An Eastern Desert, a Boys Night out Palace, and a Unicorn Reserve :)
The beauty of Jordan lies in its location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, Europe making it home of many civilizations. The archaeological ruins further attest to the varying civilizations that flourished in this region. One site portrays the distinctive marks of many historical periods whether Roman, Byzantine, Islamic or other.
The Ummayad caliphate is one of the civilizations that left clear traces in Jordan. The Umayyads ruled over a vast empire that extended from Portugal and Morocco to Arabia and Persia in the West with their capital in Damascus (AD 661-750). They established networks of trade routes, expanded their empire, left a legacy of a greater Arab Golden age that many nationalists aspire to restore, along with a trail of desert palaces that were used as retreats.
From one of these palaces in the Eastern desert of Jordan, my hike began along with a hiking group from Jordan.
Surrounded by the vastness of the Hammada desert with its black basalt gravel from both sides, my bus came to a stop by a small palace. Located 85km to the East of Amman and 20 km south of the oasis at Azraq, Qusair Amra was built in the 8th Century as pleasure palace and a Hammam “Bath” for the Ummayad nobles who traveled from Damascus.
If you think you know luxury, think again! The building is patterned after Roman baths including a caldarium (hot room), a tepidarium (warm room), a frigidarium (cold room), and an apodyterium (changing room). Sheer joy after days of traveling or game in the nearby Butum Wadi.
What is also special about the building is that it gives insight into a more secular, less strict way of living under an Islamic caliphate. The amazing frescoes in the reception hall and baths stand in sharp contrast with the teaching of Islam that forbids portrayal of any living creatures. Not only that, but the very detailed thematic paintings draw a clear image of a way of living that embraced Earthly over Heavenly pleasures.
You can see paintings of hunting scenes, dancing, musicians, bathing scenes, cupids, topless concubines, naked women in what seems to be as 8th century thongs, wine, and a Zodiac that covered the dome of the hot room. Really a small museum worth visiting in the middle of the desert with amazing frescoes that prompted UNESCO to include it in the World Heritage List.
Just outside the palace, you can see a hydraulic system that includes a 36m deep stone well, pipes and a pump turned by a donkey for extracting water to a cistern that supplied the baths.
With the hiking group, I crossed to Wadi el Butum also known locally as Um Shojeire el Sharqiye, a valley named after the Butum “Pistachio” trees, scientifically known as the Pistacia Atlantica. One can easily guess from the frescoes in Amra that the valley was once a dense forest with all kinds of wild life such as gazelles, ibex, and lions. Little remains nowadays as most of the Butum trees disappeared, with them the wild life that was driven to extinction or near extinction from over hunting.
We proceeded to Qasr Uwined, a Roman military fort built in the 3rd century AD to protect Wadi Al Sirhan; the main caravan route from Arabia to Syria, located nowadays in Saudi Arabia. The fortress was abandoned less than a hundred years later but the remains stand testimonial to the Roman presence in this region.
Our 21. 42 KM hike concluded in the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve “home of the Arabian Oryx”; the origin of the fabled unicorn 🙂 It was created to protect this beautiful animal along with other endangered animals like the onagers, ostriches and gazelles. The reserve will officially open end of January this year after a seven year closure.