The ancient city of Pella, known in Arabic as Tabaqat Fahl, is believed to have been inhabited as early as 5000 BCE. It was during the Greco-Roman period, however, that Pella truly prospered. Strategically placed at the crossroads of numerous trading routes linking Europe, the Near East and Asia, the city flourished from trade and was influenced by a multitude of diverse cultures.
Like many of the ancient cities ofJordan, Pella came successively underthe rule of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. Disaster struck in 83 BCE, however, when the Hasmonean leader of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus, largely destroyed the city when its inhabitants refused to embrace Judaism. Pella was one of several Hellenistic communities on the east bank of the Jordan River that was targeted by Jannaeus.
Pella and a host of other Hellenistic cities were freed from the Hasmoneans in 64 BCE when Pompey of Rome extended his rule southwards. Pella was incorporated into the Decapolis, the confederation of ten cities linked by commercial and political interests which Pompey formed after his conquest of Syria, Palestine and TransJordan. Because of its proximity, Christians fled from Jerusalem to Pella to escape the First Jewish Revolt in CE 66-70 and Roman persecution during the first and second centuries after Christ.
The Byzantine era saw a revitalization of Pella, as trade routes strengthened and local industries developed. Approximately 25,000 people lived in or near Pella during the late fifth century CE. The Byzantine armies were defeated by the Arab armies at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE, and Islam soon became the dominant religious and cultural influence throughout the land. Pella —which received the Arabic name of Fahl—continued to prosper under Islamic Umayyad rule, until the great earthquake of 747 CE brought much of the city crashing down. Even then, archeological evidence indicates that the city remained inhabited on a modest scale. The Mamluks occupied it in the 13th and 14th centuries, but then the city was virtually abandoned for five centuries. Today, Pella is gradually being unearthed by teams of American and Australian archaeologists.
As you climb up the steep wadi, you will notice to your left three columns which mark the spot of the sixth-century West Church. Continuing along, there are the remains of a 14th century Mamluk mosque and a graveyard. Off to the left is an immense water tank, built by the Byzantines to hold 300,000 liters of water. You then approach the main ruins, which consist of houses, shops, store houses and other staple constructions of city life. Below on the right lies an assortment of Byzantine and Roman public buildings.
Sitting on the stream bed, or Wadi Jirm, is a first century CE Roman odeon, or theater. Next to this are the ruins of a large Byzantine church, built in the sixth and seventh centuries on top of a Roman shrine. The remains of Roman baths are also visible in this area. Perched up on the east, on a natural balcony overlooking the valley, is the East Church, erected during the late fifth century CE. To the south is Tel Husn, on top of which was a Byzantine fortress.
Pella is located 30 kilometers north of Deir Alla on the Jordan Valley Road. From Amman, it is a 95 kilometer drive. To reach the site from the main road at the city of al-Mashari’a, hike two kilometers up the path to the east of the road.