A Little Art… A Gorgeous Pre-Islamic Mural in Jordan

Last updated on May 11, 2023

The air around me was cool and damp, the kind of pervasive dampness only found in old spaces, spaces locked off from human habitation for decades, centuries even. On every wall, remnants of an ancient culture depicted animals, kings, triumphs, and women, lots of women. We had visited several desert castles in Jordan that day, and Quseir Amra was the last. We had, it would seem, saved the best for last.

Quseir Amra's gorgeous and detailed fresco.
A full wall of the detailed frescoes at the Quseir Amra UNESCO World Heritage Site in Eastern Jordan.

I’m time-jumping a bit here, away from my recent travels with my niece, and instead into my treasure chest full of stories that have not yet made it onto this site. A few times a month I’d like to share stories that bubble up to the surface, usually inspired from some recent encounter or conversation. In this case, during a discussion with my niece on how we understand and investigate ancient history. How murals left behind show insight into past cultures. I pulled Ana over the computer to show her some of the murals I found on my travels in Jordan last year. Murals abounded. Jerash had murals, Mount Nebo too, and sculptures came to life right out of the walls of Petra.

And, in this case, we looked through and discussed the beautiful frescos from the Quseir Amra desert castle in eastern Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A wall fresco in suprisingly good condition at the Quseir Amra desert castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A wall fresco in suprisingly good condition at the Quseir Amra desert castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Following the path of UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world wouldn’t be a bad way to travel, these sites are rich with history. Natural history in some cases–forest sanctuaries teeming with biodiversity and life. Or cultural history in other places–monuments, castles and man-made structures.

Quseir Amra UNESCO site
UNESCO World Heritage site, Quseir Amra is filled with beautiful, well-preserved frescoes.

Quseir Amra falls into the second category of UNESCO sites. The man-made fortress-cum-castle houses some of the most well-preserved frescoes from the 8th Century. One of the things Ana’s come to appreciate is living history — knowing she can now get on a plane and touch, taste, feel, and experience the places where history happened.

Qasr Kharana jordan
The Qasr Kharana desert castle in Jordan, surrounded by blue skies.
camels desert jordan
Shifting sands, trotting camels and nomadic Bedouin fill the miles between the desert castles, perhaps tracing pieces of the old caravan trails that criss-crossed the Middle East for centuries.

This is the short of it. I subjected Ana to a longer discourse on art, the tribal art I studied in college, the churches and art I will take her to see in Europe one day, and the pre-Islamic and Christian art I observed in Jordan.

How to Visit Quseir Amra Desert Castle in Jordan

Plan ahead and hire a guide

Quseir Amra is located in a remote area, and it can be difficult to find if you are not familiar with the area. Hiring a guide will ensure you can actually find the castle—plus they’ll help you get so much more out of your visit. Plenty of tour operators in Jordan that can arrange a guided tour of Quseir Amra.

Dress appropriately

Since Quseir Amra is located in the desert, it can get extremely hot during the day. Wear light and comfortable clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, and bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Since Quseir Amra is also a religious site, you’re expected to dress modestly.

Follow the rules

Quseir Amra is a protected site, and you cannot touch the frescoes or climb on the walls. Signs posted throughout the site remind visitors of the rules, and you’re expected to follow them. Guards patrolling the area are there to ensure everyone’s behaving appropriately.

Take your time

Quseir Amra is a small site, but there is a lot to see. Take your time to explore the various rooms and frescoes, and pay attention to the details. The frescoes at Quseir Amra are known for their vivid colors and intricate details, so look closely and enjoy!.

Combine your visit with other nearby desert castles

Since Quseir Amra is located in a remote area, you should combine your visit with Jordan’s other desert castles, which are all located within a short drive of each other. Consider other sites such as Qasr Kharana and Qasr Azraq for a better understanding of the history and culture of the region.

So tell me, are you a history buff? Any artwork or murals that have fascinated you over the years? :)

20 thoughts on “A Little Art… A Gorgeous Pre-Islamic Mural in Jordan”

    • Thank you Margaret! Jordan was such a highlight of my travels, it’s a tiny country but I was amazed by how much of our common history is held within that region of the world. Safe travels! :)

  1. It’s amazing seeing how well preserved art can remain for hundreds if not thousands of years. I love looking at old frescoes – they make the past seem so tangible. I’m definitely an art history buff. ;)

    • You will have a great time on your RTW if you’re interested in art history — it’s one of those things I learned to appreciate a lot more the longer I traveled, so you’re at an advantage from the start. :)

  2. The designs and patterns and so incredible. I am more a fan of the interior paintings of churches. When the walls come to life with the stories of the past. A few days ago I wandered through the Monasteries in Meteora Greece and was astounded by the vibrancy and power that the murals depicted. So many centuries pass and yet the images remain – telling their story. 

    • Don’t you kinda love a life where you can say “a few days ago I was wandering around Greece” — hehe :) It’s really intriguing to see what history has been preserved across time, and even more so to then look at the stories and gods and know that they were so important to the people and culture at the time that they painted them onto holy places to keep record. I always look at the battle scenes from ancient history and think — well, that was their WWII, the war that shaped the attitude and geopolitics of the time. Safe travels Chrystal, and thanks for sharing! :)

  3. Awesome! James Clark and I missed this on our Jordan trip. Bummer. One of my majors was History and I just can’t get enough of the stuff. When I lived in Turkey I was up to my eyeballs in it. So as just one example of artwork or murals that fascinated me, I can say the Dark Church in Cappadocia is one of them (at the bottom of this photo gallery 
    But the ones that really get me are the very very old cave drawings. What was going through the heads of those “primitive” people when they drew animals or spit-sprayed paint to make hand outlines deep in the dark earth? Werner Herzog recently did a 3D documentary called Cave of Forgotten Dreams, showing drawings inaccessible to the public. I need to see it!!

    • I didn’t know you were a history major Kevin–very neat! Sorry you guys didn’t make it to the desert castles, but it’s always good to leave something to go back from in each place. And now you’ve given me a new item to put on my on my list of things to see in Turkey (it’s a pretty long list). I too just marvel at the fact that they went through so much effort to leave behind these traces…it’s not like today where we can run to the art store and walk away with 400 different colors, paint-brushes, and stencils! :)

  4. I really like the camel photo – it reminds me of the image circulating the web recently that showcases the shadows of camels in the desert. And I love hearing about pre-Islamic art in the Middle East!

    • Camels were one of the highlights of Jordan for me; I googled to find that camel picture you mentioned and it is an incredible capture; thanks for pointing it out Roxanne! :)

  5. I love this subject so much. To think that we worry over everyday issues which seem so trivial when compared to subjects like Astronomy and Archaeology. Little Ana is getting the best of educations that no school can provide.
    On subject I’ve always held a fascination for cave paintings. It boggles my mind to think that that is where my species once began its journey. I always fantasize about exploring or chancing upon a hidden cave somewhere. Lately(after scuba-diving) I have also began an obsession with underwater ruins. What lies beneath the waves one can only ponder.

    Mumbai, India.

    • You’ll like this post I saw tweeted yesterday then: Some pretty amazing underwater ruins there!

      As for this post’s subject: Yeah – Wow. Stunning. Every time I read about Jordan or Syria I want to rush out there. Obviously the latter may have to wait a tad, but Jordan is one of my potential ‘big trip’ choices for next year. There’s so much to see and until now I’d never heard of this one.

      I finished my BA History degree a few weeks ago so yeah you could say I’m into this kind of stuff :oD I’m also very much into the heritage sector in general, I work at the Natural History Museum in London, the number of times I’ve had to re-jig my bucket list based upon some UNESCO site that’s popped into my knowledge is depressing. Only because I will never be able to see the whole lot. Still, we try our best don’t we!

      • Great article Chris! I do love scuba :) I would also love to visit Syria, I had seriously considered it in the fall before the issues, but sadly waited too long to act on it! As for Jordan, you will have an amazing time. The country is tiny, but I was so surprised by how much history and how many activities there were. Safe travels there next year! :)

    • Scuba diving is wonderful! I love it too, and the mysteries down there we have yet to uncover and understand are as fascinating as the ancient cave art. Hopefully you can make it out exploring cave art on some future travels Rishi! :)

      •  I love how you reply to each and every comment on here…adorable it is. How is Florida this time of the year…I’ve always wanted to visit the backwaters(is that what they call them?), overflowing with man eating crocodiles and giant reptiles. Some day!

        • Heh, it’s my way of showing that I value everyone who comes to my site and reads what I have to say and share :) As for Florida, the
          overflowing alligators and swamps are a bit south of me, in the Everglades and they are very, very cool to explore if you get the chance to come visit!

  6. I was traveling in Egypt a couple of years ago with my mother and while she moved onto Jordan, I did not have enough time off work to go with her.  My heart breaks everytime I think about how close I was to all that Jordan has to offer and I missed it.  I will get there one day!  I’m definitely into the ancient works and history to a degree so I love this stuff!

    • Aw, that’s too bad Nicole! They country has so much on offer, but perhaps you’ll make it back there soon, there’s a lot of history and Jordan has been pretty stable for years, so I’ll cross my fingers that you finagle another trip to the region :)


Leave a Comment