11 February 2011


Built in 191 CE, the Nymphaeum was once a large, two-storey complex with fountains, mosaics, stone carvings and possibly a 600 sq metre swimming pool 3 meters deep. The water in the pool was continuously refilled with fresh water. At the time it was built the Decapolis city of Philadelphia was at its zenith. Up until 1947, the ancient stream and Roman bridge still stood where the road now runs. Excavations started in earnest in 1993, and restoration will continue for many years. Except for a few columns, an elegant archway and a few alcoves, there is little to see, though the workers toiling away may yet reveal hidden treasures in the years to come. Early estimates indicated that excavations would be completed by 2010, but that goal was missed. A very similar but much better preserved nymphaeum, built around the same time is located at Jerash.

Nymphaea were public fountains dedicated to the water nymphs (mythical young girls who lived in and around the rivers). They were built near rivers running through cities throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Amman’s nymphaeum faces a public plaza at the intersection of the two primary streets; the east-west Decumanus and the north-south Cardo. The two storey complex would have been one of the dominant features of the area, after the ampitheatre. The Corinthian columns invited attention to the concave building that was lavishly faced with marble. The niches all round the site would have been populated by statues of gods, emperors or city notables.

The site is now fenced and off-limits as a rule, although the guard will sometimes allow a bit of exploration. Most of it is fairly visible through the chain link fence which is low enough to allow some decent photography should the guardian of the site be unavailable or not in the mood to allow you to poke around. Either way, it’s worth a stop.

Nymphaeum Plan


Nymphaeum Floor

Nymphaeum Floor

Front of Nymphaeum

Front of Nymphaeum

Marble Column Base

Passageway into Nymphaeum



Stage showing arch

Stones and bits excavated from the site

Water well

Just because I can, I will show you the nymphaeum at Jerash for comparison.

Nymphaeum at Jerash. Note the grand size and architecture.

Closer view

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