Irbid (Arabic: إِربِد), known in ancient times as Arabella or Arbela (Άρβηλα in Ancient Greek), is the capital and largest city of the Irbid Governorate. It also has the second largest metropolitan population in Jordan after Amman, with a population of around 2,003,800. Irbid is located about 70 kilometres (43 mi) north of Amman on the northern ridge of the Gilead, equidistant from Pella, Beit Ras (Capitolias), and Um Qais, and approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of the Syrian border.
Irbid was built on successive Early Bronze Age settlements and was possibly the biblical Beth Arbel and the Arbila of the Decapolis, a Hellenistic league of the 1st century BCE through the 2nd century CE. The population of Irbid swelled in the late 19th century, and prior to 1948 it served as a significant centre of transit trade.
Irbid is the second largest metropolitan in Jordan by population after Amman. But as a city Irbid is the third largest one after Amman and Zarqa. The province of Irbid Governorate has the second largest population, and the highest population density in the kingdom.
The city is a major ground transportation hub between Amman, Syria to the north, and Mafraq to the east.
The Irbid region is also home to several colleges and universities. The two most prominent universities are Jordan University of Science and Technology and Yarmouk University.
Artifacts and graves in the area show that Irbid was inhabited in the Bronze Age. Pieces of pottery and wall stones found at Tell Irbid were estimated to be made in the year 3200 B.C. In the Hellenistic period, Irbid, then known as Arabella was a major trade center. Before the advent of Islam, Arabella was famous for producing some of the best wines in the ancient world. The area in the region had extremely fertile soil and moderate climate, allowing the growing of high quality grapes.
After the Muslim conquests, the city came under the rule of the Muslim Empire and became known as Irbid, at which time it shifted from wine to olive oil production. Wheat was also an important product in the area.
In 1596 it appeared in the Ottoman tax registers named as Irbid, situated in the nahiya (subdistrict) of Bani Juhma, part of the Sanjak of Hawran. It had 72 households and 35 bachelors; all Muslims. The villagers paid a fixed tax-rate of 25% on agricultural products; including wheat (22,500 akçe), barley, summer crops, fruit trees, goats and bee-hives; in addition to a market toll. The total tax was 38,116 akçe.
Irbid today combines the bustle of a provincial Middle Eastern town and the youthful nightlife of a typical college town. The city is home to four major universities: Yarmouk University, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid National University and Jadara University. In addition, it is home for two campuses of Balqa Applied University and several private colleges. University Street, which defines the western border of the Yarmouk University campus, is popular with locals as well as with the occasional foreign visitors who stop by to relax in any of its numerous restaurants and cafés that open late into the night.
Though not usually a major tourist destination itself, Irbid is home to two notable museums: the Museum of Jordanian Heritage and the Jordan Natural History Museum, both on the campus of Yarmouk University. Furthermore, Irbid's strategic location in northern Jordan makes it a convenient starting point for tourists interested in seeing the northern Jordan Valley; visiting Umm Qais, Beit Ras (Capitolias), Pella, Ajloun, Umm el-Jimal, La Foossi baitaras and other historical sites; or traveling on to Syria.