Qasr Al-‘Azraq / Oasis

 

Al-‘Azraq occupies what once was a large oasis, located on the north edge of Wadi Sirhan, a great hot black desert, (or Harra) crossed by a trade route enabling connection with Arabia and the ِArabian Gulf, and second only to the one at Palmyra. It would have been nearly impossible to reach Damascus quickly or without being detected unless one circumnavigated the Harra. 

The need to control and protect Azraq has been paramount since the time of the Romans, if not earlier. A stepped dam may go back to the Nabataeans. Judging from Latin and Greek inscriptions from the 3rd and 4th centuries quoting Diocletian, the Romans built a fortress here. In the Umayyad period, the journey from the Jauf Oasis in Arabia to Great Syria had to go through Al-‘Azraq.

The Umayyads did not fortify it no do they seem to have re-used the old Roman fortifications. It is reasonable to suppose that Umayyads saw Wadi Sirhan, and of course the oases at Jauf and Al-‘Azraq, rather as the central corridor of the Islamic world and the conduit between Arabia, Iraq and Syria (al-Madinah, Kufah and Damascus). They used Al-‘Azraq for recreation, and relaxation, in addition to patrolling the traffic that went beyond Al-‘Azraq. All water points on routes leading out of Al-‘Azraq were monitored and patrolled by an Umayyad qasr.
    
However, it is not known exactly what was built at Al-‘Azraq in the Umayyad period. There is a huge reservoir, as well as some strange, decorated pools and channels in an area called ‘Ain Soda. Based on basalt carvings from Al-‘Azraq and some of the paintings at ‘Amra, it seems that perhaps an Umayyad official, prince, or caliph had built a water park at Al-‘Azraq for water sports. There were also large, wealthy Umayyad farms with substantial houses nearby. The fortress eventually passed to the Ayyubids, the Islamic dynasty founded by Salah Ad-Din (Saladin), and it undertook a major renovation in 1237 as most of the design dates from this time, including the mosque in the middle of the courtyard. During the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, Colonel T.E. Lawrence made his headquarters at this fortress, coordinating attacks with the Bedouins against the Turks from his office in the room above the entrance.

Notable are the huge basalt doors in the west tower and at the main entrance. Constructed from a solid slab of basalt, they still swing around stone hinges set in hollows filled with oil—as they have been for nearly two millennia.