Perched above the desert wadi stretching out to the horizon, the brooding fortress of Qasr Usaykhim stands as a reminder of the fortitude of humankind. The last outpost before the vast barren desert separating the oasis of Azraq and Saudi Arabia, the fort, built at the turn of the third century AD, has seen the rise and fall of empires.
With little water, vegetation or animal life in the vicinity, to Roman garrisons and the Ghassanid Arabs who later manned the fort, the surrounding valley may have seemed like the edge of civilisation itself.
The furthest point of the Roman Empire’s eastern fringe, the remains of the basalt fortress include monumental structures, a courtyard and several-metre-high walls with arched ceiling supports framing a panoramic view of the eastern desert. The strategic position of the fort would allow garrisons first sight of any invaders from the east, or the few daring thieves and raiders who would brave the harsh conditions in the hope of finding their fortunes. Those stationed at Usaykhim would alert the main garrison at Qasr Azraq, who would have had more extensive weapons at hand to prepare for any impending battle. Along with its sister fort, Qasr Uwaynid, some 15 kilometres southwest of Qasr Azraq, the fortresses formed a critical defence system to protect the eastern edge of ancient Jordan, and the greater Levant area, from invading armies from the east.
Paleolithic remains found near the structure indicate that the area has hosted human settlements for thousands of years, when the desert once featured underground water resources and vegetation.
While it may lack the grace or size of other desert castles dotting the eastern desert, for those willing to venture to the edge of the unknown, Qasr Usaykhim welcomes the bold.
Published in Jordan Times on 26 February 2010, text by By Taylor Luck
© Henk Bos. Any use of this image without permission is a violation of the copyright.