The steamy origins of Jerash’s Al-Birketein pools

The two pools of Al-Birketein in  Jerash.
The two pools of Al-Birketein are picture in these undated photos, in the present-day city of Jerash. (Photos: Ahmad Bani Mustafa/Jordan News)
AMMAN — When it comes to Roman ruins, Jordan has more than theaters, temples, and roads. Case in point: Al-Birketein (two pools), an entertainment compound from the third century AD, which was designed for festivities and watersports.اضافة اعلان

When you visit Al-Birketein, you might come to realize that the Romans were more extravagant and richer than you thought. Al-Birketein is the only site in the Roman Empire that was dedicated to celebrating one certain annual festival.

The resort lies around 2km outside the walls of the ancient Roman city of Jerash, and consists of two large pools that measure 88 meters long by 43 meters wide. The site contains a small festival theater and a bath, in addition to a paved colonnade that passes through the site.

According to an inscription found on site, Al-Birketein’s structures were designed to host the festivals of Maiuma. However, some of the festival’s earlier practiced activities were deemed a bit too racy for the Byzantines, who later modified celebrations into a harvest festival.

The pools were created on top of natural springs, which are the main source of water for the pools.

The site’s theater has lost more than half of its seating capacity due to erosion and damage. It overlooks the pools, which allowed celebrators to watch the activities.

Next to the theater is a Roman bath that consists of steam rooms, which were heated using a Greek-invented system known as hypocaust “heating from below”.

Up until the 1990’s Al-Birketein spring was the main source of water used for irrigation in the vast and fertile valley to the south called Wadi Al-Deir.    

Al-Birketein is an unusual monument that visitors don’t always get to see. Although it is close to Jerash’s Roman ruins, almost no tourists visit Al-Birketein.

The site is under the administration and protection of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and several investment projects have been implemented by the private sector to provide services like food and entertainment to attract visitors, but they have all failed due to a lack of planning and the number of visitors.

In 2020, a “leading company” signed a new investment contract with Jerash Tourism Directorate but the project has not yet launched due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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