With the Roman ruins of Gadara, an abandoned Ottoman village, and sweeping views over Jordan, Israel, and Syria, the little town of Umm Qais has a lot to offer the visitor. The undisputed highlight is the ancient city of Gadara, where the remains of Roman theaters, colonnades, and tombs enjoy a spectacular hilltop location.
Because it’s difficult and time-consuming to reach the ruins at Umm Qais by public transportation, most visitors either drive themselves or opt for an organized tour. Some day tours from Amman combine Umm Qais with the Roman ruins at Jerash. Full-day Umm Qais tours often include visits to the site’s small museum. Few visitors will be interested in the modern town, although hiking, biking, and even foraging are possible in the countryside.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Though it’s not as well known as Jerash, Gadara is a must for history buffs.
- Umm Qais is close to both Syria and Israel, so check your government’s travel advice before booking a tour.
- At the Gadara site, the Umm Qais Resthouse offers not only sweeping views over the ruins and the Middle East but excellent seasonal cuisine.
How to Get There
It takes at least four hours and four vehicles to reach Umm Qais from Amman by public transport, so most visitors opt to drive, hire a driver, or join a tour with round-trip transfers. The 78-mile (125-kilometer) drive north from Amman takes around two hours in a private vehicle.
When to Get There
The beauty of Umm Qais’ location is best appreciated in spring (roughly mid-March to mid-May), when the hills are lush and green. April is the optimal time to see wildflowers flourishing in the hills and among the ruins of Gadara. The site is rarely crowded so there’s no need for an early start to your Umm Qais tour.
The City of Gadara
According to the Bible, it was at Gadara that Jesus exorcised demons from two possessed men and cast the evil spirits into a herd of pigs, which then ran down the hill into a lake. During its heyday 2,000-odd years ago, Gadara was an intellectual hub known for its writers, artists, philosophers, and academics.