The Romans built the small fort at Burqu to protect a seasonal lake that provided precious water in a highly arid region. They helped conserve the water (run-off from the Haurun-Druze Plateau) by building a dam in the 3rd century, thereby securing water for caravans heading between Syria and Arabia. The fort became a monastery during the Byzantine period, and was later restored by the Umayyads in about AD 700.
Remarkably, an inscription on one of the walls of the fort suggests that it may have been occupied as late as 1409.
The lake, which often dries out in summer, is home to a number of bird species (including finches, storks, sandpipers, larks, cranes, buzzards, eagles and vultures) that come to roost because the water level rarely changes, even in summer. The harshness of the surrounding landscape, as well as the lack of properly graded roads, has acted as a strong deterrent against poaching, although the Bedouin occasionally fly their birds of prey in the area. Home to gazelles, desert hares, foxes, hyenas and even caracals this remarkable little oasis has all the makings of a national reserve.
Wild camping is possible out here (don’t pitch too close to the lake for the sake of the wildlife – the winged, six-legged varieties bite viciously at dusk) but don’t expect that your presence will go unnoticed. The local Bedouin are bound to find you and wonder what you are doing here, on the fringes of civilisation. They are also likely to insist you share tea with them.
With a tent, some basic survival gear and a reliable 4WD, you can enjoy a serious desert adventure out here which is precisely why the RSCN has been fighting to establish Burqu as a protected reserve, fitting nicely into its plans to develop tourism in the Eastern Desert. To see if it’s possible to pre-arrange a guided tour to Qasr Burqu from Azraq, contact the RSCN at the Wild Jordan Centre in Amman.
You have to be a pretty dedicated castle spotter to visit this brooding black basalt fort, which stands guard over the silent shores of Ghadir (Lake) Burqu. Of course, the apparent incongruity of the lake in the harsh desert is what makes this place special. At the time of writing, it was only possible to organise trips to Qasr Burqu from the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) base in Azraq by prior arrangement, though this may change in future.
The good news for the flora and fauna – and the bad news for would-be visitors – is that Burqu is only accessible by 4WD. The lake and castle lie 22km northwest of Ar-Ruwayshid, a forty-five minute drive across the desert on unmarked and unclear tracks from Hwy 10. The turn-off is about 3km west of Ar-Ruwayshid at a sign for Burqu spelt as ‘Boarg’a’.
Although the driving is fairly straight forward, with a hard surface to within a few metres of the lake, you should not attempt to find the site without a guide unless you are confident of navigating off-road. If you have experience of desert driving, and provided you stick to the most obvious track, which is often routed between piles of white stone, the lake is fairly easy to find, although it takes quite a bit of nerve to stay your course across the barren land. More difficult is finding your way back to the highway from the lake – almost impossible if you haven’t taken any reverse landmarks on the outbound journey (the pylons are helpful and so is the hint of a low, one metre-high embankment of a modern reservoir which you should keep on your left heading towards Burqu). The sense of satisfaction in finding this remarkable little oasis is worth all the anxiety and effort of getting there.