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 Jerusalem Series

Lighting candles in the Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem is always a hive of activity. As the sun gently rises over the distant hills, shopkeepers begin their commutes towards the city centre. Long days lie ahead, setting up shop in the empty streets.

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It does not take long for the crowds to appear -in their hundreds. Tourism in Jerusalem is very seansonal, depending on the events. As a holy city to three of the main monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism – Jerusalem welcomes over 3.5 million tourists a year.

One particular afternoon three friends and I were making our way back home after a drink sage tea in the sunshine under a palm tree. It was a Friday, one of the busiest days in the week. We weaved our way through the crowded streets of Muristan, up towards Christian Quarter Road and as we turned onto the road we heard a voice call to us.

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“Hello, lovely family!” 

I have to confess that when we arrived in Jerusalem, we were instructed to avoid conversation with shopkeepers and to just continue walking. The four of us were used to ignoring this instruction.

“We are in spirit, mate” Mal replied.

“How lovely!” The friendly shopkeeper said smiling as he laid out his coloured scarves for display.

I started to smile to myself as we continued walking. When I arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem all those years ago, I was told to keep my head down and walk straight from place to place, I remember being warned that I should not talk to anyone and that I certainly shouldn’t entertain the idea of conversation.

Time passed and our friendship with this particular shopkeeper had grown. The shopkeeper and his shop became a safe haven for some of us when we were walking home. I should stress that it is very unusual to not feel safe in Jerusalem, however, if we ever felt intimidated or at risk of being followed we would calmly walk to the shop and wait there whilst the shopkeeper would send some of his relatives to investigate.

One afternoon, we discovered that the shopkeeper’s birthday was in the following week and we decided to bake him a birthday cake: this soon became quite problematic as we remembered that we did not have any oven.

So, we set to work on preparing a toffee cheesecake and to our surprise, it was a big success. After hours of searching online we found the perfect recipie.

Navigating the Old City thta busy Friday morning turned into more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We tried our best to make the occasion a surprise. As we turned off the bustling David Street onto Christian quarter road we stopped at the first shop and asked if we could borrow a lighter.

The shopkeeper looked at us quizzically and cautioned us not to smoke as it was not good for our health: we continued to explain the plan. The poor shopkeeper only seemed to be more confused by our explanation as we uncovered the cake and began to light some candles.

However much we had planned for this event to be a surprise, our shopkeeper friend had seen us coming from a distance. Unbeknown to us we had gained a following of roughly twelve shopkeepers who slowly followed behind: I am sure they were following us for a piece of cheesecake.

The best moment was seeing a smiling face emerge from the shop and stare in utter shock at the crowd of people who were singing happy birthday. Even some tourists joined in to sing with us. We sang together in Arabic and English and then we all sat down and began to eat. The street was filled with laughter, fun and of course – thousands of tourists.

I am so grateful for that one conversation with a shopkeeper in the Old City, as it led to our hilarious friendship which still exists to this day.

I understand an appreciate the caution of the organisation that I worked for, and I would advise you to walk around the Old city in groups or pairs if you have any concerns. I really do believe that the Old City of Jerusalem is safe, however I would not advise single girls to walk around the city alone at night. Please, exercise caution; there are always exceptions to every rule and although the characters in the story are lovely (and real) there will always be people who sadly wish to take advantage of others.


Jerusalem series
The Riyadh series, Travel

Riyadh Boulevard

The year 2019 was a fundamental year for the country of Saudi Arabia. Many would argue this because of the number of reforms that took place, such as the E-Visa (allowing tourists to visit Saudi Arabia for the first time.) Before the year finished I was able to visit The Boulevard and experience some of what Riyadh Season had to offer.

What is Riyadh Season?

Riyadh Season is a special series of events in Riyadh, designed to showcase some of the talent and beauty that the city has to offer. The season includes many new restaurants, cafes and international brands, car exhibitions, auctions, fashion shows, games and concerts.

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What about Riyadh Boulevard?

Riyadh Boulevard is one of the events in the season. An Old fashioned tram will transport you through a colourful vibrant street filled with so many shops to explore. Talented street musicians line the streets, singing and playing traditional melodies. For an additional fee and a spectacular treat, you can also attend the popular music concerts that take place every night.

There is also the option of visiting the cinema: a new addition to life in Saudi Arabia. Cinemas opened in Saudi Arabia for the first time in April 2018 and have been popular and in high demand ever since!

Why I enjoyed it?

From the moment I arrived I loved the vibe and the ambiance of The Boulevard. It was lovely to see families and friends having fun together. The excitement and energy of the event was contagious, there were activities for everyone.

When my friend and I decided to find tickets to ride the tram we were delighted to find that the tram was free! We thought that this was a brilliant touch and a lovely novelty for families and friends alike.

There was also a lovely variety of food trucks and restaurants so there were plenty of cuisines to sample. I really enjoyed the Kibbeh in Labaneh and the creamy hot Sahlab: the perfect drink for a cool winter’s evening.

If you have the opportunity, you must visit The Boulevard before the season ends!

Check out the video below to see more: