The Desert Castles

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A series of ancient buildings that now lie beside the main road heading east into the desert from Amman. They could be more suggestively named the Desert Pleasure Palaces: they’d probably get more visitors this way! They were built by the Umayyad dynasty, the second Arab caliphate established in the wake of the death of Mohammed, and served no defensive purpose, as they were actually hunting lodges and bathing houses for the ruling elite. There are three main ones to visit. Kharaneh is a solid, square structure with towers on each corner. The unadorned brickwork, arched windows and doors and symmetry of the structure make it great for photographing. At Qasr Amra, you approach the building from an elevated position, allowing you to appreciate the domed roof of the bath house. Amra has been designated as a World Heritage Site, and as soon as you step inside you understand why as the walls are adorned with remarkable frescoes. Although they have been damaged by shepherds who used the buildings as shelters after they fell into disuse, the content of the frescoes is what is so remarkable: there is a real merging of nascent Islamic style with traditional Greek art; there are animals behaving like humans, an amazingly accurate star map depicting the Zodiac, and perhaps surprisingly, images of wine consumption and naked women. The final Desert Castle that most people visit is Azraq, which you can read about in our entry dedicated entirely to Azraq.

You may wish to extend your tour to include Qasr Hallabat. One of the more elaborate ‘Desert Castle’s’, it was originally built as a Roman Fort, eventually evolving into a country palace with mosaic floors, a chapel and monastery, with the monastery later being converted into storerooms by the Umayyads.

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