Desert "Castles"

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed
Palace Hotel, Amman

Flag of Jordan  ,
Monday, May 24, 2010

It was a reasonably early start for the trip to the Eastern Desert (which stretches from Amman for about 350km to the Iraq and Saudia borders). I was expecting it to be the standard minibus, but it turned out to be a car with only myself, a Dutch couple and another Dutch guy. After about an hour's drive through barren desert of mostly black volcanic pebbles on a single lane highway full of oil tankers and trucks heading to and from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi we arrived at the first of the "castles", Qasr Kahrana. Although the string of buildings throughout the Eastern Desert are known as "castles", most are not defensive structures but were built by the Umayyad Dynasty in the late 7th/ early 8th century.

Qasr Kahrana looks just like I imagined a desert castle would (hence their naming), but is thought to have been a meeting place for the Umayyad elite with the local Bedouin tribes. Although there had been nothing for miles around, just next to the site was a power station and army communications site, a slight juxtaposition! As with most the sites, there was limited information given, and our guide was only really a taxi driver who stayed in the car at each site, it was still interesting to see, especially the internal structure and upper floors round a courtyard.

We drove through more desert to the second "castle" (actually a bath complex in the middle of the desert) which was a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its frescos, which were very unislamic with naked dancing woman. Considering they are nearly 1300 years old, they are impressive and sophisticated. The reconstructed donkey powered well to feed the baths was interesting! The next stop was Qasr Al-Azraq, which is actually a fort, built out of black basalt rock. It was originally a roman fort, before being used in the early Islamic period, then by the Mamlukes and Ottomans before finally being used by Lawrence of Arabia. The building was quite impressive, especially the entrance gate and the internal mosque in the centre of the courtyard (at an angle to everything so that it points east).

We then stoped for lunch at an isolated restaurant, which was a dissapointing and expensie (13) buffet but there was no other choices round about. The final two stops were much less interesting,. The first Qasr Al-Hallabat consisted of a mosque and a fort which were in the process of being heavily reconstructed (using massive modern equipment) from just a field of rubble. You have to wander how much is genuine and how much is just imagination, I'm not sure I agre with reconstruction of sites on such a large scale. The final sight was a small set of baths, Hamman As-Sarah, which had a reasonably complete building, but again undergoing some reconstruction. The driver described it as "half a castle" given its size.

The drive back to Amman was about an hour, dodging through numerous oil tankers and trucks hurtling from the Iraq and Saudi borders and also with a couple of "sand tornados" crossing the road and going off across the desert in front of us. We arrived back in Amman at about 5 and I had a quiet evening, having a meal in a local restaurant of Mansaff which is Bedouin style lamb with rice, almonds and cooked yoghurt soup (yuk).
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: