Jordan’s desert castles, beautiful examples of both early Islamic art and architecture, stand testament to a fascinating era in the country’s rich history. Their fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Greco – Roman traditions, tell countless stories of life as it was during the fifth to the eighth centuries. Called castles because of their imposing stature, the desert complexes actually served various purposes as caravan stations, agriculture and trade centres, resort pavilions and outposts that helped distant rulers forge ties with local Bedouins. Several of these preserved compounds, all of which are clustered to the east and south of Amman, can be visited on one – or two-day loops from the city.
Qusair Amra, one of the most preserved castles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with lively frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colourful mosaics. Qasr Mushatta, Qasr al – Kharrana, Qasr at – tuba and Qasr al – Hallabat have been restored and are all in excellent condition. The black basalt fort at Azraq, in continuous use since Roman times, was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt.
Build around the eighth century AD, Qasr al Kharrana is one of the first constructions from the Islamic era. Although it is listed as a “desert castles”, Qasr al-Kharanah does not have the structure of a fortress. Seemingly, it could have been a caravansary or a place of refreshment for the merchants travelling in the area. Some experts also believe that it was the place where the lords of Damascus met with the Bedouins of the neighbouring areas.
Located in the southern part of the Eastern Jordan Desert, Qasr al tuba ‘is one of the most isolated desert castles. Built by the Caliph Walid II in the eighth century AD, it stands aside from the other desert castles for its unusual foundations made of sun-baked bricks. One of the castle’s highlights is the beautiful decorations of the architraves with rosettes, intertwined with plant leaves.
Initially designed by the Roman emperor Caracalla as a fortress to defend the Roman territories from the attacks of the Bedouin tribes, it became, in the Byzantine era, a monastery. Under the rein of Omayyade calif Walid II it was renovated and turned into a countryside estate. Walid II added arches, niches and a portico supported by columns as well as elaborate pavement decorated with mosaics that are still visible today.
The black basalt fort at Azraq, in continuous use since Roman times, was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt. Today it is still possible to visit the room where Lawrence slept. Although the entire complex is mostly in ruins, the altar in front of the entrance, a small mosque, a well and the remains of prison are still recognizable.