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Destination Details

Amman, Jordan

 

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.Their fine mosaics, frescoes, stone and stucco carvings and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Graeco-Roman traditions, tell countless stories of the life as it was during the 8th century. Called castles because of their imposing stature, the desert complexes actually served various purposes as caravan stations, agriculture and trade centres, resort pavilions and outposts that helped distant rulers forge ties with local Bedouins. Several of these preserved compounds, all of which are clustered to the east and south of Amman, can be visited on one - or two-day loops from the city.
 
 
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.
 
Quseir Amra, one of the best preserved monuments, 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 mosaics.
 
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.
 
The castles are partly rebuilt from earlier remains and partly new constructions. The function and use of the buildings are yet today not quite determined, scholarship has suggested that they might have served a variety of defensive, agricultural, residential and commercial purposes. There are different theories concerning the use of the buildings, they may have been a fortress, a meeting place for Bedouins (between themselves or with the Umayyad governor), badiyas (retreats for the nobles) or used as a caravanserai. Many seem to have been surrounded by an oasis and to have served as a base for hunting.
 
The castles represent some of the most impressive examples of early Islamic art and Islamic architecture, and are notable for including many figurative frescos and reliefs and people and animals, less frequently found in later Islamic art on such a large and public scale. Many elements of the palaces are also on display in museums in Amman.

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