Monday, March 11, 2013

Al-Azraq Oasis

A unique and little known community that flies below the radar of most tourist itineraries can be found east of Amman, along Jordan’s desert highway to Baghdad. There’s not much on the surface to distinguish the oasis town of al-Azraq from the many other pit stops frequented by the region’s truckers. Some may even call the place uninspiring, or even ugly. But a few elements make the community stand out.

For thousands of years al-Azraq (meaning "the blue one") has been known for its large abundance of water. That rare Middle Eastern commodity, which long ago bubbled to the surface to form large pools, not only magnetized migratory birds travelling between Asia and Africa, but also whole communities of foreigners. Both Chechens from the Caucasus of Russia and Druze peoples from present-day Syria and Lebanon flocked to Azraq in the early 20th century to escape persecution and start new lives. They are communities that endure in al-Azraq to this day.

In recent decades, large-scale extraction of that water by the Jordanian government has unfortunately depleted those marshes. But the downsized pools, along with the water buffalo brought by the Chechens, can still be seen there. 

A few kilometers away there is a wildlife reserve housing exotic animals (including the Arabian Oryx). And an ancient stone castle whose foundations date back to Roman times, and which was used as a temporary base by T.E. Lawrence in his guerilla campaign against the Ottomans during World War One, is also open to the public. 

In all directions surrounding al-Azraq is a wide expanse of desert imbued with history, characters and points of interest that beckon the curious. 

You can read more here about Al-Azraq Oasis and Jordan’s seldom visited Eastern Desert.  

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