The Amman Series, Travel

Desert Castles in Jordan

As a little girl I spent time walking through the ruins of castles and forts with my family so naturally I had to do some exploring whilst in Jordan and to be sure, Jordan has many castles and ruins worth exploring.

If you are prepared to hire a car and drive for just over an hour from Amman to reach the dessert, then I highly reccomend a visit to the castle ruins in the dessert and the city of Azraq.

Qasr Amra

 Qasr Amra (قصر عمرة ), a UNESCO world heritage site, is possibly the most well known of Jordan’s desert castles. The castle was built by Walid Ibn Yazid some time between 723 and 743 before became the Umayyad caliph Walid II. The castle now stands alone on Jordan’s main East – West highway, roughly 85 kilometers away from Amman. Today the castle is considered a key example of Islamic art and architecture.

The remaining building is more of a remnant of a much larger luxury complex that included a castle: it did not serve any military function, it was merely a luxurious royal retreat.

My favorite part of the building certainly had to be the remaining frescoes on the ceilings and wall which tell the tale of rulers and hunters. Above one of the bath chambers lies the first representation of heaven painted onto a hemispherical surface. Constiliations have been ornately painted onto the ceiling and are accompanied by paintings of zodiac figures.

Qasr Al-Karaneh

Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة‎) is located 37 miles of east of Amman and lies in close proximity with the border of Saudi Arabia. Historians and Archaeologists believe that the castle was built some time before the 8th century AD. The castle however contains some Sassanid influences (read about the Sasanian Empire here.)

Qasr Kharana is very well preserved and is today one of the most visited desert castles in Jordan. Historians debate the original purpose of the castle: many argue that the building’s layout does not suggest that the castle had a military use but suggests the castle may have served as a resting place for traders. Other historians disagree as the castle is far from a water source and is not located on any major trade routes.

Qasr Hallabat

The complex of Qasr al-Hallabat is located in Jordan’s eastern desert. Historians believe that the castle was originally a Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Caracalla in the late second century AD. It is believed that the fortress was constructed to protect its inhabitants from the threat of Bedouin tribes. The castle is located on what was once the Roman highway connecting Damascus to Aqaba.

In the Eight century the Umayyad ruler Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik gave the order for the all Roman structures to be demolished and redesigned as grand Umayyad complexes. The new, renovated fort included a mosque, a complex water system and a bathhouse.

Today, the three wall sections of the mosque remain visible and intact. The palace itself is constructed of limestone and black basalt has a square floor plan with towers at each corner. The palace is decorated by beautiful mosaics of animals, frescoes and stucco carvings.

Qasr Al-Azraq

Qasr al-Azraq (قصر الأزرق‎) is a large fortress located in Jordan approximately 100km East of Amman. The Fortress was strategically built next to the nearby oasis; the only source of water in the region. The Romans were the first to use this site and later a mosque was built in the center of the grounds. The Fortress was renovated later in history by the Ayyubids, who used basalt to reconstruct the building.

During the years 1917-1918, T.E Lawrence based some of his operations in the castle.

The Amman Series, Travel

Jerash

The small country of Jordan, in the Middle East, is well known for it’s hospitality, culture and historical sights. From an archaeological perspective Jordan contains some of the most spectacular sites in the world including the world renowned tourist attraction that boasts over 500,000 visitors each year: Petra.

On this occasion I want to talk about the beautiful and historical aincient city of Jerash.

Jerash جرش ‎  is an aincient city located in the north of Jordan, only 48 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Otherwise known as ‘the Pompeii of the East’, Jerash serves as a fantastic day trip for both adults and children.

The city of Jerash dates back to the Neolithic times and incredibly rare ruins and artifacts have been found which have dated back to roughly 7500 BC. The current site of the old city of Jerash includes beautifully preserved ruins of places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.

Recommendations

When visiting Jerash you should wear sensible footwear; if you wish to see the whole site you will need to do a lot of walking.

Take a good camera with you; Jerash is an ideal location to photograph.

In the Roman theatre, two or three men will usually be ready to play wonderful traditional Jordanian songs as you walk in. The men will be happy to play songs for you, just be prepared to provide them with a tip afterwards as this is a cultural expectation.

Before going to Jerash, read about the history of the site, so that you can spend your time admiring the beauty of the ruins.

I would advise that you take water and snacks, just be sure to clear up after yourselves.

The Amman Series

Tracks and Tantrums – Amman Train Station

I’m feeling a little reminiscent today, so I decided to write about a sweet moment that happened during the time that I lived in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.

It was a lovely hot Wednesday in May. I was set to leave Jordan within the following two weeks so I wanted to make the most of every remaining moment.

In true creative style, I searched the Internet to find their list of places to visit in Amman – I wanted to make sure that I had visited as many sites as possible!

As I was looking, I found the Amman train station and Hijaz Railway line.

I absolutely loved learning about the Hijaz Railway and the life of Lawrence of Arabia whilst at university, so I did not need much convincing – I ran out immediately to get a taxi.

It sounds so simple, right?

The first step was to prove to the taxi driver that the railway station actually existed. He seemed very concerned that we would get lost and that I would be dissapointed. He was finally convinced to start the journey when I showed him a YouTube video of the station from over ten years ago!
After a long detour of Amman and quite a jolly conversation with the friendly taxi driver, I arrived outside two large iron gates.

I walked through the gateway and I was greeted by a guard; I spoke to him in arabic and could not help but notice the puzzled expression on his face.

The guard’s puzzled expression only continued to grow when I started to talk about my interest in the Hijaz railway. I began to wonder if I was in the right place.
After just under one minute I found myself booked in for a free VIP guided tour of the compound. My guide Musa was lovely and took it upon himself to explain everything in Arabic, as I apparently needed to work on my pronunciation.

“If you are studying Arabic in Jordan then I will not let you speak a word of English!”

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I followed him into a little room filled with old faded documents. There were train tickets, timetables, and route plans.
Musa was faithful in explaining every detail.

I can’t describe how it felt to hold different faded, brown tickets from the late 1800s between my fingers. The room was filled to the brim with information, pictures, articles and even an old suit that a conductor would have worn in the early 1900s. As you can imagine, I stayed in that room for a while.

After some time Musa looked at me in quite a curious manner and asked me if I was hungry.
Before I could answer I was ushered into a room of over fifteen men. There were train drivers, policemen, mechanics and even a cleaner or two. I stuck out like a sore thumb!

I was invited to sit in quite literally the center of the room and as I did I became fully aware of the unusual nature of this situation.
I was questioned for a while about everything, after all it is not every day that a strange visitor joins the staff for their lunch hour.

The questioning lasted for just over half an hour and I became so aware of everyone’s kindness and generosity.

Within a short time we were fully engaged in a lovely conversation that covered quite a lot of subjects. We spoke about marriage and about Islam. We spoke about career choices and the Arabic Language. I had already explained to them that I was a languages student; after some discussion they advised me to begin a Masters degree in engineering – I did not have the heart to tell them how terrible my science qualifications were, so I continued to smile awkwardly.

At one point, I found myself giving a grammar lesson under the request of two train drivers. A few members of staff were taking notes on scraps of paper.
When lunch drew to a close, I was invited to meet each of the train drivers in person. Each one gave me a firm handshake and a warm welcome. I was allowed to explore the various carriages and stand in the train driver’s spot – the whole experience was fascinating!

One of the sweetest memories from the day was hearing my name called from a distance, I could only just hear it over the booming engine sounds.

“Goodbye Sarah, study hard for your exams!” a train driver called as the big steam train was pulling out of Amman.

Everyone began to return to work and I also knew that I had to leave.

After saying goodbye to each and every member of staff, I walked outside to call a taxi.

It took thirty miniutes for a taxi to arrive, but somehow it all seemed worth it. I was tired but the day had been so wonderful!
For the final twenty minuites of my outing, I was serenaded home by a very angry taxi driver who was arguing with his son in law over the phone.
By the tone of the driver’s voice, it was very obvious that the driver wanted to curse and swear. However, due to the circumstances, he opted for a slightly more tame approach.
” ibn sarsoora” he screamed at the top of his voice, which translates to “son of a cockroach”.

As we arrived outside my apartment, the taxi driver turned around and apologized to me for shouting. We spoke for a few minutes and he ended our encounter by adding his welcome to those of the thousands of other taxi drivers that I had met along the way.

“Welcome to Jordan and enjoy your time here!”

I don’t think that I shall ever forget the day that I chose to journey to the train station in Amman! If you ever find yourself staying in Amman, I would certainly recommend that you pay the train station a visit.


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