Although it clearly isn’t a castle, Kharana was a vital building for the Umayyads as evidenced by its dramatic size and shape. Despite the fact that it has the appearance of a khan (caravanserai), Kharana wasn’t located on any major trade route, and there appears to be a total absence of structures for water storage.
Meaning ‘blue’ in Arabic, Azraq once lived up to its name with a shimmering lake and extensive wetlands famed throughout the entire region. This magical oasis was both a refuge for wildlife in the middle of the arid Eastern Desert and a beacon for pilgrims and caravans plying the trade routes between Baghdad to Jerusalem.
Today, Qusayr Amra appears randomly rooted on the parched desert plain, but in ancient times the site was carefully chosen for its proximity to a lush wadi famed for its wild pistachio trees. The bathhouse was supplied with underground water, tapped from the water table, which lay closer to the surface in former centuries.
The third-largest city in Jordan after Amman and Irbid, Zarqa is now virtually part of the continuous urban sprawl of northern Amman. There’s not much to this gritty working-class city that merits anything more than a passing glance, but you may have to change buses here if you’re trying to visit the Eastern Desert on public transport.
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Established in 1975 by the RSCN, this 22 sq km reserve was created with the aim of reintroducing wildlife that has disappeared from the region, most notably the highly endangered Arabian oryx, Persian onagers (wild ass), goitered and Dorcas gazelles, and blue-necked ostriches.
If you can find this little scrap of history in the middle of the Eastern Desert, you deserve a medal! Once a robust and practical structure, built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD to protect the source of Wadi as-Sirhan (now in Saudi Arabia), this fort was abandoned less than 100 years later.
It was to be Ali’s first view of Azraq, and we hurried up the stony ridge in high excitement, talking of the wars and songs and passions of the early shepherd kings, with names like music, who had loved this place; and of the Roman legionaries who languished here as garrison in yet earlier times.