Jordan - Off the beaten track
Qasr al-Hallabat was originally a Roman fort, but was taken over by the Umayyads and converted into a pleasure palace. A few km down the road is Hammam as-Sarakh, a bathhouse and hunting lodge. The buildings have been almost completely restored, and you can see the channels that were used for hot water and steam. One hundred km east of Amman, the oasis town of Azraq has a large castle built from black basalt. This was Lawrence of Arabia's headquarters during the Arab Revolt. Heading back towards Amman, the Qusayr 'Amra is the best preserved of the desert castles, with walls covered in frescoes.
The Desert Castle Loop
Out in the desert east of Amman lies a string of castles, the work of the 7th-century Umayyad dynasty. Some were originally Roman buildings, and others date back to the Nabataeans. The best way to get around the loop is by hire car or taxi. You can see the main castles in a day and without travelling too far off the road, but if you want to do the whole loop you will need a couple of days, a 4WD and a guide.
No one really knows who built this town, 10km (6.2mi) from the Syrian border and about 20km (12.4mi) east of Mafraq. The strange black basalt settlement is in the south of the city of Hauran. It is thought to have been founded in the 2nd century AD, and at one stage was part of the defensive line of Rome's Arab outposts. It continued to flourish into Umayyad times, but the earthquakes which hit Jordan in 747 wiped out Umm Al-Jimal, and the city was never rebuilt.
Most of the remaining buildings were once the houses and shops of ordinary people. Among the few larger buildings still standing are a combined barracks/church building, and a ruin known as the Western Church. You can visit Umm Al-Jimal in a day trip from Amman.
Wadi Rum has some of the most spectacular desert scenery anywhere in the world. Lawrence of Arabia spent quite a bit of time here during the Arab Revolt, and many of the scenes from the film were shot here. Don't expect sweeping sand dunes: Wadi Rum is a landscape of bizarre, soaring rock formations, known as jebels. Although more and more tourists are coming here, it hasn't lost any of its forbidding majesty. The only residents of the area are around 4000 villagers and Bedouin nomads, and the only buildings are goat hair tents, a few concrete shops and houses and the fort headquarters of the Desert Patrol Corps. There is no hotel.
Around the village of Rum, there are a few things to see. Lawrence's Wellis a spring 2km (1.2mi) south-west of the village. It's really just a stagnant pool, but the views are stunning. There's a much prettier spring at the base of Jebel Rum. The Nabatean empire, responsible for Petra, also left a ruined temple in Rum, and the area is covered in Thamudic and Kufic rock art. But the real attraction of the area is the desert itself, and you get out into it in a hired 4WD or on a camel. Some people just do a few hours, but if you take a guide its worth doing a trip of several days, staying overnight with Bedouin families or camping in the desert.