For the most part Jordan is a hilly and rocky desert country that has fantastic vistas and not at all what you first imagine when you think desert. With that said the area to the east of Amman, the capital of Jordan, is flat and sandy just as I imagine a desert to be. A lot of people say there is nothing out there to see, to which I am here to argue that point!!!!
We took a tour out east to see four of the five Desert “Castles” that are anywhere from an hour to two hours from Amman (in fact at one point we were less than 20 km from the Saudi Arabia border). Some helpful information to those that might visit, I hired a taxi for 55 JD to drive us around instead of joining a tour group and the large crowd that it entails. I put quotes around castle because none of these are a true castle and each one was built for a different purpose.
The first “castle” was Qasr Al Kharaneh, which is actually a protected hotel for caravans built in the 8th century. You see back then trade through the area (which also connected Europe with the Far East) was transported in caravans of camels. It was a long slow journey and as you can imagine the people got worn out and need a reprise. They would stop her for several days letting
their camels rest and drink water while they enjoyed the Turkish bathhouse, rented a room or two, ate at the restaurants, traded with the shops, enjoy a hookah and entertainment, and simple relax for a spell. It was great having this place to ourselves for a while, but as soon as a bus dropped off a tour it was time to scoot.
Next up was my favorite called Quseir Amra. This “castle” was actually a hunting lodge for a Muslim prince from Damascus. Also built in the early 8th century this well-appointed hunting lodge
was built of stone and featured a three stage bathhouse, mosaic floors, and frescos painted walls throughout. The interesting thing is the frescos in this lodge featured pictures of animals and women, which
is forbidden to depict to Muslims. Quseir Amra is a World Heritage Site and I got a tour of it by this Arab looking Oompa-Loompas. He stood less than five feet tall and did not have to duck through any of the very short door ways. In fact, he said they built this place just for him and that I was welcomed in “his” castle. Haha
The third “castle” we saw was Qasr Al Azrad and this was a true fort built by the Romans in the first century to
protect the nearby oasis. Unless you live in a desert that stretched hundreds and hundreds of miles you cannot grasp just how important an oasis really is. This would have had the strategic importance of a commanding hilltop or protected harbor and was thus garrisoned to protect it. Later in its history Lawrence (of Arabia) used Qasr Al Azrad during the first World War as he helped led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
The forth “castle” was Al Hallabat and it was my least favorite of the four. I could not get a lot of information on it, but it appears to have been richly decorated since I found mosaic floors and writing etched stones throughout. There are stairs and arches still standing and a church was built to the side of it.
Once we got back to Amman we had to physically go to the bus station and get tickets the night before for the ride to Petra (some more info for you). Since we were out we decided to see what Rainbow St was
like, because I had read it was full of shops and restaurants. After walking 6-7 blocks we decided it was not worth the effort as everything was international food and not the local food we wanted to try.
In the evening I saw a guy making amazing scenes in bottles with colored sand. As I watched him work I became so impressed I had him make me one also. His English was good, but his brother’s was perfect. Since he was working we ended up chatting with his brother, Zekeriya, for two hours over coffee. Both Melek and I have commented since then how rewarding this time was to us.
On Saturday and Sunday, we will be writing about our time in Petra, including Petra by Night (but you can get a sneak peek with tomorrow’s “Photo of the Day”), so you will want to make sure you come back or you can svGuidingLight on Facebook and not miss any blogs or photos.
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