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Exploring the Desert Castles of Jordan: A Travel Guide

Jul 4

Have you ever wanted to explore ancient ruins that reveal the fascinating history of a once-great empire? Perhaps you are intrigued by the mysterious desert lands shrouded in myth and legend. If so, you are in for a treat because today, we are taking a journey into the heart of Jordan, where we will explore the desert castles that dot the landscape.

These stunning ruins offer a glimpse into the world of the Umayyad Empire, revealing the architectural and artistic prowess of one of the greatest civilizations in human history. Join us on this unforgettable adventure and discover the magic of Jordan's timeless beauty as we explore the Desert Castles of Jordan.




A brief overview of what the blog post will cover

Welcome to this travel guide exploring the desert castles of Jordan!

This blog post will cover everything you need to know about these fascinating historical landmarks. Jordan's desert castles are worth exploring, and we will explain why.

  • We will provide an overview of the origins of these castles and delve into the detailed history of each one, including when and why they were built.
  • Transportation options for reaching the castles will be discussed, along with maps and directions for each location.
  • If you prefer a guided experience, we will also explore available tour options.
  • The most impressive castles, such as Qasr al-Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr al-Azraq, will be described in detail, highlighting their unique features and architectural details.
  • Expect to find stunning photos and highlights of each castle to inspire your visit.
  • We will also suggest the best times of the year to explore these castles and encourage you to add them to your travel itinerary.

So, get ready to embark on an exciting adventure through the desert castles of Jordan! [1][2]



Explanation of Jordan's desert castles and why they are worth exploring

Jordan's desert castles are a fascinating part of the country's history and culture, making them worth exploring for any traveller. These early-Islamic buildings are scattered across the desert and offer a unique glimpse into the past. The desert castles were built during the Umayyad dynasty in the seventh century as hunting lodges, caravanserais, and farmhouses. They served as rural retreats for the Umayyad caliphs, who wanted to escape the pressures of city life.

The Desert Castles Loop, which includes notable castles such as Qasr al-Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr al-Azraq, is easily accessible from cities like Amman, Jerash, and Madaba. Each castle has its own detailed history and architectural features worth exploring. The Qasr al-Kharana, for example, is a mysterious desert castle that is believed to have been an inn. Qasr Amra is famous for its well-preserved frescoes, while Qasr al-Azraq has historical connections to T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. 

Transportation options for reaching the castles include driving by car, which is recommended for those who prefer a more independent experience. For those who prefer guided tours, there are options available as well.

The best times of year to visit Jordan's desert castles are during the summer months, from May to September. However, it's worth noting that the castles close at 4 PM during the winter months from October to April. Additionally, there are limited accommodation options near the desert castles, so visiting them as part of a day trip from nearby cities is recommended.

Adding Jordan's desert castles to your travel itinerary is a must-do for history enthusiasts and those looking to explore the country's rich cultural heritage. [3][4]


History of the Desert Castles

Overview of the Origins of the desert castles

The desert castles of Jordan have a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the 7th century. These structures were built during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty, a period when the rulers sought rural retreats away from the city. The Umayyad caliphs, known for their bedouin lifestyle, constructed a network of hunting lodges, caravanserais, and farmhouses to escape city life's pressures.

Although the term "desert castles" may be a misnomer, as many buildings are not true castles, they have become iconic landmarks in Jordan. The origins of each castle vary, but they all share a common purpose of providing a serene and elegant space for the Umayyad rulers.

These desert castles are scattered across the eastern desert of Jordan, and many of them are easily accessible by ordinary vehicles driving on proper roads. Visitors can journey to at least ten desert castles, but the most popular ones include Qasr al-Kharana, Qasr al-Azraq, and Qasr Amra.

Each castle has unique features and architectural details that are worth exploring. Something is captivating about each castle, from the solid towers of Qasr Kharana to the beautiful frescoes of Qasr Amra.

It is recommended to visit these desert castles during the best times of the year when the weather is pleasant and conducive to exploration. Adding the castles to your travel itinerary will provide you with not only an enriching historical experience but also a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty and charm of Jordan. [5][6]



A detailed history of each castle, including when and why it was built

The desert castles in Jordan hold a rich and fascinating history that dates back centuries. Each castle has its own unique story to tell.

  • Qasr Al-Khurana, one of the best-known desert castles, was built before the turn of the 8th century. Unlike other castles, it was never used for military purposes but as a roadside inn.
  • Ajloun Castle, constructed in the 12th century, played a vital role in defending the region against invaders.
  • Shobak Castle was originally built by the crusader King Baldwin I and later fell under the rule of Saladin. The castle's history is intricately tied to the turbulent era of the Crusades.
  • Quseir Amra is a UNESCO World Heritage site that served as an Umayyad "pleasure palace" during the 8th century. Its most notable feature is a unique artistic representation of heaven with figures of the zodiac.

The surprising and varied histories of these desert castles make them must-visit destinations for history enthusiasts and travellers looking for a glimpse into Jordan's past. [7][8]



How to Get to the Desert Castles

Transportation options for reaching the castles

To reach the desert castles of Jordan, two main transportation options are available. The first option is to rent a car and drive yourself, which is the method my companion and I chose. Jordan is a relatively safe country for driving, and renting a car allows flexibility and independence in exploring the castles. However, it's important to note that the highways in Jordan can be narrow, and trucks often speed past on their way to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, so it may take some getting used to.

The second option is to book a guided tour, either private or group. This option can be ideal for those who prefer a more structured and informative experience. By booking a tour, you can have a knowledgeable guide who can provide valuable insights and historical context during your visit to the castles.

It's worth mentioning that there is no public transport available to the desert castles, so renting a car or booking a tour are the most convenient ways to reach these remarkable historical sites.

Whether you drive yourself or opt for a guided tour, visiting the desert castles of Jordan is a unique and rewarding experience that should not be missed. These captivating structures offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region and are sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveller. [9][10]



Maps and directions for each castle

When exploring the desert castles of Jordan, having maps and directions for each castle is essential to make your journey smooth and enjoyable. Fortunately, there are various resources available that can help you navigate your way. One helpful tool is an interactive map that shows all the points of interest along the Desert Castles loop. This map provides different layers, allowing you to identify each castle and other attractions in the area easily.

To access this map, click on the tab icon in the top left corner. It's a user-friendly feature allows you to explore the region and plan your route effectively. Whether you're travelling from Amman or nearby cities like Jerash or Madaba, you'll find detailed directions on how to reach each castle. 

For example, to reach Qasr Hallabat, you can take a different road to Azraq from Zarqa. This road passes by Qasr Hallabat, making it convenient to follow a loop in either direction. The maps will provide clear directions and landmarks to ensure you don't miss any castles along the way.

Access to maps and directions will make your journey easier and add an element of adventure as you navigate through the stunning Jordanian desert. So be sure to have these resources handy when exploring the desert castles of Jordan. [11][12]



Tour options for those who prefer a guided experience

For those who prefer a guided experience, several tour options are available for exploring Jordan's desert castles. One option is to book a private tour, such as the "Private Tour of Desert Castles Eastern Jordan with optional Azraq Wetland Visit." This 4-hour tour includes a private driver taking you to three of Jordan's famous desert castles - Qusayr Amra, Qasr Kharana, and Qasr al-Azraq. Along the way, your driver will provide informative commentary about the Umayyad rulers who built these castles and their historical significance.

Another option is to book a group tour, such as the tours offered by Jordan Best Tours. These multi-day or one-day guided tours cover various attractions in Jordan, including the desert castles. These tours offer the convenience of a knowledgeable guide leading you through the castles and providing detailed explanations of their history and significance.

By opting for a guided tour, you can benefit from the expertise of a knowledgeable guide who will enhance your experience with their insights and commentary. They can also provide valuable information about the best times to visit, point out unique architectural features, and answer any questions you may have.

Whether you choose a private tour or a group tour, exploring the desert castles of Jordan with a guide is a great way to deepen your understanding of their history and make the most of your visit. [13][14]



Top Desert Castles to Visit

Detailed descriptions of the most impressive castles, including Qasr al-Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr al-Azraq

When exploring the desert castles of Jordan, three truly stand out: Qasr al-Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr al-Azraq. These impressive structures offer a glimpse into the rich history and grandeur of the Umayyad dynasty.

Qasr al-Kharana, also known as Kharaneh or Qasr al-Kharanah, is a mysterious castle that still puzzles historians. Believed to have been a meeting place or an inn, it stands out with its castle-like appearance. The two-story structure, with its maze-like corridors and about 60 rooms, offers an interesting exploration experience.

Qasr Amra, or Quseir Amra, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a true treasure among the desert castles. What makes it unique are the ancient frescoes and murals that adorn its walls. These paintings, some of which are over 1,300 years old, depict scenes of daily life, rulers, and even zodiac signs. The small museum at the entrance provides valuable insights before exploring the castle.

Qasr al-Azraq, also known as Azraq Castle, holds historical significance as it served as T.E. Lawrence's headquarters during the Arab Revolt. Its black basalt stone construction and the massive entrance door leave a lasting impression. Visitors can explore residences, storerooms, stables, and even a prison.

Each of these castles has unique features and architectural details that make them worth visiting. Whether it's the solid towers of Qasr al-Kharana, the ancient frescoes of Qasr Amra, or the strategic position of Qasr al-Azraq, these castles are a testament to Jordan's rich history and cultural heritage. Don't miss the opportunity to add them to your travel itinerary and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of Jordan's desert cast [15][16]



Photos and highlights of each castle's unique features and architectural details

One of the most exciting aspects of exploring the desert castles of Jordan is capturing their unique features and architectural details through photographs.

Each castle tells a story with distinct characteristics, and these snapshots serve as a lasting memory of the journey.

  • Qasr al-Kharana showcases its towering walls and a massive entrance door made of stone.
  • Qasr Amra surprises visitors with its exquisite paintings and frescoes depicting scenes of daily life.
  • The interior of Kerak Castle reveals a maze of tunnels and arched pathways, giving a taste of its turbulent history.
  • At Al Azraq Castle, the imposing basalt doorways and ancient engravings transport visitors back in time.
  • Lastly, the stunning Qasr al-Mshatta captivates with its intricate designs adorning the walls and columns.

Each castle offers its own unique charm and architectural style, and capturing these moments on the camera allows us to relive the wonder and beauty long after the journey has ended.

So, be sure to have your camera ready and immerse yourself in these desert castles' fascinating details and captivating scenery. [17][18]



Tips for Visiting the Desert Castles

Best times of year to visit

When visiting the desert castles of Jordan, choosing the right time of year can greatly enhance your travel experience.

Spring and autumn are considered the best seasons to explore Jordan, as the weather is near-perfect during these times.

  • Spring (particularly March, April, and May) offers pleasant temperatures and the chance to see beautiful flowers in bloom. With longer days, you'll have ample time for sightseeing and exploring cities like Petra and Wadi Rum. The only downside is that April and May have become increasingly popular, so making your reservations well in advance is important.
  • Autumn (from September to November) is the second most popular time to visit Jordan. The heat starts to diminish, and the weather becomes more stable. This is an ideal time for scuba diving and snorkelling in the Red Sea, as the water is warm and visibility is great. However, remember that November can be rainy as the country transitions into winter.
  • Winter (from December to February) is the quietest time of year for tourism in Jordan. While the weather can be unpredictable and cold, this is a great time to avoid crowds and enjoy more budget-friendly travel. Just be prepared for rain and colder temperatures, and consider heading to the Dead Sea area or Aqaba for warmer weather.

The best time to visit the desert castles of Jordan is during the spring and fall when the weather is pleasant and the crowds are manageable. However, each season has its unique charm, so pick the time that aligns with your preferences and travel goals. [19][20]



Encouragement for readers to add the castles to their travel itineraries

If you're considering a trip to Jordan, I highly encourage you to add the desert castles to your travel itinerary. These ancient structures, scattered in the desert east of Amman, offer a unique and fascinating glimpse into the country's history.

While they may not be traditional castles, they served various purposes, such as hunting lodges, caravan stations, and trading centres. Exploring the desert castles allows you to step back in time and appreciate the architectural and artistic wonders of the early Islamic period. From the well-preserved Qasr Kharana to the stunning frescoes of Qusayr Amra, each castle has unique features and stories.

The desert castles are historically significant and offer a chance to venture off the beaten path and experience Jordan's diverse landscapes. The vast desert stretches and the strategic locations of the castles add an element of adventure to your journey.

Whether you're a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply seeking a memorable travel experience, the desert castles of Jordan are well worth exploring. So, don't hesitate to include them in your travel plans and create lifelong memories in this enchanting country. [21][22]