Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eastern Desert Castles and Azraq Wetlands

In the eastern part of Jordan, as you head towards Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the land becomes more arid and desert-like and there are numerous historic ruins including castles, forts, baths and fortified outputs which are collectively called the Eastern Desert Castles.  The majority of these “castles” were built during the early days of Islam (7th and 8th century AD) by Damascus based Umayyad caliphs (leaders).
Qasr al-Harraneh is believed to be a defensive fort, a rest stop for passing camel trains (I like this one), or a meeting area for local Umayyad rulers and Bedouin.  It is one of the earliest forts of the Islamic era built in 710 AD.  

Qusayr Amra was a bathhouse associated with a caravan stop and hunting lodge built in 711 AD.  The inside of the bathhouse has some very well preserved paintings including topless women and fanciful animals (i.e. a bear playing a banjo).  What is interesting about these frescoes is that early Islam prohibited the paintings of any living beings.  Of course, this was a bath house for males, those who set the rules for all others, of course they didn’t have to follow them.

Qasr al-Azraq was a fort built over many years starting with the Romans in 300 AD and rebuilt in 1237 AD by the Damascus based Ayyubids and then occupied by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century.  Interestingly, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) lived here in the early 1900’s during the Arab revolt against the Turks.  

The town of Azraq was once a very lush oasis that was a main stop on the way to Mecca.  Until about 40 years ago there was a 12,700 sq km wetlands that was home to elephants, lions, cheetahs and hippos.  Now it is an ecological disaster!  Jordan started pumping water from the wetlands to Amman (110km away) and all that remains now is 12 sq km of brackish and delicate wetland home to about 300 birds and a few water buffalo. 

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