Abila of the Decapolis

Ruins of Abila's Archaeological Site in Jordan, near Irbid

On a glorious spring day, like those one only gets to taste in Jordan, we decided to go on a trip to the province abutting ours motivated by the joie de vivre floating in the air. The region is extremely compelling this time of the year, with the motley collection of indigenous flowers all in bloom.

While sitting opposite the most splendorous and overall sublime archaeological site to be found anywhere, I started to mull over the probable connection between the history of the place and its strategic location. After all, a medley of assorted civilizations have tainted the landscape over not hundreds but millions of years. I also remembered the teacher I had when I was younger who coaxed the school into hosting a whole team of American archaeologists for two weeks every year during the 1980s. Their job was to unearth all the lumps of stone, mosaics, and churches that I would see displayed before my very eyes half a lifetime later.

Up until he passed away, my dad had taken me to the site as a kid. He liked to witness the whole restoration process, the trouble the crew in charge of the excavations went through in order to dust off the past. However unexpected, the bevy of experts rebuilt churches, discovered all sorts of crypts and underground tunnels, and reassembled the bridge—the irrefutable proof of our forefathers’ uncanny knack for engineering—which links the two mountains at the edge of Abila.

We arrived fairly bushed because of the long and hard trek to reach the site, but we were happy to finally be standing in such a remarkable place, which threw into sharp relief the fact that the Byzantine civilization had thrived at some point or another in humankind’s history. Our hearts skipped a beat when we saw the dimensions and proportions of the numerous columns. We found ourselves rooted to the spot. It was as if we had just seen the Sphinx skimming over our heads. The city is most certainly worth a visit, especially for those who get a kick out of digging up history’s dirt amidst a stunning scenery.

The world at large queued up to touch the columns while enjoying the spectacular views over the countryside. Most people took pictures of the biggest attractions to help them remember their visit to the site in the long run. The hours flew by swiftly until our stomachs urged us to tune into their needs. Consequently, we sat down to prepare a late meal. We had brought along diced lamb to grill on a portable barbecue. Everyone contributed to the task at hand: one person marinated the meat, someone else made sure the coal was glowing, another individual fetched the juice and arranged for the after-party to include a wide variety of entertainment, and last but not least, the fourth person readied himself for the feast. As the end of the field trip and the day drew to a close, I wondered how the particular story of such a historically relevant place might read.

Right after polishing off the goods on our picnic table, we decided to hit the trail. On our way home, we traversed the stone bridge that links the two mountains and marks the point from which the remains of the old city of Abila stretch out. For a while, our rapt attention stayed riveted on the superb panoramic views. Our eyes widened in awe at the landscape, which was chock-full of the olive and pomegranate trees that grow throughout the region. Then we came across a burial ground crammed with not just ancient gravestones but also oil lamps, statues, and mosaic pieces, which led us to caves decorated with drawings on both their walls and ceilings.

However, the structure that surprised me the most and heightened my impression of being inside an area steeped in history was the church of Umm al-Amad, which echoes the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Palestine. In addition to all the previously mentioned attractions, the site also boasts the largest culvert built by an ancient civilization to ever be discovered, reaching a length of 140 kilometers. To round off our travel experience, we ended the trip by quenching our thirst with the mineral waters of Abila’s natural fountain. These waters are still used today to irrigate nearby fields so that in spring the whole region comes to life with color.

“Blessed is the name of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.”


Written by Ibrahim Mustafa Abdallah.

Choose your own adventure

Blessed be the Lord for having placed American archeologists in our midst. They

a) are incredibly talented when it comes to jogging the collective memory in order to unearth the historical facts we ourselves have glossed over.

b) appear to be so dedicated to gussying up our tourist attractions.