"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Chariot races in Jerash, Jordan

The sun bears down and dust swirls as Roman centurions, followed by armour-clad legionnaires and bruised gladiators, tramp out of the ancient hippodrome to the trailing sounds of a military march.

In the seats all around, 21st century spectators in modern-day Jordan cheer and applaud the spectacle before them -- a one-hour show held in honour of Julius Caesar, and part of Jordan's newest tourist attraction.

Starting mid-July, visitors to Jordan can plunge into the past, reliving in a unique location just north of the capital Amman some of the high moments that made the Roman empire.

The setting is Jerash, the ancient Roman city and one of Jordan's better preserved archaeological sites and one of the 10 great cities during the Roman golden age.

The place is the restored hippodrome located close to the South Gate just beyond the triumphal arch that was erected as a tribute to Emperor Hadrian who visited the city in 129 AD.

Much smaller than Rome's famed Circus Maximus, the Jerash hippodrome is nevertheless endowed with 10 starting gates, original stone seats for the spectators and surrounded in the distance by olive tree-dotted rolling hills.

The show is known as "The Roman Army and Chariot Experience" or simply by its acronym RACE.