Jerash’s Cardo Maximus: An 800-meter-long wonder

For more than 2,000 years, Jerash’s Cardo Maximus has survived earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters. (Photo: Ahmad Bani Mustafa/Jordan News)
AMMAN — One of the longest and best-preserved Roman colonnaded streets in the world, the Cardo Maximus in Jerash is an 800-meter ancient wonder that still proudly carries most of its components.اضافة اعلان

Its original flagstones, columns, side pavements, and manhole covers have survived earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters for more than 2,000 years. 

Typically, the Cardo Maximus is the ancient city’s main axis, where most of the shops and public structures were built.

As indicated by the literal meaning of cardo, Greek for heart, this thoroughfare penetrated the city center and was a main hub for economic life.
The Cardo Maximus is also believed to have served as a processional route during religious festivities and rites. 

Originally, this south-north oriented street had more than 500 columns on either side in both the Corinthian and ionic styles.
And while every Roman city had a cardo of its own, only a few, including Jerash, were able to preserve theirs.

Scored by Roman chariot ruts, the cardo provides access to most of the city’s structures, taking visitors back in time and showing them what it was like to live in ancient times. It is a wonder of the ancient world’s engineering and city planning.

This avenue starts at the city’s main square known as the Oval Plaza and ends north at the Damascus gate, crossing the entire city center.
It intersects at a right angle with two other east-west streets, each one called Decumanus.

Back in the Roman time, Jerash was built according to the urban planning system called the Hippodamian Plan (grid plan).

This architectural, economic, political, and social plan uses a grid system based on major streets intersecting at right angles, dividing the city into blocks.
This system is named after Hippodamus of Melitus, a Greek architect who planned many Greek cities in the 5th century BC.

However, the earliest evidence this plan’s use predates the Greek era. Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and Egypt had their cities grid-planned in the third millennium BC.

In around 2,500 BC, Hammurabi ordered the rebuilding of his capital Babylonia with a layout based on a grid of streets that were paved with stones and bitumen.

It is agreed upon that the Romans built the longest roads that reached 50,000 miles in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and many of the modern-day roads and highways overlay the Roman ones.

But planning a colonnaded street is a much more sophisticated endeavor, requiring advanced engineering. It is usually paved and flanked by columns and topped with an entablature (capitals and frieze), carrying a roof.

Jerash’s cardo was built in the first century AD and was rebuilt in the early second century, possibly during the reign of the Roman emperor, Trajan.
It was widened to 12m, repaved, and equipped with a drainage system, the style of columns style changed from ionic to Corinthian.


The paving stones, where ruts of the chariots are still visible, measure around 40-50cm in thickness and were placed diagonally to simplify cart pushing.
On either side of the street are two elevated footways that were used by street vendors. 

The cardo has sophisticated drainage systems, each with 1.5-meter-deep underground channels and 15 to 20-meter manhole covers.
Along the cardo, the side holes provide tangible evidence that this street was cambered to help drain rainwater into the sewage. In other Roman cities, elevated crossing stones were added to prevent walking on water or mud. 
Today, the surface of the street is rough compared to 2,000 years ago, where horse-carriages were pulled with ease.

The pillars on both sides vary in height to suit the building behind them, and the larger the building, the higher the pillars.
These columns were designed with a slight swelling at the bottom — an optical correction technique made the pillars looks larger or more straight from a long distance.

Heading south to north, visitors can see a number of water fountains on the left side, which were thought to have been kept empty for users of the fountains and people visiting the shops and other public buildings lining the street.

The cardo intersects with the southern and the northern Decumani (east-west streets), and the two main intersections at the cardo are marked with two monumental buildings called the Southern Terakionion and the Northern Tetrapylon.

One of the fountains along the cardo is still adorned with a Greek inscription that commemorates the Syrian empress, Julia Doman, who married Emperor Septimius Severus and was the mother of Caracalla and Geta.

Building process

This Via Munita was built with the most advanced technology available at the time, including advanced science, skilful engineering, and efficient tools.
The process starts with digging a channel a little deeper than the drainage tunnel intended to be included. Two parallel walls are then built in the middle for the drainage that is later covered with final surface slaps. 

On both sides of the drainage, several base layers, including gravels and sand, are laid to fill the gap.

The final layer is made of the flagstones, which are placed carefully using tools such the Groma to ensure they are level.

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