Thursday, 3 February 2011

The "Jordanian approaches" circuit - Day 2

The "Jordanian approaches " circuit -  The morning of Day 2

The "Desert Castles"
Qasr al Harraneh- Qasr Amra
The 23rd of January 2011

These so called Desert Castles were residential complexes outside the urban areas, located in the stony Eastern Desert plains, one of the harshest and least populated part of Jordan, meant to be used by the Caliph and his entourage and an accessable place to meet with th bedouins.

We first headed towards Qasr al Harraneh, whose name is said to derive from the stony harra desert, in which it sits. Its rooms round the courtyard are divided into bayts (self contained units), each comprising a large central room, with smaller rooms opening off it (typically Umayyad). At the top of the stairs, there is a room lined with stone rosettes (to be seen in one of the photos below) and one  next door holding a few lines in painted Kufic script.

Different views of the Qasr Harraneh

I would lie if I were to say I was not impressed by it (though I had initally expected it to be somewhat different) ...  its shape, its state of preservation, some of the details and the surrounding atmosphere of almost "emptiness" were among some of  the aspects that impressed me the most.

We then visited the 707-715 AD Qasr Amra, presumably built as a place where the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid I used to find restoration and amusement. Its small looking size was clearly compensated by the profuse decoration of its walls and ceilings covered with frescoes (probably done by Syrian and Arabian artists), some of which are in a fairly bad state of preservation, (which is a pity really, as they carry a profound symbolism).

The Qasr Amra

I was really astounded by them, which according to an Historian are not only a "valuable testament to life at the court of the Umayyad caliphs", but also "very important from the perspective of the early history of Islam in Syria and Jordan" once "we can see that the Muslim prohibition to paint humans had not yet come into force". 

An image on the West Nave, which appears to be a bathing scene, with a woman emerging from a bath (probably a hammam) in what looks like a "bikini" (Left). A dancer entertaining the lord of the castle (Right).

Three nude women, one of them holding a child  and one pouring water (Left). A nude figure (Right).

A woman on a bed with figures by her  side - a pensive woman with a  winged angel (Left). A flautist accompanied by a dancer (Right).

Many of the images represented  on the East Nave were hunting scenes,  some of which were quite impressive, but in the last steamed room - the  Caldarium we had the chance to see the earliest  surviving representation of the Zodiac on a spherical  surface.

The next Castle we shall be visiting is the Roman built fort Qasr Azraq, chosen in 1917 as Lawrence of Arabia's  headquaters ... I honestly don't know what to expect ... I am speechless already as these two castles have already exceeded my expectations ..., though most people in the group haven't thought much of them ...

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