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Jordan: Desert Castle Loop

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Desert Castle Loop | Jordan | Asia

[Visited: August 2002]

Soon after leaving Amman, the road takes you to the desert, a stony, flat, greyish desert stretching out to the horizon on all sides. It is in this desert that in the 7th and 8th century BCE the Umayyad rulers in Damascus built desert castles, the function of some of which is still not completely clear. The first such castle was Kharaneh, a rectangular yellowish building rising out of the desert. Currently, it is thought to have served as a caravanserai, a kind of inn used by Umayyads on their way to the holy land. While the heat outside burns and makes you feel like being in an oven, stepping inside brings an instant relief.

Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Qasr al-Azraq castle near Amman

In fact, an ingenuous system of narrow openings combined with thick walls provide for a natural air conditioning. Walking around the dark rooms (there are 61 of them) makes you try to imagine how life must have been here so many centuries ago. The next stop: Qasr al-Amra, perhaps the most beautiful of the castles. Also this castles probably served as an inn, and it is still easy to see the system used to pump up water from deep below, transport and heat it, and use it to provide for hot, luke warm and cold water baths. Once inside, you are overwhelmed by the frescoes on the walls and the ceiling. Some parts are badly damaged, but overall it is quite easy to see what they represent.

Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Fresco at Qasr al-Amra, near Amman

The frescoes are special in that they portray humans (even a nude woman!) while this was not allowed under Islam. Apart from daily life scenes (hunting, bathing, animals), there is also a ceiling with a map of the heavens. Last stop was Qasr al-Azraq, an oasis in the desert and the last place before reaching the Iraqi border. This castle was really used as such by Umayyads, Ottomans and even Lawrence of Arabia. Especially impressive are the massive granite doors which can still be opened and closed.

Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Qasr al-Kharaneh near Amman
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Detail of wall in Qasr al-Kharaneh, near Amman
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Qasr al-Amra: ceiling with frescoes
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Camel fresco in Qasr al-Amra, near Amman
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Qasr al-Amra: cupola with frescoes
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Detail of fresco at Qasr al-Amra, near Amman
Picture of Desert Castle Loop (Jordan): Qasr al-Azraq: granite door

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