Qasr Kharana, the Desert Castle, Amman, Jordan

The Desert Castles – Fragments from a Lost Empire

Jordan’s “Desert Castles” are a group of early-Islamic buildings located in the desert east of Amman. They tell us a lot about the Islamic society of Jordan’s past…

Jordan’s “Desert Castles” are a group of early-Islamic buildings located east of Amman, in various locations throughout the desert. Visiting them is easy, and for us, constituted a one day excursion out of Amman. Although there are 9 of them, located in a loop in close vicinity of each other, it is not possible to see all, and our guide recommended us Qasr Kharana and Qasr Amra.

VIsiting Desert Castles of Jordan, qasr amra, medieval islamic bathhouse
Qasr Amra, a luxurious medieval islamic bathhouse

Qasr Amra – The Umayyad Gem

Qasr Amra particularly, was truly memorable.  It stands out as an archaeological treasure in the Islamic world, with its rich, figurative murals depicting hunting, women, wine and song.

Foundations of Qasr Amra, Desert Castles, Jordan
Foundations that have been exposed in Qasr Amra

This site dispelled our misconceptions that Islam had always forbidden depictions of people in art. In the info center, there was a written guide, which clarified that this rule did not apply to art with no religious function, at least within the Umayyad period, which was when Qasr Amra was built and in use. It was a more secular time, with strong cultural influence from Persia, Greece and Rome, three foreign cultures that feature in one form or another in this site.

Islamic art, fresco depicting nude bather, Qasr Amra, desert castles, jordan
Fresco in Qasr Amra depicting nude bathers, animals and other lifeforms

Qasr Kharana – “The” Desert Castle

Qasr Kharana is far more austere. Standing stark amidst flat desert by the highway, the ancient structure responsible for the misnomer “Desert Castles” (because none of the “castles” actually are castles) is juxtaposed beside modern trappings like electricity lines and 20 ton delivery trucks.

Qasr al-Harraneh, caravanserais, VIsiting Desert Castles of Jordan
Qasr al-Harraneh, castle, fort or caravanserais?

No one really knows what the building was used for, although analysis of its architecture suggest that it was most probably used as a rural meeting hall between Bedouins themselves, or with the Umayyad govenor. Our visit here was short, as there was nothing particularly note-worthy within the structure itself. Although from the outside, it made a very impressive, imposing picture.

VIsiting Desert Castles of Jordan, Qasr al-Harraneh, Medieval islamic Fort
Qasr al-Harraneh is now located alongside a popular highway running across Jordan