An ancient and prosperous city
Located in a valley surrounded by fertile hills, the city of Jerash was settled around the seventh millennium B.C. Thanks to its position at a crossroad between the north-south route that connected Syria with Trans-Jordan, and the east-west road that connected the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley with the badia (the arid steppe), the site gained importance under Antiochus IV (175 – 164 B.C.). During the Roman period, Jerash, then known as Gerasa, became one of the most prosperous cities of the Decapolis. However, although it retained some importance during the Byzantine era (when churches and a synagogue were built), the site was progressively abandoned after the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate.
One of the most important monuments of this archaeological site is the Temple of Zeus. The first worshipping place on the site was probably a cave, used from the seventh to the sixth centuries B.C. This worshipping location was kept through time, and a sanctuary with a wide temenos (sacred courtyard) was built during the early Roman period. During the second century A.D., the building was heavily altered, and the current great Temple of Zeus was built. The sanctuary, located on top of a hill towering above the city, was preceded by a monumental stairway leading to the temenos. Although erosion, earthquakes, and looting have damaged the site, its scale and magnificence are still striking.
A donation that helped restore a masterpiece
Since 1982 the Institut Français de Proche Orient (IFPO), in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DoA), has worked on the site of the temple, carrying out excavation, reconstruction, conservation, documentation, and interpretation projects, mainly financed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2001 to 2006, a reconstruction project was carried out in the temple’s upper terrace, cella, peristylium, and temenos. When a spontaneous donation was made by members of WMF France during a tour to Jordan in 2001, World Monuments Fund became involved and collaborated in the project.
Works included the consolidation of the podium, partial anastylosis (restoration using original architectural elements) of seventeen columns, the consolidation of the cella walls, and the reconstruction of the temenos walls. In addition, with support from the Louvre Museum, the East corridor of the crypto-portico of the lower terrace was also restored.