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highlights:

 

Al-Muwaqqar:

Virtually nothing remains of this qasr, which once stood on an elevated mound surveying the desert and the cultivated lands to the west. The qasr and the huge reservoir to the southeast are associated, on the basis of literary and epigraphic evidence, with the Caliph Yazid II (719-723 AD). Numerous capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and Arabic inscriptions, as well as a water gauge to measure the depth of water in the reservoir, were recovered from the site.

 
 

Hammam Assarah:

Situated 2 km to the west of Qasr Al-Hallabat. The plan of Hammam Assarah (Assarah Bath Complex) is strikingly similar to Qusayr Amra, though its masonry has a better finishing and its courses are more tightly joined. Its plan, like Amra, consists of 3 principal elements: The Audience Hall, The Bath Complex, and The Hydraulic Structures. The audience-hall is roofed by 3 tunnel-vaults resting on the sidewall and two intermediate transverse arches. The northeastern corner of this hall had a fountain, which received its water from an elevated tank to the east. The bath proper consists of 3 rooms corresponding to the cold, warm, and hot rooms. This monument suffered severe damage in the 1950s, when the building was pilfered for its stones.

 
 

Qasr Kharaneh:

This imposing structure is situated about 65 km east of Amman and 18 km west of Qusayr Amra. Kharaneh is one of the best-preserved Umayyad monuments in the Jordanian steppe. It consists of 61 rooms arranged into 2 levels surrounded by a porticoes central courtyard. These rooms are grouped as self-contained units (bayts), each consisting of a central hall flanked on 2 sides by a pair of rooms opening onto the central hall.

A 3-quarter round buttress supports each of the 4 corners, and 2 quarter-round towers line the entrance in the middle of the south side, whereas half-round buttresses occupy the middle of the 3 remaining sides.

The exterior walls are pierced by narrow openings for lighting and ventilation, not arrow slits as sometimes described. On either side of the passageway that leads to the central court, is a long room, which served as a stable and storeroom. Originally, a small water tank stood in the middle of the courtyard to collect rainwater from the rooftops. Additional water was obtained from seep-holes dug in the adjacent valley-bed.

The construction and architectural technique betray Sassanian influences, such as the use of squinches and shallow vaults resting on transverse arches, in addition to carved stucco decorations.

 
 

Al-Qastal:

Al-Qastal lies 25 km south of Amman, on the highway leading to Queen Alia International Airport. Unfortunately, the site has been built on, and a large portion of the main building, the qasr (palace), has been subsumed by a modern house.

The qasr forms a square measuring 67.80 m to the side with 3-quarter round towers at the corners, and 3 semi-round towers on each side except the east entranceway. This entrance leads into a vestibule some 16 m deep and opens onto a central courtyard approximately 28 m2. Around the courtyard, 6 self-contained units (bayts) are grouped, each consisting of 5 rooms. Both the portico and the rooms were originally 2 floors.

To the north of the qasr is the mosque with a round tower resting on a square base. This tower, with its spiral staircase, is all that remains of a minaret, which may well be, the earliest surviving minaret in the Islamic world.

More than 100 cisterns and substantial barrage, 400 m long and 4.25 m wide have been identified within a one kilometer radius from the qasr. Plans are underway to restore the qasr and the ancient water system.

 
 

Al-Mushatta:

Some 10 km southeast of Al-Qastal and within the precincts of Queen Alia International Airport, lies Qasr Al-Mushatta, the most famous of all the Umayyad palaces.

Externally, the palace is nearly 144 m2, articulated by regular semi-round buttresses with a single monumental gateway in the middle of the south facade. Internally, the space is divided into what has been called "The Successive Symmetrical Subdivision into Three".

 

jordan - desert castles:

 

Scattered throughout the black basalt desert, east of Amman, the Desert Castles stand as a testament to the flourishing beginnings of Islamic-Arab civilization. These 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.

Aside from being widely considered as the most spectacular and original monuments of early Islamic art, these complexes also served practical purposes: namely, as residences, caravanserais, and baths.

In the year 661, the capital of the newly founded Arab Muslim Empire moved from Medina and Kufa in the Hejaz and Iraq respectively, to Damascus, the seat of the Umayyad Dynasty. The years which immediately followed the death of the founder of the dynasty, Mu'awiya bin Abi Sufyan, were spent in overcoming rival claimants to the Caliphate.

The latter part of the reign of AbdulMalek bin Marwan (685-750) seems to have been an exceptionally favorable interlude for the Umayyads. Being more firmly on the saddle, one can detect a sudden release of talent and creativity, which was manifested by the construction of the first major Islamic monument in Jerusalem, the majestic Dome of the Rock. The architectural program initiated by Caliph AbdulMalek, was continued and expanded by his son, Al-Walid, who built the great mosques of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Medina.

Throughout the following decades, the Umayyads dotted the Jordanian steppe with luxurious buildings decorated with splendid mosaic pavements, fresco paintings, and carved stucco. All these indicate that the Umayyads had found a modus vivendi with the Syrian civilization. The fact that several of these buildings were located in the Jordanian steppe points to the overriding importance of the area. Indeed, the area's incorporation into the military district (Jund) of Damascus, whose governor was directly responsible to Damascus, attests to its vitality.

The Umayyad Desert Castles were initially regarded as desert retreats (Badiyas) for Umayyad princes who, being of nomadic origins, grew weary of city life with all its rigors and congested atmosphere. Those castles allowed them to return to the desert, where their nomadic instincts could be best expressed, and where they could pursue their pastimes away from watchful eyes of the pious minded.

This theory, however, was challenged by the French scholar, Jean Sauvaget. These buildings were located on extensive and elaborately irrigated farmlands, which were often accompanied by various hydraulic structures, and therefore, he argued, they were centers for agricultural exploitation. This was reflected by the Umayyad policy to expand the agricultural zone into marginal areas. Yet another and more recent explanation for the raison d'├ętre of these buildings is what might be called the "Architecture of Diplomacy". That is, maintaining close contacts with the tribes of the region who were vehement supporters of the Umayyads.

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.

Today, these lonely and evocative structures can be visited in a one-day trip from Amman, as modern paved roads have replaced the ancient desert tracks.

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One day tour from Amman to Desert Castles....