Jordan’s second most populous city is situated 70 kilometres north of the capital, Amman. In Roman times, Irbid lay between the ten allied cities that made up the Decapolis, a centre of Roman and Greek trade and culture in the region, only for the city to later become one of the main centres of the expanding Islamic empire. However, archaeological finds in and around the city dating back some 4,500 years suggest that the site was occupied during the Bronze Age.
The city’s current name is said to be derived either from that of the old Roman district of Beit Arbal or otherwise from the Arabic word “rubda” meaning “darkness” or “ashy” in reference to the black volcanic rocks scattered over the red soil around the outskirts. Locally, Irbid has two nicknames: “The Daisy”, after the flowers that flourish throughout the town, and “The Bridegroom of the North”.
Places to see
There are many buildings and sites of historical interest in Irbid including the Ottoman Turkish castle-complex of Dar Al Saraya, Ali Bin Abi Talib Mosque, and the Irbid Archaeological Museum. The Dar Al Saraya was built in the mid-19th century as a fortress on the southern slope of Tell Irbid and currently houses six of the museum’s seven exhibition halls, arranged around a central courtyard and displaying artifacts from the city’s various historical periods in chronological order.
No visit to the area is complete with a trip to the Greco-Roman city of Umm Qais, whose ancient name Gadara meant “The Fortified Town”, some 28 kilometres north of Irbid. From its strategically-secure vantage point 364 metres above sea-level, the ancient ruins look out over the Yarmouk River, the Golan Heights and Lake Tiberius. The location and the presence of natural spring water at the site ensured that the city became an important centre of the period.
In 218 BC, the then-ruler of Palestine and Jordan King Ptolemy IV of Egypt faced an attack by the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus III, who captured Galilee, forded the River Jordan and occupied parts of Northern Jordan. As a result many of the finest Hellenistic poets and artists of the time came from the town of Gadara, including Meleager and Theodorus.
On entering Umm Qais you come face-to-face with an inscribed slab, originally set up over the tomb of the fourth-century poet Arabios, which reads: “O ye who pass by here, as you are now, so once was I, and as I am now, so you will be: so enjoy life, for you are not long on this earth.”
Among the almost perfectly preserved city’s main attraction are the Roman theatres, the Byzantine church, the Hippodrome, the marketplace and storehouses and the Roman Baths.
Irbid is home to a number of clubs, the biggest being Pro League side Al Hussein, whose northern rivals, Al Ramtha, are based in the nearby border-city of that name. Al Ramtha are best known for their 1992 semi-final finish in the Asian Cup Winners' Cup.
Initially a small, dirt pitch, Irbid’s main stadium was remodelled in the 1990s as the Al Hassan Sports City, a fully integrated sports club serving the city and surrounding towns. Situated some 88 kilometres from Amman, approximately 70 minutes by car, the complex has a wide range of facilities including indoor pitches and courts and swimming pools, but most important of all the Al Hassan Stadium. For the coming tournament the stadium will be renovated and numbered seats installed capable of accommodating 12,000 spectators.