The sleepy little village of Abu Lissan has an interesting history. Originally, Abu Lissan was simply a well in a valley, located south of the desert oasis of Ma’an. Travelers used to pass this way when heading straight south from Ma’an, on their way to Aqaba. Water could be found here, as well as at Ras al Naqab, eight kilometers farther south.
Under Turkish occupation, the Ottomans built a small fortification here to guard the water supply, and police the Bedouin tribes who used the well. This is Hawitat country, and the Darawsha tribe of the Hawitat have now settled and created the village of Abu Lissan.
Lawrence of Arabia passed through here on his war against the Turks. His men swept through the area and massacred every Turkish soldier in the fort. Unknown to them, a relief column had already left Ma’an. The column was made up of one experienced officer. The rest were green recruits. They arrived at the well, and the officer noticed vultures circling the fort on the hill above them. He commanded the troops to rest by the water while he investigated the fort. When he realized the extent of the massacre, he commanded the troops to spend the night by the well. The next morning Lawrence and his men returned, found the Turks and surrounded them.
The next day turned out to be a scorcher. With temperatures in the 40’s (C) the Arabs tried to take sniper shots at the Turks, but every time they raised their heads above the hill, the Turks shot back. As the day wore on, the Arabs ran out of drinking water. (They were returning to the well to fill up their water containers). In the late afternoon, Lawrence came across one of the Arab sheiks, laying on the ground, trying to drink a few drops of water from a muddy seep on the hill side. Lawrence teased him “So is this how a great Sheik acts?” The man was so shamed and angry that he mounted his camel, and called his troops to rush the Turks. Lawrence, not to be outdone, called the rest of the men, and they poured over the hill and down to the well, shooting as they rode.
Lawrence’s prized red camel suddenly went down, and Lawrence toppled to the ground. After the battle was over, the Arabs examined Lawrence’s camel and discovered that he had accidentally shot his camel in the back of the head with his pistol. The story is still told today around the fires of Abu Lissan.
When the British constructed the railway and the accompanying road in the 1930’s, they used the old stones from the Turkish fort to make the roadbeds. Today only the foundation of the Ottoman Fort can be found.
In the year 2000 Nabataea researcher and author Dan Gibson located in this village. He and his family lived here for three years while exploring and researching the surrounding area. Some of his pictures are included below.