Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jordan Desert Castles - Qasr al-Azraq

This castle is located in the town where we will be staying for the summer. Azraq is the only permanent source of water in this part of Jordan (the oasis that used to be here is being reclaimed - i'll report more on that later in the summer), and as such - has had a human presence (on and off) for at least the past 20,000 years or so - perhaps longer...but lets not get into that. Anyways - the castle located here was first built by the Romans (Bloody Romans!) back in the 4th C. - shortly after 300 AD. Inscriptions found at the castle dedicate its construction to the Emperors Diocletian and Maximilian. This outpost of Roman power in the eastern desert was about as far from Rome as you could get - it sat on the very edge (or Limes if you want to invoke your Latin) of the Roman Empire.

The present state of the castle was a result of the rebuilding efforts of the Ayyubids around 1230 AD. Perhaps the most famous person to inhabit the walls of Qasr al-Azraq was none other than T.E. Lawrence himself. Many of you may know him as "Lawrence of Arabia" - a very controversial figure in the history and politics of the Middle East in the early 20th C. He used this castle as a base of operations during the so-called Arab Revolt of 1917. I have visited this site before (back in 2000 with my wife, Tara) and had my picture taken in "Lawrences' Room" - his office if you will. I can just imagine the things that went on there...incredible.

The castle itself has many interesting features, but perhaps the most interesting (for me at least) was the HUGE (it weighs over 3 tons!) stone door that leads into the castle. It still swings on its original stone pivots and you can actually move it yourself. Another item of interest is the ruins of a small mosque in the central courtyard - clearly it was a mosque with its mirhab, but apparently it was originally a Byzantine church. I'll certainly be paying Qasr al-Azraq a visit since we will be living within walking distance of the site, so stay tuned for more from Azraq (GF109.3).

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