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Safaitic art

Azraq is one-hour drive from Amman. After Azraq al Shamali, drive for another 8 km on the road to Iraq, and about one km past the only black hill with a quarry, a small volcano called tall Hassan, exit to the right, southward, on an unpaved dirt road used by trucks transporting limestone. After about half a km turn right into a less used less dusty and more bumpy track heading south. You are now driving on black basalt and you should be soon arriving into a valley with desert shrubs were wadi Hassan meets wadi Usaykhim. Cross the wadi and turn westward at its southern bank. You should now arrive at a dead-end after less than 100m. This is the beginning of the cliff of wadi Hassan,

A reliable 4x4 is needed; winter season is most suitable provided you pay attention not to get stuck in wadi floods.


The sense of arrival to Azraq is great. Vast horizons, light clean air, and distinct ethnic flavors all give a feeling of being in a in a place different from the rest of Jordan. Azraq and the desert beyond remain as Jordan's best destination for unrestricted panorama, open horizon and a gratifying sense of freedom.

From Azraq, remote mountains appear as pyramids in hazy rust-red, floating on beige flats that turn into silver mirage as it melts into the horizon. Most of these hills and mountains are to the north and east of Azraq, and all were created by volcanic activities millions of ears ago. Tall Hassan is one of the smaller dormant volcanic vents of these hills and the only one easily recognized to the south of the road. Beyond it further to the southeast, hidden quietly away from people, is a charming valley called wadi Hassan, there a remarkable collection of rock art can be seen. This place is a small gem, a forgotten splendor, and a secret, kept only for those who demand private viewing of Jordan's natural-cultural heritage exclusively reserved for their inspection.


Wadi Hassan has a basalt cliff that stands as a vertical wall about 5 meters high. Here, the volcanic lava lowly stopped flowing and started cooling into hard stone. The rate of cooling effects the shape of these rocks; the slower the cooling the more pillar-like. Wadi Hassan has easily recognizable pillars with smooth surface weathered into shiny, attractive, deep-red luster, turning at times into hues of black iris.


On this cliff, the shepherd-artists left us a collection of drawings. Their artworks, often signed, are impressive expressions of their lives. Their style is basic and powerful, using mostly lines created by hammering the surface of the rock to create tiny fractures that scatter the sunlight. In time, these images and letters get darker, which makes some of the older inscriptions hardly decipherable from the background rock.


"Safaitic inscriptions" is a term used for such rock-art found in the deserts of northern Jordan, while the same type of language and art is called "Thamudic" if in the south. The Safaitic language must have sounded like Arabic; it is basically made of condensed Arabic words with no vowels and often referred to names in the Arabic manner that include the father and often many of the grandfathers after the first name and all connected with "bin" (the son of). The compressing of words can be simulated as follows: Muhammad drew a camel "Mhmd dru cml". Unlike Arabic, English or other languages that follow a consistent direction (from right to left or from left to right, etc), Safaitic was written in all directions and sometimes in curves or spirals. It is confusing even to epigraphists who have to depend on certain letters to determine the direction of words.


These inscriptions date from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D. Thy were made by Safaitic Bedouin tribes who lived a nomadic life on the land which is now parts of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. Those shepherds, hunters, traders and warriors left no architecture, but their art depicted much of their names and the animal life around them as a living record of desert animals that were once in abundance; such as ostriches, ibex, oryx, not anymore found in this natural habitat.


Wadi Hassan is an open-air gallery where artworks of Safaitic Bedouins are on display, permanently, tattooing this land to retain a small hint of their vanished lives. This is their modest quest for eternity.

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