Jordan’s Desert Castles – Qasr Kharana, Qasr Amra, Qasr Al Azraq
Our final day tour from Amman was a visit to the various castles in the deserts to the east of town. The drive there is lined by numerous Army and Air Force bases, each with gates guarded by watchful soldiers. Any quiet moment in the desert is punctuated by jets overhead, always in flights of three.
The desert there is remarkably flat and featureless. There are no little cracks or dried river beds – it’s just an endless plain of rocky soil. Within the plain the easily spottable landmark is Qasr Kharana.
It sits on the plain like someone dropped a brick from a helicopter. There’s no quarry nearby to produce the rock so it must have been brought from elsewhere.
Just like the surrounding landscape the castle is pretty sparse inside but there’s a circuitous route to the roof for some far-reaching views of nothing.
I’m pretty sure any passing invaders would have just detoured a few hundred meters north or south and carry on unimpeded, but I’m glad they built it for future generations.
The next stop was Qasr Amra. This wasn’t so much of a castle as a small building beside a large well. By the car park is a sparse museum of photographs, run by the tourist police.
Leaving the museum and approaching Qasr Amra along a winding path a man waddled over and asked if we wanted a guide. I declined so he ran ahead and locked the door. We’d paid the tourist police at the ticket office so I waved my ticket. He refused to let us in without paying him again, so I set off back towards the police. This panicked him a bit and he hastily unlocked the door.
Inside the small building the walls were covered in colourful but badly damaged frescos. The man persisted in trying to give us a guided tour, then blocking the exit and holding out his hand for money.
At that moment a pigeon flew past him and into the frescoed area. This caused him some more panic and as we left we last saw him chasing in vain after the unfortunate bird.
Qasr Azraq was the first structure that looked like an early European idea of a castle. This was the base of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt, but there has been a defensive structure here since late Roman times.
Built of black basalt the castle is a lot more imposing than any of the previous efforts.
With minimal informational signage I went looking for a guide to hire but they were so aggressive I walked away.
All of these are UNESCO World Heritage sites, but feel like they need a bit of care. Whether it’s restoration at Qasr Azraq, policing of scams at Qasr Amra or curation at Qasr Al Karraneh so the inside isn’t so bland they could all be so much more.
Reading back, it doesn’t sound like I had a very good day but it was fine really. We’re didn’t have great luck with guides beyond the chap at Jerash so I’d suggest spending the money on a decent guidebook to walk you through the sites.