Curry and Spice

Travel: Umm Qais, Ajloun, and Desert Castles

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The past few days have been a continuation of our travels throughout Jordan.  Most of the sites we’ve seen are Roman, Byzantine, or early Muslim period structures, which is quite a change from what we were excavating (late Neolithic, early Bronze Age).  The sites continue to be incredibly beautiful, and it’s been a joy to continue to travel and see all of these new places.

After returning from Jerash on Sunday night, we enjoyed an excellent meal with one of our fellow excavators and his girlfriend.  Both of them are completely lovely, and are excellent cooks, so we had a very fun night, including amazing food (all of the food we’ve eaten since returning from the desert has been wonderful, and as a result, we are all glutting ourselves a little bit).  It was very sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the evening – it’s odd to spend 20-30 days in a very isolated place with someone, and then suspect that you’ll never see them again.  This occurred again on Monday morning, when we said goodbye to one of the co-directors and his wife (also terrific people).  It’s very depressing to suspect that people you’ve become somewhat close with will never be seen again.

After saying some goodbyes on Monday morning, we headed north again.  We passed through the third largest town in Jordan (Irbid) and headed further north still, to the site of Umm Qais.  It was also originally a Roman city, which was then used by the Umayyids.  Unlike Jerash, it seemed that less had been excavated.  As Gary said, it seemed like someone had just stumbled upon it, and as a result, it had a very different feel to it.  It was also extremely beautiful, and I think all of us liked it a bit better for its isolation.  Umm Qais is also incredible because it is at the junction of three different countries.  From the site, you can clearly see Lake Tiberius (apparently there’s an alligator farm on the other side, however we weren’t able to see this).  Across from Lake Tiberius is the mainland of Israel (not the West Bank, but actually Israel).  On the other side of Lake Tiberius is Occupied Syria (the Golan Heights).  The view from the top of Umm Qais was therefore fantastic!  The area is very Mediterranean – olive groves (as well as other trees) dot the rolling hills, intersected by wide swaths of green.  It was truly beautiful on all accounts.

After enjoying another delicious meal at Umm Qais, we traveled back through Irbid and further, to the site of Ajloun, which is a Crusader-era castle that was built by the Saracen (Arab) military.  Ajloun was very striking, as it was high on a hill and surrounded by a number of plants (trees, shrubs, and all things green were still a shock after so long  in the barren desert).  There were a number of pine trees, and again the smell took me back to the mountains at home – while it made me a hint homesick, it was also the best smell I’d been around in a long time, and it was a relief to smell something so nice.  The castle itself was very pretty – lots of nice views from the towers, and a lot of beautiful stone architecture.  It, like many of the historic buildings in Jordan, has several eras and several layers of building, some of which we were able to see.  It was another really enjoyable place to visit.

The next day, we headed out on a longer day trip.  We were headed for four “desert castles”, which were, as expected, out in the desert.  A number of these were on our way to our field site, so we experienced some deja vu when we drove through Azraq again.  Prior to Azraq, however, we visited Qasr Amra, which was a Roman/Byzantine castle with an unbelievably beautiful mosque, as well as a number of reasonably well-preserved floor mosaics.  From Qasr Amra, we drove a short way to visit the bathhouse that served Qasr Amra.  It is currently under construction by a very competent Jordanian engineer, and looks like it is progressing beautifully.

After those two sites, we drove into Azraq (where Gary took a picture of me with the Iraq and Saudi signs, just to really reassure my mom about how safe everything was).  We toured the Azraq castle with our fantastic DOA representative, Wesam.  The combination of he and Gary was very entertaining, and made the trip to the castle very fun.  We enjoyed an unbelievable meal at his house, courtesy of his wife and sister-in-law.  This was definitely a highlight in the trip for us.

After Azraq, we drove to two more sites (and unfortunately, I don’t know their names).  One was a particularly famous hunting lodge, which was the most incredible wall paintings.  It was a Muslim era hunting lodge, which makes the depictions of animals and humans essentially unique.  Not only are they found almost nowhere else, they are truly spectacular, and have managed to stand the long test of time.  This site also had some beautiful mosaic floors, and we were able to enjoy a lot of fantastic art at that site.  We also headed to another Crusader-era castle, which was quite a ways off the beaten path.  Like the others, this was very beautiful (the architecture in all of these sites is striking), and though we were only there for a short time, it was again very fun to poke around and see the site.

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