Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 5: Desert Castles/Russian Circus

This past week I visited Jordan's desert castles, rehearsed with the choir Dozan wa Awtar, volunteered at the Amman National School for the second time, visited the circus, and helped paint my host family's living room. Six days ago was our trip to the desert castles. Exactly fourteen of us from Amideast spent our saturday in the deserts east of Amman. It was mind-boggling how close we were to Jordan's borders. Our bus driver was joking we could make it to either Syria, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia in under an hour. The first castle we visited was Qasr Kharaneh. The wild dog running along the edge of the parking lot was only the third I've seen here in Jordan. The other two were here in Amman. I have no idea how this dog is able to survive out in the desert. When we reached the top of the castle there was nothing but dunes and power lines in every direction. The castle is said to have been a meeting point for the upper class of Damascus during the time of the Umayyad caliphate (before their last remaining prince's flight to Spain/Al Andalus). This makes the castle easily over a thousand years old. Surprisingly archaeologists have found no means of water storage at the castle. This leads them to believe it was just a waypoint or meeting place for caravans.

Qasr Kharaneh
After a 30 minute drive through the desert we arrived at Qasr al Azraq. When I first looked at my pictures from the castle it seemed as if I had used some sort of filter with my camera. I just don't recall the interior courtyard looking this dark. Though it must be said the grey stones used in the castle's construction are unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in Jordan. The sand-colored rock used in the other two castles as construction materials resembles that of all the buildings here in Amman. Lawrence of Arabia is believed to have stayed in Qasr al Azraq for two weeks during the Arab Revolt. The smaller square shaped structure to the right of the picture is actually an old mosque. Inside it looked as if there were at one time gypsum carvings on the structure's interior arches. This was technically the first mosque I've visited here in Jordan. I'm still hoping to visit one that's in use here in Amman.

Qasr al Azraq

 We also visited the al-Azraq oasis. The word Azraq in Arabic fittingly means blue (somewhat like azul in Spanish). Seeing the sprawling greenery, hearing the birds, and watching them hunt for fish made me realize how much I miss nature. I guess nature by my standards is simply greenery. If I look hard enough there are traces of it in Amman. But being here makes me realize how blessed the forests and ecosystems of New York State are with water. Al Azraq is a waypoint for over 300 species of birds migrating between Asia and Europe. One of the species I'd never heard of before was the bee eater. The Jordanians have done a great job maintaining the park and the dam built there by the Romans. It makes sense that Al Azraq isn't choking on wrappers, plastic containers, and cardboard as one in every four glasses of water in Amman comes from this oasis.
Qasr Amra
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Restorations at Qasr Amra
In my opinion, the final castle we visited was by far the most striking. Its walls and ceilings were covered in paintings and frescoes. The Jordanian government is doing there best to preserve this site and has hired a team of Italians to clean and restore the castle's paintings. I took the chance to practice my Spanish with them and the team said they'd been toiling for six months just to clean one section of paintings. The structure is complete with its own Roman bath. According to our guide, who brought our attention to the overly detailed paintings of the castle, it was more a pleasure palace than it was a fortress.

 Besides travelling around Jordan I've also been studying, volunteering, and singing here in Amman. Classes are going great at Amideast. I also volunteer in music classes at the Amman National School helping elementary and middle schoolers with basic music theory and guitar lessons. Once a week I spend a couple hours rehearsing with the choir Dozan wa Awtar. We have a huge Christmas concert right before I leave in December. Most of the songs we're singing are in English or Romantic languages. I was actually hoping to learn at least one song in Arabic and bring it back to sing with Laurentian Singers. For any of you who are interested, Laurentian Singers will be touring down the east coast this coming spring. We are scheduled to make stops in Central New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

I have seen a few roadside tents with satellite tv.
Ahlan wa Sahlan
Al Cirq Al Rusee
A few nights ago I went to the circus down the street from my house. I've been wondering for weeks about what is going on inside that tent. Maybe that is one of the purposes behind having it in a tent, to maintain an element of curiosity amongst the public. It is definitely why I wasn't allowed to take any pictures during the performances. There was a trapeze act, a troupe of gymnasts, and a couple of circus clowns. Furthermore, though there were a few colorful parakeets, no lions or elephants were part of the show. I'd like to end this post with an observation and realization that has taken a month to dawn on me. Everywhere around Amman most buildings have rebar jutting out of their roofs. Upon first glance I didn't realize how universal an occurrence this was in Jordan. Though overtime I started to realize Jordanians must be leaving their options open to continue building. I asked a few of my fellow students this week about what we have been seeing and they said that it is a Jordanian tradition for a son to build on top of his father's home. Though I haven't asked any Jordanians about this occurrence, after perusing a few sources on the internet the explanation I received seems correct. To me the jutting rebar all over the city is a valuable microcosm for the proximity of Jordanian familial relations.

This isn't the best example of the rebar. Though it's the best I could find from the windows of my host family's apartment.


  1. Thanks for the update. Even if the castle in the desert were a way station, they would have had to have had a source of water while constructing the building. Is it possible that the climate has changed over the millenium and the prior water source has dried up? Betsy

  2. Actually yes, the oasis we visited was only half an hour away by car. So the builders wouldn't have been too far away, even by camel. Though a trip like that through the desert must have been an undertaking of its own. I hope all is well. I'm visiting Petra next week!