Exploring Castles in Jordan
When we were researching Jordan, places like Petra and Umm Qais were at the top of our list of places to visit. Visions of strolling through vast Roman ruins and riding horses along spectacular cliff dwellings filled our minds. This small middle eastern country had so much more in store for us than we expected. One of the attractions that blew us away were all the incredible castles in Jordan!
These incredible structures are dotted throughout the harsh Jordanian landscape and serve as a reminder of the incredible history of the country. Some of the castles were desert homes to the wealthy. Some were battle ready fortresses that housed the Crusaders while others still were luxurious bath houses catering to nobility. We visited as many as possible during our week in Jordan. Here we lay out the 5 of the most incredible castles in Jordan for you!
Qasr (Castle) Al-Kharaneh is one of the most well-preserved castles in Jordan. Located 55 km east of the capital city of Amman, Qasr Al-Kharaneh is a bit of a mystery to those researching it. It sits on a massive plot off of the highway. At first glimpse, we thought it was a well-protected fortress designed for battle. Massively thick outer walls pocked often with what look like archer slots give the castle an intimidating look. The guides at Qasr Al-Kharaneh told us that the thick walls were part of a primitive air-conditioning system. The slots, too narrow to be useful for archers, were for air-flow.
The castle, built around 711 CE was likely built as a place for the region’s leaders to meet. It may also have been a refuge for passing camel trains. While the castle lacks the swashbuckling history of some of the other castles in Jordan, walking through the inside will no doubt transport you back through time.
At first glance, Qasr Amra harkens thoughts of Luke Skywalker’s homestead on Tatooine. The drab exterior, made from limestone and basalt, with its domed roof had me searching the sky for a second moon. But this palace, the remnants of what was once a much larger castle hides something truly incredible. Qasr Amra, located 131 km from Amman in eastern Jordan, may be the most important of all the castles in Jordan. After walking past a bath house and well, we passed through the large front doors of the castle. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I was astounded by the amazing displays of art that covered the inside of the castle from floor to ceiling. This palace houses what is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture.
While traveling through Jordan with kids, Qasr Amra instantly became a favorite for the boys because of the colorful art displays and the friendly, engaging guide who helped to get them involved. He was amazing at explaining all the intricate details of this incredible place. One of the coolest pieces of artwork was on the dome above the bathhouse. This painting is believed to be the earliest image of the night sky that was painted on something other than a flat surface.
With one of the most active battle histories of the castles in Jordan, Kerak Castle had to make our list. This massive Crusader Castle located in the town of Al-Karak has been the center of battles and sieges. It was occupied between its inception in 1142 CE all the way up until 1893 when it housed over 1400 soldiers. Kerak Castle is a maze of a place. Although much of the castle has been destroyed through nearly a millennia of skirmishes, there are still many layers of tunnels to explore. The boys had an amazing time wandering through the arched pathways and partially excavated halls.
Not far from the Azraq Oasis is the incredible Qasr Azraq. Protected by tall walls and massive basalt doorways, Qasr Azraq was built by the Romans around 200 CE. It was heavily modified by the different armies that controlled it during its time and eventually acted as an operating base for the famous Brit, Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab revolt. T.E. Lawrence wrote about the fortress in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which helped the castle become a major tourist draw. Qasr Azraq, lying about 100 km east of the capital of Amman, is one of Jordan’s Desert Castles.
Kids will love trying to open the black basalt stone doors that still swings properly. Near the entrance, there is also a board game etched into the stone floor by posted soldiers looking to escape the boredom of sentry duty.
Built on the summit of Mt ‘Auf in 1188, Qasr Aljoun offers incredible views of the Jordan Valley. The castle was in a strategic place for defending attacks from the Crusaders. Aljoun Castle is the most touristy of all the castles on this list. The interior is lit in many places by colorful accent lighting, and the rooms are almost entirely excavated after earthquakes in 1837 ad 1927. Also, the castle grounds have well-maintained bathrooms. A luxury compared to some of the more remote desert castles. Although you can reach the castle by walking, the climb is very steep. It’s worth the small amount (JD1-2 each way) to catch a taxi to the entrance.
There is so much more to this small nation than meets the eye. Have you ever been to Jordan? What is your favorite castle to visit?
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.