Let me tell you a tale. A tale of unimaginable wealth, of pride, of hubris and of mystery. A tale told to me by an Amman cab driver. For its truth or accuracy I cannot vouch and I know no more than I was told.
On my last day in Jordan, in Amman, I decided to go out for the morning to see a Hellenistic site called Qasr al-Abd just near to the town of Iraq al-Amir. My driver was very pleased because this was the town where he grew up and he declared it his favorite place in all of Jordan. He was particularly gleeful when he told me that, as well as driving me to Qasr al-Abd, he was going to show me a secret palace in the hills. This palace, he said, was practically unknown, even to people who lived nearby, on account of its extreme secrecy.
I cannot adequately convey his glee as he kept saying things like “can you see a palace?”, ” would you believe that there is a palace in these hills?” He really couldn’t wait for the ‘ta-daaah’ moment to arrive and when it did his delight was unbounded.
Frankly, it’s bonkers.
I pressed him for as much detail as possible and this was the story he told me. A wealthy Egyptian banker had bought a large plot of land in the hills near Iraq al-Amir and had commissioned the building. However, it turned out to be one of those on-off jobs which continued for five years until it finally ground to a halt ten years ago. It hasn’t been restarted since.
It was built from “firestones” (flint) which it had taken a full year to collect from the surrounding countryside. A full year! Just to collect the stones!
Apparently each floor is different with one floor full of spaces for Arab-style seating and one floor full of guest rooms, all ensuite of course (how he knew this, I don’t know).
There is a blue swimming pool and a house built just for the pigeons! With stairs and everything!
And now the shell of the house, abandoned and unfinished, is fenced off and left to the elements.
What became of the Egyptian banker? My driver could not tell. I told him that this tale reminded me of Citizen Kane, but he hadn’t heard of that.
Rich people are mad.