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Desert Castles

Seemingly isolated pavilions, caravan stations, secluded baths, and hunting lodges, were at one time integrated agricultural or trading complexes, built mostly under the Umayyads (661-750 AD), when Muslim Arabs had succeeded in transforming the fringes of the desert into well-watered settlements.

These ancient castles were built as travel stations along the road between the Umayyad capital, Damascus, in Syria and the other district cities in Iraq and Arabia. The interpretation of these castles will be based on understanding the reasons for their foundation, their typology, function, structure and the relationships between them.

The Umayyad Route retraces part of the journey followed by the dynasty founded by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufian from its capital in Damascus and its subsequent expansion along the southern shores of the Mediterranean to the Iberian Peninsula.

The route begins therefore in the Near East before heading off along the Mediterranean across North Africa.
It follows the path by which Arabic civilization came to Europe and which gave rise to the Caliphate of Cordoba, where the Hispano-Muslim civilization flourished for several centuries.
The itinerary starts at its easternmost point in Jordan and Lebanon, passing through Egypt and Tunisia, with a stopover in Sicily, and ends up in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

“Obtain deeper knowledge of Jordan’s ancient history and culture, don sturdy boots and take to the desert for a look at the architecture of the past.”

Here in Jordan, Desert castles are rare structures bearing the unique archeological and identity aspects of the Umayyad civilization. Architectural, artistic and technical values are analyzed. Function is the most important aspect of the architectural component.

In Jordan we have ten castles, two of which are Amra and Kharana, in an integral original condition, still preserving their volumes. They can be prepared for use only with some restoration works.

Four other castles, Amman, Qastal, Azraq and Sarah, are in a partial state of conservation, which has enabled their use as museums.
Their capability could be increased with restoration works and anastiloses.

The remaining four castles, Hallabat, Tuba, Muaqqar and Mshatta, are in bad condition and in need of more extensive conservation works, such as restoration, anastilosis, construction of shelters, etc.

This is the present state of the particular elements of the system of desert castles. All of the castles are linked by state roads, which are highly frequented by tourists and passengers traveling between Amman, Syria, Arabia and Iraq.
What is known in English as a “desert castle” is known in Arabic as qasr (singular), qusur being the plural.

Al-Humayma ruins


al-Qastal - Baths

Al Qastal

Qasr Tuba from North

Qasr Tuba

General view to The castle

Azraq Castle

Qasr al-Hallabat - the Mosque

Qasr Al-Hallabat

Qasr Al-Kharanah - doorways

Qasr Al-Kharanah

The large central arch leads to the caliph's audience hall, the throne room

Qasr Al-Mshatta

Qusayr Amra - view to Entrance

Qasr Amra

The typical desert castle is more than a single residence; rather it is a compound of various building including a substantial main residence along with other buildings such as a hammam (bath-house), storage areas and other agrarian structures and possibly a mosque, all within a large enclosure. Desert castles are typically situated near a wadi or seasonal water course.

The inner part of the main residence typically consists of two-storeys, arranged around a central courtyard. The main residence is often richly ornamented with mosaics, frescoes and stucco reliefs. As a good example; the most famous: Qaser Amra, one of the best-preserved castles, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with lively frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colorful mosaic. Aside from being widely considered as the most spectacular and original monuments of early Islamic art, these complexes“Desert Castles“ also served practical purposes: namely, as residences, caravanserais, and baths.

Archaeologists have investigated the role of these desert castles, with the traditional view that they served as country estates or hunting lodges for the use of aristocratic families during the winter season. However, recent scholarship has suggested a much greater diversity of roles, including as agricultural estates or military forts.

Desert Castles in Jordan - the rough guide to jordan
Desert Castles in Jordan - rough guide to jordan

The wealthy Umayyad Caliphs, who used to come to Jordan for leisure and in hunting trips, built some beautiful Castle-like Qasers ,”Palaces”, at the heart of the eastern . In their remote and lavishly decorated desert retreats, princes, caliphs, governors and noblemen indulged in hunting, falconry, racing horses and camels, bathing and eating, and poetry recitals. Most of those palaces were built in the seventh or eighth century.

It is also possible that some of these structures, like Qusayr Amra, Kharaneh and Mshash, served as resting places for high government officials on their way to Hejaz. This restricted and temporary use of these buildings may explain the scarcity of pottery shards from those sites. A combination of factors and coordinates therefore might have been involved in the construction of the Umayyad Desert Castles, and no single element is sufficient to explain them all.

Most of the desert palaces were abandoned after the Umayyads fell from power in 750, leaving many projects uncompleted and others were left to decay.