Jordan // The eastern desert //

The “Desert Castles” loop

Share

For most visitors, the main reason to head east is to explore Jordan’s “Desert Castles”, a group of early-Islamic buildings dotted around the desert – the best of which are now easily accessible by ordinary vehicles driving on proper roads. Most date from the seventh century, when the Umayyad dynasty was ruling from Damascus: bedouin at heart, the Umayyad caliphs seem to have needed an escape from the pressures of city life, and so built a network of hunting lodges, caravanserais and farmhouses to serve as rural retreats. Nineteenth-century archeologists came up with the term “Desert Castles”, although few of the buildings are true castles, and many were built on what was then semi-fertile agricultural land. Archeologists have suggested replacement titles – desert complexes, country estates, farmsteads – but none exactly fits the bill.

These are some of Jordan’s most atmospheric ancient buildings – most notably Qasr Kharana and Qusayr Amra, which lie near each other on a fast road between Amman and the oasis town of Azraq (itself worth a stop for its nature reserve, eco-friendly lodge and links to Lawrence of Arabia). A different road to Azraq, from the city of Zarqa, passes by the well-restored fortress of Qasr Hallabat, making it easy to follow a loop in either direction from Amman.

Harder-to-reach sites include the ruined Qasr Mushatta, near Amman’s airport, and Qasr Tuba, marooned in the roadless desert south of Kharana.

Read More

More about Jordan

Explore Jordan

Inspiration

Essentials

Shop