Azraq and Shawmari Reserve

 

Azraq means "The Blue" in Arabic, it is a small town in Zarqa Governorate in central-eastern Jordan, 100 kilometres (62 mi) east of Amman. Azraq has long been an important settlement in a remote and now-arid desert area of Jordan. The strategic value of the town and its castle (Qasr Azraq) is that it lies in the middle of the Azraq oasis, the only permanent source of fresh water in approximately 12,000 square kilometres of desert.

 

The town is located on a major desert route that would have facilitated trade within the region. The Azraq oasis has a long history beginning in the Lower Palaeolithic period. Many Palaeolithic sites have been documented in the Azraq Wetlands Reserve. During the Epipalaeolithic period the oasis was also an important focus of settlement.

 

Nabatean period settlement activity has also been documented in the area. Qasr Azraq was built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, and was heavily modified in the Middle Ages by the Mameluks. In the Umayyad period a water reservoir was constructed in southern Azraq. During the Arab Revolt in the early 20th century, Qasr Azraq was an important headquarters for T. E. Lawrence.

 

The separate and larger Shaumari reserve is also close to Azraq, being only 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of the town. The Shaumari Wild Reserve is a breeding centre for some of the most endangered and rare wildlife in the Middle East. In this small reserve there is a large herd of magnificent Arabian Oryx. There are also ostriches, onagers and graceful desert gazelles. These animals are protected from the hunting and habitat destruction that once threatened their existence. The Shawmari Reserve supports a rich variety of desert plants, including Atriplex, a natural food source for the Onager and Oryx.