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Wadi Rum Protected Area

Covering more than 72,000 ha, the Wadi Rum Protected Area forms part of the Hisma desert of southern Jordan. This complex ecosystem of outstanding beauty, with a unique combination of colored landforms and archaeological remains, including thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions, is recognized as a World Heritage Site since 2011.

The aesthetic impact of Wadi Rum is generated by an astonishing configuration of colored landforms, as if nature would be an eternally inspired artist playing with a myriad of forms, colors and textures. "Understanding the geology of Wadi Rum can help us enjoy it as an 'integrated system', revealing the fuller story as told by nature with its magnitude, subtleties and art forms," points out architect and artist Ammar Khammash.

Two geological formations prevail: a granitoid basement of Precambrian age (4.6 billion years), on top of which is a thick Early Paleozoic quartz sandstone formation (500 million years). Since the whole area is 900 m above sea level, rather than speaking of a valley, we should think of Wadi Rum as a granite plateau, with sandstone pillars standing on it, explains Ammar Khammash, "borrowing from architecture many elements such as domes, cantilevered monolithic shelves looking like balconies, and arches that, in time, form complete bridges. Sandstone behaves like an architect, one who is flexible, detail-oriented, and has a soft spot for ornaments."

Flat broad wadis blanketed with loose sand of various colors (red, orange, white, brown) reach several hundred meters width in many places. Ongoing weathering, wind erosion, and the disintegration of collapsed sandstone blocks, continue producing the vast quantities of sand that covers the wadi floors and rises up the cliffs as climbing dunes. The presence of water, harvested by the porous sandstone and springing along the contact line with the dense granite base, has allowed fauna and flora to develop and have fostered human presence since the Paleolithic era.

The inscriptions and petroglyphs of Wadi Rum testify to more than 12,000 years of human interaction with the natural environment. As in a huge open-air museum they can be seen in their original setting, on large boulders and cliff faces of red sandstone, concentrated along transhumance roads, water sources or human settlements.

The up to 25,000 petroglyphs depict important aspects of human life, such as birth, hunting, herding, warfare, worshiping. They also document the evolution of animal domestication, and represent wild animals that once existed in the area and have become extinct.

In conjunction with the rock art is an extensive corpus of pre-Arabic inscriptions. About 20,000 inscriptions (Thamudic, Hismaic, as well as Nabatean) have been recorded, many of them are engraved next to the petroglyphs or overlaying them.

More information and photos, see the special presentation of Khazali Canyon, as well as the photos of Alameleh, Ain Abu Aineh, and Anfashieh in the General tour.

Worth to see, when visiting Wadi Rum are the ruins of a Nabataean temple, adjoining palatial residence and luxury bath complex, at the foot of Jabal Rum, in walking distance from the modern Rum Village.

Wadi Rum was a Nabataean outpost on the trading route between Saudi Arabia and Petra. The temple, dated to the late first century BC to early first century AD, was dedicated to the goddess Allat

Nearby are the remains of a Nabataean villa with more than 28 interrelated structures, believed to have been a palatial residence of a religious dignitary. Remarkable is the inclusion of a luxury bathing complex incorporating the latest trends in Roman thermal technology of the time.

more information and photo tour

Inscriptions found in the area identify Wadi Rum as the mythical Iram, where the tribe of 'Ad lived, the place with lofty pillars which got buried under the desert sand as divine warning against arrogance, mentioned in the Qur'an. The first identification was made by French epigraphist Savignac in a 1932 article where he published a Nabatean inscription reading "May be remembered Hayan, son of 'Abdallahi, son of Ibn 'Atmu, in front of Allat, the goddess of Iram, forever". The identification was later confirmed by Fawzi Zayadine and Saba Fares-Drappeau, based on a Thamudic inscription. Several other scholars have noted the recurrence of the tribal name 'Ad and the toponym Iram on inscriptions found in Wadi Rum.

British army officer and writer T. E. Lawrence, who acted as British liaison officer with the troops of the Great Arab Revolt during WWI and stayed in Rum on several occasions between 1916 and 1917, wrote inspiring and powerful descriptions of Wadi Rum in his famous autobiographical account Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926.) Expressing his overwhelming awe when he first entered Wadi Rum he recorded, among other thoughts: "Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of stupendous hills."

Modern mythologies, in particular after David Lean's movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962) filmed in Wadi Rum, tend to exaggerate the Lawrence connection. In the meantime, tourists and guides have renamed a number of sites in relation to Lawrence. Even if these identifications are not historically accurate, they have become part of the fascination of Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is one of the main film locations in Jordan. Royal Film Commission's Managing Director George David states in an interview with the Jordan Times in 2018: “The uniqueness of Wadi Rum, also known as ‘The Valley of the Moon,’ charmed filmmakers from all over the world and is today one of the ultimate landmarks in Jordan when it comes to filming.”

The 1962 epic film Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean, with Peter O'Toole in the title role, first introduced Wadi Rum to the world and contributed to establish T. E. Lawrence as a legend.

The bizarre landscape of Wadi Rum feels like an otherworldly place, and has become very popular as the setting for science fiction and fantasy films, such as: Ridley Scott's blockbuster The Martian (2015) with Matt Damon, and his earlier science fiction thriller Prometheus (2012); the sci-fi thriller Red Planet (2000) by Antony Hoffman; the science fiction-horror film Last Days on Mars directed by Ruairí Robinson (2013); Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), the epic space-opera directed by Gareth Edwards; the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, with Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and Marwan Kenzari; Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker by J.J. Abrams, scheduled to be released December 2019; Dune, the adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel, directed by Denis Villeneuve coming up in 2020.

Also acclaimed Jordanian movies and co-productions were shot in Wadi Rum, including: Theeb (2014), and adventure thriller directed by Naji Abu Nowar about a Bedouin boy during WWI who guides a British officer to the destination of his secret mission; and May in the Summer (2013), a romantic comedy directed by Cherien Dabis, who also wrote the script and played the main role.

Photo tour in 3 parts

Location, access:

Wadi Rum
Located in the SW corner of Jordan, 58 km north of the coastal city of Aqaba. Accesible via main roads from Amman in 3.5 hrs, and Petra in 1.5 hrs.

To stay overnight there are several options that range from glamping in luxury tents to basic camping.

Wadi Rum Visitors Center
Wadi Rum 77110
Website | Email

Location on map

Opening hours: 8 am - 4 pm

© Texts and photos are protected by copyright.
Texts summarized from the UNESCO nomination, and monitoring documents, as well as other quoted sources.
Compilation of information, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe, unless otherwise indicated.

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Contemporary art, archaeology, art history, architecture, cultural heritage.

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