“We are also going to a sand castle!” is all my friend said when we were exploring northern Jordan, close to the Iraq border. At one point, I saw a sign that we were 300 km (186 miles) to the Iraq border, and was a little surprised because I had no idea which direction we were going. I asked the driver jokingly if he knew that we were close to the Iraq border and he said, “Yes, of course.” I shrugged and replied “Okay, just as long as we all know this, right?” Everyone got a good chuckle out of that.
My friend had booked a private customized excursion from Amman that included the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, an oasis, and a visit to a sand castle. When we arrived to the sand castle, I was surprised again.
This sand castle was Quseir Amra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was built in the 8th century and famous for its magnificently persevered frescoes. If you follow my website then you know of my passion for UNESCO sites, and have visited many over the years. I was absolutely delighted!
We were greeted by our guide, who was dressed in a white throbe with a red and white keffiyeh. He politely greeted us and brought us into Quseir Amra where I was overjoyed with the beauty of the ancient frescos. I was captivated by the artwork, and the stories told by our guide, who pointed to the details with a long pointer.
Standing inside this ancient desert castle that was built in 743 AD was astounding, as it is considered to be one the most significant examples of early Islamic architecture and art. Quseir Amra was built by Walid Ibn Yazid whose presence in dominating the region was rising at that time.
The structure that we entered and what is accessible to the public, is actually a small cabin that is a remnant from the actual castle. The castle itself was part of a larger complex that was meant for a royal retreat, which had no military function. Today, only the foundation remains of that castle complex.
Although what remains is a smaller cabin, it still holds a treasure trove of magnificent ancient frescoes along the ceilings and the walls. The frescoes depict many scenes including hunting scenarios, nude ladies dancing, laborers, and the “cycle of Jonah”.
The Caldarium – Inside Quesir Amra’s hot bath or the caldarium is one of the most significant frescoes, which led to the designation of this desert site as a UNESCO World Heritages site. On the ceiling of the caldarium is the first known representation of the heavens on a hemispherical surface. Although most of the ancient fresco had deteriorated over the centuries, it was still very beautiful. You could depict the representation of the constellations, as well as the figures of the zodiac.
The caldarium’s dome ceiling depicts the zodiac heavens with 35 separate constellations. What was extraordinary for me was that I was gazing up at one of the earliest images of the night sky. I have viewed many astrological frescos but this one was significant, as it was the first created on a different surface other than a flat one.
Quseir Amra was an extraordinary visit, as an addition to the many UNESCO sites that I had visited over the years. It is about an hour east of Amman, and can be visited by booking a tour from several organized tours. It is well worth the trip while visiting Jordan, especially for those who have in interest in historical sites, archaeology, and art.
For UNESCO information, please visit – Quesir Amra UNESCO World Heritage Site
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at al…– Hellen Keller
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