Day 28: Trip to Desert Castles and Azraq

Azraq Travel Blog

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where to now?

One of the standard day trips we skipped when we were in Amman last week, is the trip to the so-called Desert Castles in the Eastern Desert.

Together with Will we set off in a tiny cab into the desert. Our previous trips had been done with old Mercedeses or Chryslers, but today we were squeezed in with three people and a driver into a Daewoo Matiz.

The Desert Castles aren't real castles actually, but it is rather a collective name for several mansions, pavilions, caravan serais, bath houses and other buildings which are spread out in the desert.

Unlike our trip to Jerash two weeks ago, where we visited the place with hundreds of others, the sites along this trip were almost completely deserted.

Qusayr Amra
It was almost as if we were back in Syria again.

Most of the castles lie close to the village of Azraq, where its namesake castle boasts a plaque with a section of TE Lawrence's '7 Pillar's Of Wisdom' in which he describes the castle.

We visited 5 castles in total, of which the most interesting was Qusayr Amra, a Unesco World Heritage listed building, which was most likely a refuge/hunting house/party house of rich Mamluk Muslims. What makes this 1300 year-old building particularly interesting is the fact that the inside is almost entirely covered in frescoes. Islamic religion prohibits depiction of living beings in art, but the walls here are completely covered with images of (naked!) people, guitar playing bears and dancing monkeys.

Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Pornography and iconography in one! No wonder it's on the World Heritage List!
No, seriously, it is impressive enough that these frescoes have survived 1300 years of iconoclasm.

We also stopped at the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve. This is a reserve where they succesfully breed several species of animals which were extinct in Jordan, like the Arabian Oryx (which is like a goat with very long horns) and the Ostrich. The Oryx has been successfully reintroduced to the wild in Wadi Rum, and they are currently working on reintroducing the animals to other national parks as well.

The Eastern Desert marks the border between Jordan and Iraq, and with Jordan being an ally of the Americans, it should come as no surprise that there is more than just castles to be found out here in the desert.

Qasr Kharana
I think we passed at least 6 or 7 US army bases during our trip today. But it wasn't the occasional army vehicle travelling east that caught our attention, no, it was the almost constant stream of tanker trucks driving in the other direction. Much criticism about the exact motive of the American invasion has been vented in the past five years, and not undeserved in my opinion. The way Iraqi oil is transported out of the country by American companies borders on downright pillaging. Seriously, I think even Viking raiding parties were less conspicuous!

Another thing that surprised us was the Jordanian and American joint infrastructure and environmental planning - or lack thereof. The Eastern Desert is, well, a desert. It is vast, flat and mostly empty, with just here and there a military base, a settlement, or a site of historical importance. The last of the sites we visited was Qasr Kharana, a fortress-like mansion that lies quite literally in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing there for at least 30 kilometres in every direction. So we were flabbergasted to find not only a highway passing ruins at less than 10 metres, but also an electrical power plant, a military base and a huge communications tower built less than 200 metres away from the castle!
Seriously, was there no room to build all that slightly more out of sight??

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where to now?
where to now?
Qusayr Amra
Qusayr Amra
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Qasr Kharana
Qasr Kharana
Qasr Al-Hallabat
Qasr Al-Hallabat
Hammam As-Sarah
Hammam As-Sarah
Qasr Al-Azraq
Qasr Al-Azraq
plaque at Qasr Al-Azraq
plaque at Qasr Al-Azraq
Qasr Al-Azraq
Qasr Al-Azraq
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Arabian Oryx at the Shaumari Wildl…
Arabian Oryx at the Shaumari Wild…
Ostrich at the Shaumari Wildlife R…
Ostrich at the Shaumari Wildlife …
as dry as a desert
as dry as a desert
ancient pornography at Qusayr Amra
ancient pornography at Qusayr Amra
frescoes in Qusayr Amra
frescoes in Qusayr Amra
ancient pornography at Qusayr Amra
ancient pornography at Qusayr Amra
iconography at Qusayr Amra
iconography at Qusayr Amra
Qusayr Amra
Qusayr Amra
well at Qusayr Amra
well at Qusayr Amra
Eastern desert
Eastern desert
Qasr Kharana with a highway built …
Qasr Kharana with a highway built…
not-so authentic restoration work …
not-so authentic restoration work…
Azraq
photo by: Biedjee