The Captivating Ancient Ruins of Jordan’s Umm Qais

Gary Greer 5/3/2020
Arab Culture

The ruins of the city Gadara sit in the hills above the Jordan Valley in a northwestern Jordan town now called Umm Qais. It was once one of the ten cities that made up the Decapolis. The Roman ruins are, indeed, striking. Not only because of their juxtaposition to an abandoned village from around the time the Ottomans ruled here. But also because, from up here, you have the wonderful advantage of seeing three countries – Jordan, Syria, and Palestine. Also, some of the most notable landmarks in the area including the Golan Heights, Mt. Hermon and the Sea of Galilee.

Umm Qais is famous for many things. Most notable of which is that it was here when the town was known as Gadara. According to the Holy Bible, there Jesus cast the demons out of two men and ordered the demons into a herd of pigs. They subsequently killed themselves by running of a nearby cliff. The act now carries the name as the miracle of the Gadarene swine.

Ancient Gadara was also home to many classical poets and philosophers. For example, the founder of a rhetorical school in Rome, Theodorus. So many poets and philosophers came out of what we now know as Umm Qais. In fact, that it was once called “the new Athens”.  These days, Umm Qais boasts remnants of that time with an impressive colonnaded street, a vaulted terrace, and the ruins of two theatres.

How to Get There

The easiest way to visit Umm Qais is by getting an Umm Qais map and renting a car or grabbing a taxi for the full day. By doing so, you can divide your time between Umm Qais and another vast area of ruins called Jerash. This trip will allow you to fully control your time and spend it as you want to. So if you can afford it, go for it!

On the other hand, if you are running a little short on cash, then public transportation from Amman to Umm Qais is the way to go. To get to Umm Qais from Amman, these steps are as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Take a bus from Amman to Irbid. You can either catch a local mini-bus from Amman’s north bus station or you can take a JETT bus
  2. Once in Irbid, you will need to make your way to Irbid’s north bus station if you are not dropped off there. Most public buses from Amman will have you get off at the south bus station
  3. Take a bus from Irbid’s north bus station to Umm Qais

This route should take you around 2-3 hours and cost you somewhere altogether between 3-5 JD depending on whether or not you end up needing to take a taxi between the stations in Irbid. You can follow the same route back to Amman. Also remember that Umm Qais weather changes with the seasons, so dress appropriately.

What to See

Nowadays, Umm Qais is at the vanguard of community-tourism development in Jordan. It’s worth spending a couple of nights here to enjoy an increasing assortment of options, from hiking and biking to beekeeping, foraging and cooking classes.

Umm Qais Museum

The Umm Qais Museum is located in one of the houses in the Ottoman village of Umm Qais. It contains two exhibition halls. The first showcases various ceramics dating from the Hellenistic up to the Islamic periods, along with archeological finds from the tombs of Umm Qais.

The second hall presents various statuary, most of which is from the Roman period. As you move into a large courtyard, basalt sarcophagi, column capitals and bases, two basalt gates, mosaics and the famous seated Tyche are on display.

Umm Qais Archeological Site

One of the cities of the Decapolis, Umm Qais (formerly known as Gadara) was planned using a Roman layout and built using stunning black basalt stones. The Ottoman village of Umm Qais, on top of part of the ancient city, was acquired by the Department of Antiquities. It now has several excavation and conservation projects at the site, including the restoration of the main Roman-inspired theatre.

When to Visit

The Umm Qais Museum is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the Umm Qais Archeological Site operates 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, but may have limited hours during holidays.

If you’d like to visit Umm Qais, and maybe learn to speak Arabic to talk to the locals along the way, the best way to learn Arabic is through the use of Arabic learning apps like the Kaleela Arabic learning app. Visit our website and find out how you can learn a little bit of Levantine Arabic or many of the other Arabic dialects spoken throughout the Middle East by downloading the Kaleela Arabic learning app to your IOS or Android mobile device today.