March 2001

Ajlun, Cave of the 7 Sleepers, Kan Zaman, Kerak, Qasr Amra, Qasr Iraq El Amir, Qasr Kharana.


I went to Aljun to visit the Saracen stronghold of Qalaat-al-Rabad. During the crusades, this castle held a dominating position affording Saladin protection against the crusader forces. It is also here that Richard the Lion Hearted was kept prisoner until his ransom was paid.
Qalaat-al-Rabad's view is one of the best in Jordan where on clear days you can see all the way to the waters of the Dead Sea as well as the Jordan Valley, the West Bank and the Sea of Galilee. Qalaat-al-Rabad was once a strategic message post for carrier pigeons and a point for fire beacons, one in a chain of stations that enabled messages to be relayed between Cairo and Baghdad.

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Cave of the Seven Sleepers

The Cave of the Seven Sleepers is steeped in ancient tradition and fable. It was known in ancient tales as el Rakeem. Myriad tombs with ornately sculpted covers are found at the site. These surround a quadruple-chambered underground tomb cut from bare rock. The main chamber is entered through a small opening, from which lead off four other chambers with arched caverns. Inside the western and eastern chambers there are eight sarcophagi cut from the rock. A shaft cuts through the roof which allows light and air to come through. At one time this cut led into a Byzantine church which was directly above.
The legend surrounding the cave is told in the Qur'an in Sura 18. The tale tells of seven Christian boys who, coerced by the pagan Roman empirical leader, were sentenced to death unless recanted their Christian beliefs. The boys refused and ran into the caves. The caves were shut tight and the boys and their dog went into a deep slumber for somewhere between 3 and 30 decades. The boys eventually woke up and found themselves in the Byzantine period. It makes for a good story.

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Kan Zaman

Kan Zaman, which means Once Upon A Time, is where I ended up acquiring some very interesting Jordanian artifacts.

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Kerak. It is a might fortress dating back to 1136. It was at the time of the Crusades, however, where Kerak really attained its full glory. Built as a strategic point between Jerusalem and Shobak, it formed a part of the great line of Crusader castles stretching from Aqaba to Turkey.

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Qasr Amra

Qasr Amra. This castle houses some of the most exquisite frescoes anywhere in the Middle East. They are thought to be early examples of pictorial art made in the Islamic era, having been painted during the middle years of the 8th Century AD. It was originally built as a bath house rather than a fortress.
The building consists of three long aisles, lying parallel to each other, with vaulted ceilings. Directly in front of the main doorway is a fresco of the Caliph sitting on his throne. On the south wall another fresco depicts the enemies of Islam. The auditorium chamber, used for easting meetings and cultural events, leads to the baths. Here the walls are adorned with vignettes and panels depicting athletic scenes, hunting scenes, and illustrations of wildlife and fantastic images such as a bear playing a lute.
One of the bathrooms has a domed ceiling whose fresco depcts the heavens, showing the constellations of the northern hemisphere and signs of the Zodiac.

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Qasr Iraq El-Amir

Only about 21 miles from Amman, Qasr al-Abed (Castle of the Slave) also known as Qasr Iraq El-Amir, lies in the lush valley of Wadi el-Seer. The massive blocks of stone are thought to be the biggest in the Middle East. Little is known about this place, but it is believed that the builder was Hyracanus, head of the prosperous Tobiad family. The structure is thought to have been built between 187-175 BC.
On the upper side of the back wall is an incredible giant lioness with huge fangs with a small lion cub beneath it.

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Qasr Kharana

Kharana. About 55 kilometers (34 miles) east of Amman, this is a well preserved Ummayed palace. A painted Kufic inscription above the door on the upper level is dated September AD 711, though the building is thought to be much older. A variety of stones in the main entrance, inscribed with Greek letters, may well indicate that Kharana was erected on a Roman or Byzantine site.
The ground and upper stories have 61 chambers between them and the walls have lavish plastering and splendid vaulted ceilings.

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