We had our first day of sightseeing today, starting at the Desert Castles in the eastern desert. Many of the group were intrigued with the idea that we were on the road to Iraq. But, we never did get any closer than about 150 miles or so. We were very close to the Saudi border, though!
The bus picked us up this morning and we headed out of the city, which is becoming a more involved adventure than it used to be. The traffiv situation in Amman has become very congested. Certaininly it is nothing like Cairo traffic or from what I hear, Tehran traffic, but it is taking longer and longer just to cross town due to the increased population of the city. This is the result of a huge influx of Iraqis fleeing their homeland. In the early days of the war in Iraq in 2003, those with the ability and money to get out of the country did, especially when they could see the situation deteriorating into chaos. So they went to their neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria, and have since put a squeeze on housing and other goods and services, while swelling the populations of their host cities. Our guide, Okla, said that apartment rents in Amman tripled! I heard this was also true in Damascus. Anyway, the end result is that there have been far reaching and unintended consequences of the war in Iraq that are not talked about at all.
OK, back to the Desert Castles. I do have to caution anyone that the term “castle” is used loosely here. The three structures that we saw were of differing types of design, use, and size. Probably the one closest to being a castle is the desert fortress of Azraq, the furthest to the east. It was built of black basalt stone, and is a large walled structure with many rooms around the interior of the walls, and one in the middle. It also has a more recognizable place in history for many westerners – Lawrence of Arabia spent time there meeting with the Arab leaders as they planned the great Arab Revolt to take the Arab lands and people back from the Ottoman rulers.
The other castles were used as a private hunting lodge and a meeting place between the Bedouins and the Ommayyad leaders, who would trade with them and make deals with them to keep the Bedouins from attacking their caravans! At the Qasr Amra, we stopped to have tea in a Bedouin tent, and were greatly entertained by a young man who gave a dancing demonstration, and showed the group a traditional Bedouin welcoming and coffee preparation (even though we had tea).
The day was capped off with a visit to the hilltop ruins of the original city of Amman- Pagan Roman, Islamic, Byzantine – all represented! And a great view of the city can be had from here as well. We had a short visit to the museum on the sight, which is well worth a look!
OK, I am about to fall over because I am still very tired- didn’t sleep to well last night so I need to get to bed early tonight and try and catch up. More to follow, probably from the Dead Sea. I will be able to report on our night out under the stars in Wadi Rum, and out visit to Petra.