Magnificently set in a fold of the hills that rise from the Jordan Valley 78 km north of Amman, Pella; known in Arabic as Tabaqat Fahl; is one of the most ancient sites in Jordan and a favorite of archaeologists being exceptionally rich in antiquities. It is perfectly situated, for there is a spring here which issues into a small river and never runs dry. The tell itself seems to have been continuously occupied since Neolithic times for some flints from this period have been found there; and some recent finds 2 km north of the tell even date to Paleolithic times, around 100,000 years ago.
Excavations by a team of Australian archaeologists have revealed much in the decade they have been working here, but still more remains hidden. Besides the excavated ruins from the Greco-Roman period, including an Odeon (theater) built in a curve of the hillside, Pella offers visitors the opportunity to see several artifacts of a Chalcolithic settlement from the 4th millennium BC, the remains of Bronze and Iron Ages walled cities, Byzantine churches and houses, an Early Islamic residential quarter, and a small medieval mosque.
The first literary reference to the city is from the 19th century BC when it is mentioned in Egyptian texts as Pihilum, or Pehel. It was a flourishing trade center, with links with Syria and Cyprus as well as Egypt. On the division of Alexander's Empire, its name was changed to Pella - either in honor of Alexander's birthplace, or as a Hellenisation of Pihilum, or both. It changed hands between the Ptolemies and Seleucids, and was sacked by the Hasmonean Alexander Jannaeus.
After Pompey's conquest in 63 BC its prosperity increased further as one of the cities of the Roman Decapolis, and the Roman city more or less eliminated the Hellenistic city. The Byzantine era saw a revitalization of Pella, as trade routes strengthened and local industries developed. Under them there was yet more building, in particular of churches - on the hillside overlooking the valley stands one such church, while another is near the river at the foot of the ancient tell.
After the 7th century Arab conquest, Pella continued as an Umayyad city for just over 100 years, and some superb pottery remains have been found here, made in the Jerash kilns. But like so many places in Jordan, the city was destroyed by the terrible earthquake of 747 AD. The site continued to be occupied during the Abbasid and Mamluk periods, but it was now a much smaller and more rural community. There was still a mud-brick village on the tell until 1970, but it was bombed in an Israeli strike across the border.