The Grandeur that was Rome

The term “Desert castles” covers a wide genre of ancient buildings, several of which were on our itinerary today.The first we visited turned out to be a caravanserai for travellers crossing the long trail to Bagdad. It was built around a courtyard and the upper floors, in particular, had beautifully carved arches giving a gracious environment for any princely ranks who might have stopped overnight there.

The second castle-like structure we visited was perhaps the most extraordinary. It was the bath house of what remained of a sheik’s hunting lodge. Once the desert was filled with gazelles and other fauna, much of which has, unfortunately, since disappeared (although efforts are now being made to reintroduce some of them). The building dated back to the umayyad period before strictures on the representation of animals and humans were imposed in Islamic art. The walls and ceilings of the bathhouse were, therefore, covered with the most delightful paintings of animals, artisans at their craft and erotic looking ladies at their ablutions.

The third monument we stopped at in the seemingly endless desert between Amman and Bagdad was a true castle and, what was more, one which Lawrence of Arabia used as a base against the Ottoman Turks. His room was a beautifully arched chamber and I am sure he must have had great dreams of conquests in it.

If you are dreaming about Roman towns forget Pompeii, much of Rome, let alone saint Albans. There is one Roman town which for sheer size, magnificence, completeness and originality of conception tops them all. As soon as I walked through the main gateway built by the same Hadrian who built that wall Salmon would have recently loved to re-erect I knew I was entering no provincial Roman town like Pompeii but a great capital of an eastern province of the empire – a capital built to impress with its wealth, power and grandeur.  

We walked down the colonnaded cardo, or main street, and visited the main theatre. This great city of jerash had three of them beautifully preserved and still used today!

Thousands of years before Bernini’s great square before Rome’s saint Peter’s Basilica jerash had its own version in the magnificent, almost perfectly preserved, rotunda – a masterly piece of town planning.

We made our way back though streets rutted with Roman chariots and wagon wheels and exited the imperial town through Hadrian’s gate whose stones were now ablaze with the rays of the setting sun. I have never been so overwhelmed by the grandeur of Rome as l experienced it at Jerash.

How Jordan amazed us, even on our last day in the hashemite kingdom!


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