How to Book a Roman Amphitheater for your Wedding

Adam and I were married in the South Amphitheater in Jerash, Jordan. It was an incredible venue and key to making our destination wedding an EPIC destination wedding. It was harder than it should have been to make it happen and we hope the authorities in Jordan see the value in making this amazing place more accessible in the future.

To manage all the travel plans for our guests, we built the first version of YouLi, now launching to the public November 2017.

But until it gets easier, here’s how we made it happen:

  1. Plan 2 years ahead
  2. Scope out the location the year before
  3. File your application 5 months in advance
  4. Find out how many national security forces must approve
  5. Change all your plans at the last minute and just occupy the amphitheater one calm Tuesday morning with 35 of your closest friends plus anyone else who happens by
  6. Remember you are with the man you love and it will all work out somehow

1. Plan 2 years ahead

I’m an American expat and I live with my (now) husband Adam, a Jordanian-Australian, in Australia. I’m a planner and a traveller. So when we decided to get married it made sense to me that we would have it in Jordan. I knew this would be a challenge so we gave ourselves 2 years to arrange it. Just enough time for people to save up for the trip and for us to figure out how to make it worth going out of their comfort zones.

2. Scope out the location the year before

In May of 2015, we flew to Jordan to determine the best venue. A friend had given us the idea of the Roman Amphitheater and we wanted to know if it was possible. There are a few amphitheaters in Jordan that the Romans had left behind when their Empire fell. The one in Amman was too crowded and loud. So we went to Jerash, about an hour north of Amman to explore the two located in one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. The North Amphitheater is a cozy and beautiful option – but we decided it didn’t have everything we were looking for – so we selected the South Amphitheater as our preferred option.

We found out that a Jordanian princess had celebrated her wedding in the North Amphitheater a few years back. So we knew it could be done, it was just a question of whether you had to be a princess to do it. We spoke to many local people there who all agreed it was quite doable to book the space and shouldn’t be a problem. It even seemed like a reasonable price and everyone quoted the same price, a good sign that is was a standard thing to do. Many people told us we were planning way to early for Jordan since many weddings are planned in a week, apparently! So we didn’t rush to apply.

Instead, we set about convincing people that Jordan was safe and they wouldn’t regret coming to celebrate with us and arranging all the other details of our Epic Destination Wedding, taking on faith that the venue would fall into place at the right time.

3. File your application 5 months in advance

In January of 2016 we started the application process. One month later, a pattern started emerging in our interactions with the event planner charged with the process.

Adam: what’s the latest?
Event Planner: we have done X, we are waiting for Y, we will hear back on Sunday

Sunday is the start of the work week in Jordan. X and Y would change from time to time. But usually Y would be something like “national security service #” where the number would grow to be 5. This would be the equivalent of waiting for the local sheriff, the state police, the FBI, the NSA and the CIA to all approve your application to get married in your preferred venue.

This did not come up in our early vetting of the process. So either we fell into the trap of trusting our too friendly informants or there were new security procedures in place since then – probably a little bit of both.

Did I mention that Jerash is about an hour drive south of the Syrian border? I have a lot of confidence in the capability of the Jordanian military to keep their nation secure. So I was never worried about a physical threat, it just hadn’t occurred to me that part of their capability included extra scrutiny of my wedding plans.

At this point I started asking Adam if he knew any princes. He didn’t, but it turned out he did know the right people after all.

4. Change all your plans at the last minute …

and just occupy the amphitheater one quiet Tuesday morning with 35 of your closest friends plus anyone else who happens by.

After months of agonising back and forth with the event planner, we gave up on that path. Then the week before the wedding, through some channels that I don’t completely understand and after scaling some barbed wire fences as part of our (legitimate) effort to meet with the management of the Jerash site, we got enough approval for a casual event during the day for a small group of people. That meant it wouldn’t be private, so any tourists who happened by or any locals who were intrigued could join in the fun. The price we pay for seeing our dreams fulfilled!

We got permission for some vehicles to drive up to the venue so that Adam’s parents could attend. Everyone else had to walk from the front gate, about 1km from the Amphitheater.

5. Remember you are with the man you love …

… and it will all work out somehow.

Jordanian hospitality, really great friends plus one amazing fiancé meant that when the day came it all fell into place. The day was better than I could have imagined and yet nothing like I had planned.

Friends of a friend invited us to use their lovely Jerash home to get ready in the morning. My best friends from the US had made it and ensured I looked my best. Adam’s best man made sure everyone made it to the venue and everything was ready when we arrived. The local band we hired to play the traditional Zaffe (entrance music) were waiting for us at the back door to the theatre and so it began. The rest really felt like a fairy tale.

We walked along the back hallway and then through the archway that led onto the main stage into the sunshine – with the bagpipes playing and the people clapping – my heart swelled and I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

Adam and I were then swept up in a surprise ritual of henna on our hands combined with more dancing and clapping with the locals. Adam even got lifted up on someone’s shoulders and danced around. I was spared this treatment and happily waved at Adam from the ground.
wedding - shoulders
If you are inspired to plan your own Epic Destination Wedding, see if you need a tool like YouLi to pull it all together in one beautiful, private online place.

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