods two churches were built on a terrace which had been constructed on the western slope of the Acropolis during the second century AD.
The churches replaced an earlier Roman public building, probably a colonnaded hall or a market basilica. During the first half of the 6th century A.D. a church consisting of a square building with an octagonal interior was erected in the approximate centre of the terrace. To the west of the church an entrance hall (narthex) was added and to the north, a colonnaded courtyard (atrium). From the main street of the city three gates provided access to the terrace. To the south of the church a smaller three-aisled basilica was built in the middle or second half of the 6th century A.D.
The finds of four tombs and five reliquaries in the churches indicate the importance of the complex. Probably this was a site of pilgrimage, in which the tomb in the middle of the earlier church may have been the grave of a venerated martyr. Like the West Theatre and many other buildings in Gadara, the churches were destroyed by earthquakes in the middle of the 8th century.
Gadara, situated 350 m above sea level on a plateau overlooking the Jordan and Yarmouk Valleys and the Wadi al- Arab, was founded in the early 3rd century B.C by the Hellenistic dynasty of the Ptolmies.
Like other cities in Jordan, Gadara was captured by the Hasmonaean king Alexander Jannaeus at the beginning of the first century B.C. After 64 B.C the city belonged to the Roman province of Syria. Gadara, which was situated as a major trade route, flourished in the Roman (64 B.C-324 A.D) and Byzantine (324-636 A.D) periods; new building projects were undertaken up to the Umayyad period (651-750 AD). The city was destroyed by a series of earthquakes, the most devastating being around the middle of the 8th century A.D. At the end of the 19th century the former acropolis was resettled. The ancient buildings provided basalt and limestone blocks for the new houses.
Ancient: Gadara was rediscovered in 1806. The Jordanian Department of Antiquities has been excavating and reconstructing since the 1930’s.The German Protestant Institute of Archaeology (DEI) began archaeological work in Gadara in 1965, temporarily in cooperation with the Universities of Utrecht and Copenhagen and with the Liebieghaus Frankfurt (Museum for Ancient Sculpture). Since 1987 the Germany Archaeological Institute Berlin (DAI) has been conducting excavations in Gadara in collaboration with the University of Cottbus.
Water Tunnels & Military Tunnels – Second Century AD
The unique Roman tunnel system in northern Jordan was constructed between 90-150AD and supplied the Decapolis cities with water while connecting cities like Gadara ( Umm Qays), Abila, Kapitolias in Jordan and probably Adraa ( Dar’a) in Syria. These tunnels were in use until the end of Byzantine rule in the 7th century AD and were probably damaged due to the earthquake of the 8th century AD. The total length of the different segments of the Tunnels in Jordan is about 170 km, the most elaborately constructed long-distance pipeline of the Roman period. Its underground section of 106 km is the longest of antiquity discovered to date. A total of about 2900 shafts with a depth reaching up to 70 m and a width about 1.3 meters were constructed leading to the tunnels underneath.
Within Umm Qays; the Roman water tunnels are carved beneath the acropolis hill and were used to channel water from springs at the east of the City to the city center. The acropolis hill enjoyed two tunnels: the main upper tunnel which is 380 m long; and a lower tunnel at 360 m long. The water supply system was of course, supplemented by rain water, stored in wells and cisterns. The tunnels were plastered from inside and were illuminated by oil lamps.
This entrance to the Tunnel is located to the east of the acropolis hill. This is the point where the Tunnel crosses a natural cave which is popular in the area.
Umm Qais (Gadara) visit is covered with the following Tour