Azrak is located in Jordan, approximately 100 miles east of Amman, the capital. The official name is Qasr al-Azraq, which literally mean “Blue Fortress”.
The large ancient fort was built by the Romans in the 4th century. Its location held strategic value as the Azrak oasis is one of the sources of permanent fresh water in a thousand miles. It is thought the name “blue fortress” was derived due to the abundance of fresh water.
The fort was rebuilt and fortified in 1237 by the Ayyubid dynasty, founded by Saladin. Over the centuries it fell abandon until the Ottoman Empire commandeered Azrak and used the fort to house a garrison in the 16th century.
It was over three hundred years later when Azraq was again used for military operations, this time by TE Lawrence and the Arab Revolt in 1917 during the First World War.
The Bedouins believe the fort is haunted by spirits.
In Destiny’s War, Marion arrives in Azrak and joins the Camel Corps 5th Company on a secret mission into Syria.
Ben is relieved when we arrive in Azrak to see fellow soldiers, tents, and a small military post snuggled in the ruins. For him, the military routine is a sign of life and perhaps security. Ironically, it pains me to see ancient ruins commandeered by soldiers who have no knowledge of and therefore no respect for their significance. These are important historical places, many still holding secrets. Perhaps my repeated readings of Burton’s [Sir Richard Francis Burton] travels and working on archaeological sites before the war have tainted me.
We enter the ruins. The late-afternoon sun beats down on the ancient arches, casting a long shadow. They morph into a black claw grasping at lumbering soldiers passing beneath them … an ominous sight, a memory I shall never forget.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Azrak lay favourably for us, and the old fort would be convenient headquarters if we made it habitable, no matter how severe the winter.
So I established myself in its southern gate-tower, and set my six Haurani boys (for whom manual labour was not disgraceful) to cover with brushwood, palm-branches, and clay the ancient split stone rafters, which stood open to the sky. Ali took up his quarters in the south-east corner tower, and made that roof tight. The Indians weather-proofed their own north-west rooms. We arranged the stores on the ground floor of the western tower, by the little gate, for it was the soundest, driest place. The Biasha chose to live under me in the south gate. So we blocked that entry and made a hall of it. Then we opened a great arch from the court to the palm-garden, and made a ramp, that our camels might come inside each evening.
In these slow nights we were secure against the world. For one thing, it was winter, and in the rain and the dark few men would venture either over the labyrinth of lava or through the marsh–the two approaches to our fortress; and, further, we had ghostly guardians. The first evening we were sitting with the Serahin, Hassan Shah had made the rounds, and the coffee was being pounded by the hearth, when there rose a strange, long wailing round the towers outside. Ibn Bani seized me by the arm and held to me, shuddering. I whispered to him, ‘What is IT?’ and he gasped that the dogs of the Beni Hillal, the mythical builders of the fort, quested the six towers each night for their dead masters.
We strained to listen. Through Ali’s black basalt window-frame crept a rustling, which was the stirring of the night-wind in the withered palms, an intermittent rustling, like English rain on yet-crisp fallen leaves. Then the cries came again and again and again, rising slowly in power, till they sobbed round the walls in deep waves to die away choked and miserable. At such times our men pounded the coffee harder while the Arabs broke into sudden song to occupy their ears against the misfortune. No Bedouin would lie outside in wait for the mystery, and from our windows we saw nothing but the motes of water in the dank air which drove through the radiance of our firelight. So it remained a legend: but wolves or jackals, hyasnas, or hunting dogs, their ghost-watch kept our ward more closely than arms could have done.