Travel: Chariot racing into the past, Jerash-style

Known to the modern world as Jerash, the Greco-Roman city in Jordan was founded by Alexander the Great and his general Perdiccas

My footsteps reverberate along the extensive colonnaded streets in the ancient city of Gerasa.

Known to the modern world as Jerash, the Greco-Roman city in Jordan was founded by Alexander the Great and his general Perdiccas.

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Well-preserved ruins allow visitors a glimpse into this age old city, which according to recent skeletal finds, dates back to Neolithic times.

With Roman archeological sites that rival those in Italy, this fascinating metropolis has a long history of invasion and occupation.

Wandering among the ruins, I visualize how life must have been for its occupants — chariots rumbling along stone-lined streets and gladiators clad in armour, clanking as they make their way into the Hippodrome.

The thought occurs to me: would I have liked to be a part of that world? I wonder.

Entering the north theatre, a security guard asks, “Would you like to sing? The acoustics are amazing.”

I smile, shake my head and take a seat in the empty theatre.

In my mind’s eye, I envision the amphitheatre filled with beautifully robed residents enjoying local entertainment.

Then suddenly, my attention is caught by a woman who enters and stands at centre stage.

She begins singing in Arabic, and though I cannot understand the words, her voice echoes through the theatre. It is hauntingly beautiful.

With arms raised to the sky, she lingers on the final note. I clap my appreciation as loudly as I can.

She looks up at me, smiles an then bows before disappearing.

Astonishing.

Next up, I am invited to attend the Roman Army and Chariot Experience, which re-enacts life during Roman times.

A man dressed in armour stands atop stone arches and sounds a horn to signal the start of the show.

Dozens of legionaries march into the Hippodrome, sending clouds of sand and dust into the air from their sandals.

Sunlight glints off of armor, as spears and shields are raised. Together, they hold their formation, ready for battle.

The gladiators, with fierce expressions enter the Hippodrome. They draw swords and begin combat.

The re-enactment demonstrates how, at times, gladiators battled to the death. Although not every battle was fatal, most were bloody and horrific.

After this exhibition, a team of chariots enters the arena. A pair of enormous horses lead each carriage, as three chariots line up to begin their race.

Dust billows in their wake, as they gallop around the arena. Crowds cheer as their laps are complete. The winner is declared and as I approach him with my camera, he obligingly strikes the pose of a noble charioteer.

He then looks down at me and asks if I would like a ride on his chariot.

This is a thrilling once-in-a-lifetime offer, so I climb aboard eagerly and ask whether we could compete with the other chariots.

The other drivers smile and agree, so we line up again and prepare to entertain the crowd with a another race.

The horses charge as the race begins and I am stunned by their sheer power as they gather speed.

I feel like a child, and with one fist in the air I find myself screaming, “Faster, faster.”

The rumble of hooves reverberates through me. I am exhilarated by swirling dust and wind in my hair.

Holding fast onto to the chariot, I imagine myself an ancient Athenian.

Suddenly, however, the chariot feels unstable as we approach the first corner. The wheels lift from the track as we enter a hairpin turn.

My fingernails dig into the edge of the wooden chariot and I’m terrified it might flip.

Thankfully, it doesn’t.

I fall silent as I’ve abruptly lost my warrior spirit. I find myself relieved when our final lap of the Hippodrome is completed — the driver reigning in his mounts.

I express my thanks and jump from the chariot — euphoric at having survived.

Jerash is an amazing city and I now carry with me memories, which will last a lifetime.

Travel Writers’ Tales is an independent newspaper syndicate. For more, go online to travelwriterstales.com.

© Kamloops This Week

 


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