Thursday, May 27, 2004

Taking a stroll through history at Jordan's Umm Qays ruins
Ancient site was one of the 10 cities of the Roman 'Decapolis'

By Peter Speetjens
Special to The Daily Star [Lebanon]
Thursday, May 27, 2004

UMM QAYS, Jordan: "For passers by I say, as you are now, I was, and as I am now you will be. Life is mortal, so enjoy it."

Thus reads a text carved in a black block of basalt on display in the museum of Umm Qays. The text is attributed to Herod the Great, history's notorious killer of firstborns and an indulgent lover of parties and banquets, who is generally known for his cruelty rather than words of wisdom.

Located in Jordan's mountainous northwest, Umm Qays is the modern day name of ancient Gadara, one of the 10 cities of the Roman "Decapolis" situated on the Hauran Plateau between Syria and Jordan. Only a day-trip away from Amman, Gadara boasts a rich Roman and Christian history, as well as a profound natural beauty, including a spectacular view of the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee.


But, as old Gods are replaced by new ones, in the 3rd century AD Gadara became a major Christian pilgrim destination, as according to Matthew and the New Testament, it was where Jesus had cast out the devil of two madmen into a herd of pigs. The two men were saved. The animals however, did not have a clue what got into them and plunged into the river.

As in nearby Bethany, Jordan, where Jesus is said to have been baptized by John, and in Mount Nebo, where Moses was buried, a complex of three churches and a number of religious buildings was erected in Gadara to deal with the streams of Christians who wanted to follow in Jesus' footsteps and be purified.


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