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The Desert Castles of Jordan: A Visual Guide

Jun 3
Jordan is a fascinating country that lures its visitors with its surreal landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and ancient history. Among its many marvels, the desert castles of Jordan stand out as a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of the Umayyads. Known for their intricate mosaics, ornate carvings, and striking frescoes, these castles have fascinated and mystified travellers for over millennia. From Qasr Amra's baths adorned with nude figures to Qasr Kharana's intricate stone carvings, each of these desert castles is a unique masterpiece that tells a story. Join us on a fascinating journey as we explore the Desert Castles of Jordan - a visual guide that will leave you spellbound.

Introduction to the Desert Castles of Jordan

If you're visiting Jordan anytime soon, don't miss the Desert Castles. Jordan's hidden gem is a collection of ancient Umayyad desert castles on the outskirts of Amman that have survived since the 7th century. These castles are not typical fortresses but a unique blend of function and beauty. They were inns for travellers, farms, and even luxury estates for wealthy friends of the caliph. Quite a few of them were scattered all over the region, but still, more than a dozen of them still survived.

Jordan's desert castles might not be as famous as Petra or Wadi Rum, but they're worth visiting. And if you're looking for a break from the typical tourist spots, this is a great option. What makes the castles of Jordan even more remarkable is that they managed to stay intact and preserved despite being over 1200 years old. These castles were built from sturdy materials and are surprisingly well-designed, with unique structures and designs that will catch your attention. They are regarded as one of the greatest archaeological wonders of Jordan and the Middle East.

Exploring the desert castles is a journey to a world of splendour and ancient history. The rising sun over the desert casts a unique light over the castles, and you feel like you're travelling back in time. One of the must-visit castles is Qasr al-Kharana, located around 60km east of Amman. Built-in the early 8th century, the castle's strange but impressive design makes it stand out. Qasr al-Hallabat, Qasr Amra, and Qasr Azraq are also must-visit castles that offer a glimpse into the grandeur and luxurious lifestyle of the Umayyads.

You can join a guided tour or plan a road trip to reach these magnificent castles. If you're driving, the best time to visit is early morning to avoid the scorching heat in the afternoon. You can also book your accommodation nearby and spend an entire day exploring the different castles.

Jordan's desert castles are an amazing opportunity to explore the country's rich history. They are a perfect getaway from the more famous tourist spots that are frequently crowded. The castles are unique, impressive, and worth visiting to experience their grandeur and history. Visit the Desert Castles of Jordan, and immerse yourself in the stories of the past that continue to inspire the present. [1][2]

The History and Significance of Desert Castles

If you appreciate history and ancient architecture, Jordan is a country you must visit. One of its most impressive draws is the collection of so-called "desert castles" scattered around the country. These castles were built during the 7th and 8th centuries CE under the Umayyad Caliphate, a powerful Islamic empire that stretched from Central Asia to Spain and Portugal. Although they are called castles, they had varied purposes. They were not just fortresses but also served as inns, estates, agricultural and military bases. It is believed that there were many such structures, but today, only a handful remain, mostly in Jordan.

One of the most popular desert castles is Qasr Kharana, located in the middle of a vast, arid plain of gravel and stones. Scholars believe it was constructed sometime before 710 CE, making it over 1,300 years old. Despite being located away from any major trade routes and displaying no signs of being a fortress, the Qasr Kharana was built with excellent workmanship, leading us to believe it was an important site. Even more interesting is the mystery surrounding the purpose of its construction. Many archaeologists suggest it served as a meeting space or hotel. But, regardless of its actual purpose, the Qasr Kharana remains an impressive and mysterious site that has been inspiring scholars and tourists to this day.

Qasr Amra is another famous desert castle recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built around the 8th century, it is considered one of the most well-preserved sites from the early Islamic era. Unlike the Qasr Kharana, the Qasr Amra’s main function was a palace and bath complex. Its significance lies in its beautifully preserved frescoes and mosaics that adorn its walls. These artworks, particularly the famous fresco of the Six Kings, are unique in Islamic culture and forbidden to be painted on the walls of Islamic buildings. This anomaly makes the Qasr Amra one of the most important historic structures representing early Islamic art and practice.

Other desert castles worth visiting include Qasr Al-Azraq, which was used as a military base during the Arab Revolt led by Lawrence of Arabia, and Qasr Al-Hallabat, which was used as an agricultural base. Each castle has its unique story to tell and offers a glimpse into the region's rich history.

Jordan's desert castles, while named somewhat inaccurately, offer insight into the Umayyad Caliphate's sophisticated infrastructure and allow us to catch a glimpse of the past. These castles, along with Jordan's many other archaeological sites, make it a country that is well worth visiting for all history buffs. [3][4]

Qasr Amra: An Important Site for Early Islamic Art

If you are visiting Jordan, Qasr Amra should be on your list! This UNESCO World Heritage site is an exceptional example of a desert castle from the early 8th century. The Umayyad caliphs built Qasr Amra as both a fortress and a pleasure palace. The castle's most outstanding features are the reception hall and the hammam, richly decorated with figurative murals that reflect the secular art of the time. These murals are considered to be of great importance in the history of early Islamic art. [5][6]

Exploring the Desert Castles Loop

Visiting Jordan's Desert Castles can be a memorable experience with their intricate architecture and rich history, dotted around the desert that takes you back to the Umayyad dynasty. These hunting lodges, caravanserais, and farmhouses were built as rural retreats in the seventh century by the Caliphs to escape city life.

The Desert Castles Loop is a group of early-Islamic buildings, with Qasr Kharana and Qusayr Amra being the most famous. These atmospheric buildings are on a fast road between Amman and the oasis town of Azraq. The reserve's eco-friendly lodge and links to the Lawrence of Arabia make Azraq worth a stop. Zarqa has Qasr Hallabat, a well-restored fortress, making it easy to follow a loop in either direction from Amman.

Driving mostly across a flat and monotonous desert is part of the Desert Castles Loop. To see all three desert castles, at least 4-5 hours when driving from and back to Amman is required. Add another hour and a half if heading to Madaba or Jerash rather than returning to Amman. Qasr Azraq required about 45 minutes; Qusayr Amra, with its beautiful paintings, required 20-30 minutes; Qasr al-Kharanah's unique architecture took 20 minutes to explore.

Qasr Hallabat, situated on a small hill 30 km east of Zarqa, was built as a Roman fort in the second century to guard the desert frontier. It was refurbished by the Ghassanids into a country palace with mosaic floors, a chapel, and a monastery by the sixth century. When the Muslim Umayyads took over in the late seventh century, Hallabat was merely refurbished with mosaics altered slightly, the monastery converted into storerooms, and a mosque added to the side in white limestone to contrast with the black basalt used by the Ghassanids. Nowadays, Hallabat is one of the most satisfying Desert Castles to explore, full of atmosphere and still largely unvisited.

In creating an itinerary, one may ask whether they like visiting UNESCO sites or being a fan of T.E. Lawrence. Other places like Dana Nature Reserve or Petra may be preferred over the Desert Castles when short on time. Choosing which places to skip can be challenging. Keep in mind what is useful for others may not work for oneself. The Desert Castles of Jordan are a must-visit for those seeking history and adventure, with the chance to find surprises and gems like those encountered by LAIDBACK TRIPS. [7][8]

Planning Your Trip to the Desert Castles

Jordan may be known for its popular tourist attractions, but the Desert Castles are a hidden gem worth visiting. Three main castles – Qasr Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr Azraq – can be covered in four to five hours when driving from Amman. Plan enough time for a day trip if you want to visit them all.

The scenery during the road trip may be flat and monotonous, but it's still worth the drive to discover the steady structures in the middle of nowhere. Jordan's Desert Castles are situated towards the East of Amman, and most companies offer half-day tours to visit them. If you plan to drive yourself, a map with their locations is available on Wikipedia.

When visiting the Desert Castles, know that Qasr Kharana and Qasr Amra have accredited guides for those interested in learning more. Qasr Amra, in particular, has intricate frescoes and a system to get water that may pique your interest. On the other hand, Qasr Azraq has a walled fortress closest to what most people imagine a "desert castle" to look like. Remember this when deciding which castles to visit based on your point of interest and style.

If you've already visited Jerash, you can explore the Desert Castles loop in the morning and arrive in Madaba before lunch. This will give you ample time to explore the historical attractions that Madaba is famous for. Alternatively, you can explore the Desert Castles on a day trip from Amman or Jerash and head to the capital city afterwards.

Ultimately, deciding whether the Desert Castles are worth visiting is up to you. If you enjoy UNESCO World Heritage Sites, steady structures in the middle of nowhere, and learning about the area's history, these castles may be worth detouring. However, if you're short on time and need to pick and choose which attractions to visit, you may have other more suitable options in Jordan.

Visiting the Desert Castles of Jordan is an adventure to remember. Plan your trip ahead of time, decide which castles are worth visiting, and keep an open mind to the experiences and surprises that await you on the road. [9][10]