QASR AMRA (قصر عمرة /
ALA-LC : Qaṣr ‘Amrah), also
transcribed as QUSEIR AMRA or QUSAYR AMRA, is the best-known of the
desert castles located in present-day eastern
The building is actually the remnant of a larger complex that
included an actual castle, of which only the foundation remains. What
stands today is a small country cabin, meant as a royal retreat,
without any military function. It is most notable for the frescoes
that remain on the ceilings inside, which depict, among others, a
group of rulers , hunting, naked women and, above one bath chamber, an
accurate representation of the zodiac . These have led to its
designation as a
* 1 Building * 2 History * 3 Frescoes * 4 See also * 5 References * 6 Bibliography * 7 External links
It is a low building made from limestone and basalt . The northern block, two stories high, features a triple-vaulted ceiling over the main entrance on the east facade . The western wings feature smaller vaults or domes .
Traces of stone walls used to enclose the site suggest it was part of a 25-hectare (62-acre) complex; there are remains of a castle which could have temporarily housed a garrison of soldiers. Just to the southeast of the building is a well 40 metres (130 ft) deep, and traces of the animal-driven lifting mechanism and a dam have been found as well.
One of the six kings depicted is King Roderick of Spain, whose short
reign dates the image, and possibly the building, to around 710. For a
long time archaeologists believed that sitting caliph Walid I was the
builder and primary user of Qasr Amra, but recently doubts have been
cast. Now it is believed more likely that one of two princes who later
became caliph themselves,
Walid II or
Both spent long periods of time away from
The abandoned structure was re-discovered by
Alois Musil in 1898,
with the frescoes made famous in drawings by an Austrian artist
Alphons Leopold Mielich for Musil's book. In the late 1970s a Spanish
team restored the frescoes. The castle was made a
An image known as the "six kings " depicts the rulers of neighbouring
powers. Based on details and inscriptions in the image, four of the
depicted kings are identified as the
Byzantine Emperor , the
Roderic , the Sassanid Persian Shah, and the
The apodyterium , or changing room, is decorated with scenes of animals engaging in human activities , particularly performing music. One ambiguous image has an angel gazing down on a shrouded human form. It has often been thought to be a death scene, but some other interpretations have suggested the shroud covers a pair of lovers. Three blackened faces on the ceiling have been thought to represent the stages of life. Christians in the area believe the middle figure is Jesus Christ .
On the walls and ceiling of the tepidarium , or warm bath, are scenes
of plants and trees similar to those in the mosaic at the Umayyad
It is believed to be the earliest image of the night sky painted on anything other than a flat surface. The radii emerge not from the dome's center but, accurately, from the north celestial pole . The angle of the zodiac is depicted accurately as well. The only error discernible in the surviving artwork is the counterclockwise order of the stars, which suggests the image was copied from one on a flat surface.
The frescoes in all rooms but the caldarium reflect the advice of contemporary Arab physicians . They believed that baths drained the spirits of the bathers, and that to revive "the three vital principles in the body, the animal, the spiritual and the natural," the bath's walls should be covered with pictures of activities like hunting, of lovers, and of gardens and palm trees.
History of Medieval Arabic and Western European domes
* ^ "21 World Heritage Sites you have probably never heard of". Daily Telegraph. * ^ A B Khouri, Rami (September–October 1990). "Qasr\'Amra". Saudi Aramco World. 41 (5). Retrieved 2009-05-18. * ^ "World Monuments Fund, Qusayr ‘Amra" * ^ A B C D E F G Baker, Patricia (July–August 1980). "The Frescoes of Amra". Saudi Aramco World . 31 (4): 22–25. Retrieved 2009-05-28. *