Jerash has an ethnicly diverse population, with the majority being Arabs. Circassians and Armenians also exist in a slightly larger percentage compared to other cities in Jordan. The majority of Jerash population are Muslims, however the percentage of Christians (Orthodox and Catholics)in Jerash city is also among the highest in Jordan.
Jerash is known for the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, also referred to as Antioch on the Golden River. It is sometimes misleadingly referred to as the "Pompeii of the Middle East or Asia", referring to its size, extent of excavation and level of preservation (though Jerash was never buried by a volcano). Jerash is considered one of the most important and best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. It was a city of the Decapolis.
Recent excavations show that Jerash was already inhabited during the Bronze Age (3200 BC - 1200 BC. After the Roman conquest in 63 BC, Jerash and the land surrounding it were annexed by the Roman province of Syria, and later joined the Decapolis cities. In AD 90, Jerash was absorbed into the Roman province of Arabia, which included the city of Philadelphia (modern day Amman). The Romans ensured security and peace in this area, which enabled its people to devote their efforts and time to economic development and encouraged civic building activity.
In the second half of the first century AD, the city of Jerash achieved great prosperity. In AD 106, the Emperor Trajan constructed roads throughout the provinces and more trade came to Jerash. The Emperor Hadrian visited Jerash in AD 129-130. The triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit. A remarkable Latin inscription records a religious dedication set up by members of the imperial mounted bodyguard "wintering" there.
The city finally reached a size of about 800,000 square metres within its walls. The Persian invasion in AD 614 caused the rapid decline of Jerash. However, the city continued to flourish during the Umayyad Period, as shown by recent excavations. In AD 746, a major earthquake destroyed much of Jerash and its surroundings. During the period of the Crusades, some of the monuments were converted to fortresses, including the Temple of Artemis. Small settlements continued in Jerash during the Ayyubid, Mameluk and Ottoman periods. Excavation and restoration of Jerash has been almost continuous since the 1920s.
There are a large number of striking monuments located in Jerash: the Corinthium column, Hadrian's Arch, a circus/hippodrome, two immense temples (to Zeus and Artemis), the nearly unique oval Forum, which is surrounded by a fine colonnade, a long colonnaded street or cardo, two theatres (the Large South Theatre and smaller North Theatre), two baths, a scattering of small temples and an almost complete circuit of city walls. Most of these monuments were built by donations of the city's wealthy citizens.
From AD 350, a large Christian community lived in Jerash, and between AD 400-600, more than thirteen churches were built, many with superb mosaic floors. A cathedral was built in the fourth century. An ancient synagogue with detailed mosaics, including the story of Noah, was found beneath a church.
Today the ruins of Jerash are thoroughly excavated and excellently preserved. This has led to a nickname, the "Asian Pompeii."
Jerash has developed dramatically in the last century due to its strategic location in the heart of Jordan and the growing importance of the tourism industry to the city. Jerash is now the second-most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, closely behind the splendid ruins of Petra. The ruins have been carefully preserved and spared from encroachment, with the modern city sprawling to the west of ancient Jerash's city walls.
Souf was the seed for modern Jerash. For many centuries Souf was the center of the al-Meradh area during the Ottoman Empire. The Al-Meradh region was called this because it was the only region in the north of Jordan which resisted the southern Bedouin looting attacks that used to be launched by Bani Sakher tribes. They led a resistance alliance which finally succeeded in defeating the Bedouin.
The old town of Jerash was actually re-inhabited by the local people of Souf and the surrounding villages. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Jerash was a target for successive migrant waves including Syrians (Shwam), the Circassians, and in the second half of the twentieth century by Palestinian refugees.
However, recently the modern city of Jerash has been expanded to include many of the surrounding villages including Souf, Dairelliat, Thougretasfour, Jaba, Asfour, Aljbarat and Majar. Other important villages in the governate include: Sakèb, Kitteh, Nahlé, Burma, Mustabah, Jubba, Raimoun, Kufr Khall, Balila, and Qafqafa.
Since 1981, the old city of Jerash has hosted the Jerash Festival, a three week long summer program of dance, music, and theatrical performances. The festival is frequently attended by members of the royal family of Jordan and is hailed as one of the largest cultural activities in the region.