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 Jordan. It was built
early in the 8th century, some time between 723 and 743, by Walid Ibn
Yazid, the future
Umayyad caliph Walid II, whose dominance of the
region was rising at the time. It is considered one of the most
important examples of early Islamic art and architecture. The
discovery of an inscription during work in 2012 has allowed for more
accurate dating of the structure.
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
UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of five in the country. That
status, and its location along Jordan's major east–west highway,
relatively close to Amman, have made it a frequent tourist
4 See also
7 External links
Qasr Amra is on the north side of Jordan's Highway 40, roughly 85
kilometres (53 mi) from
Amman and 21 kilometres (13 mi)
southwest of Al-Azraq. It is currently within a large area fenced
off in barbed wire. An unpaved parking lot is located at the southeast
corner, just off the road. A small visitor's center collects admission
fees. The castle is located in the west of the enclosed area, below a
South (rear) view, from highway
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.
Qasr Amra is in a poorer condition than the other desert
castles such as Qasr Kharana, with graffiti damaging some frescoes.
However, conservation work is underway supported by World Monuments
Fund, the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro, and
Jordan's Department of Antiquities.
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 Yazid III, are more likely
candidates for that role.
Both spent long periods of time away from Damascus, the
before assuming the throne. Walid was known to indulge in the sort of
sybaritic activities depicted on the frescoes, particularly sitting on
the edge of pools listening to music or poetry. One time he was
entertained by performers dressed as stars and constellations,
suggesting a connection to the sky painting in the caldarium. Yazid's
mother was a Persian princess, suggesting a familiarity with that
culture, and he too was known for similar pleasure-seeking.
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
UNESCO World Heritage
Site in 1985 under criteria i), iii), and iv) ("masterpiece of human
creative genius", "unique or at least exceptional testimony to a
cultural tradition" and "an outstanding example of a type of building,
architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates
a significant stage in human history").
See also: The Painting of the Six Kings
Fresco of "Six kings", one of the most well known frescoes in Qasr
Zodiac painting on caldarium dome
Qasr Amra is most notable for the frescoes on the inside walls. The
main entry vault has scenes of hunting, fruit and wine consumption,
and naked women. Some of the animals shown are not abundant in the
region but were more commonly found in Persia, suggesting some
influence from that area. One surface depicts the construction of the
building. Near the base of one wall a haloed king is shown on a
throne. An adjoining section, now in Berlin's Pergamon Museum, shows
attendants as well as a boat in waters abundant with fish and fowl.
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 Visigothic
king Roderic, the Sassanid Persian Shah, and the
Negus of Ethiopia.
The two others are unidentified, speculated to include Turkish,
Chinese, or Indian rulers. Its intent was unclear. The Greek
word "NHKH", or nike, meaning victory, were discovered nearby,
suggesting that the "six kings" image was meant to suggest the
caliph's supremacy over his enemies. Another possible
interpretation is that the six figures are depicted in supplication,
presumably towards the
Caliph who would be seated in the hall.
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
Mosque in Damascus. They are interspersed with naked females in
various poses, some bathing a child. The caldarium or hot bath's
hemispheric dome has a representation of the heavens in which the
zodiac is depicted, among 35 separate identifiable constellations.
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
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
List of World Heritage Sites in Jordan
^ "21 World Heritage Sites you have probably never heard of". Daily
^ 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
^ a b c Williams, Betsy. "Qusayr 'Amra". The Metropolitan Museum of
Martin Almagro, Luis Caballero, Juan Zozaya y Antonio Almagro, Qusayr
Amra : residencia y baños omeyas en el desierto de Jordania, Ed.
Instituto Hispano-Arabe de Cultura, 1975
Martín Almagro, Luis Caballero, Juan Zozaya y Antonio Almagro, Qusayr
Amra : Residencia y Baños Omeyas en el desierto de Jordania, Ed.
Fundación El Legado Andalusí, 2002
Garth Fowden, Qusayr 'Amra : Art and the
Umayyad Elite In Late
Antique Syria, Ed. University of California Press, 2004
Claude Vibert-Guigue et Ghazi Bisheh, Les peintures De Qusayr 'Amra,
Ed. Institut français du Proche-Orient, 200
Hana Taragan, "Constructing a Visual Rhetoric: Images of Craftsmen and
Builders in the
Umayyad Palace at Qusayr ‘Amra," Al-Masaq: Islam and
the Medieval Mediterranean, 20,2 (2008), 141-160.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Quseir Amra.
Christian Sahner, "Snapshot of a Civilization in the Making," The Wall
Street Journal, 27 November 2010
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site listing
Qusayr 'Amra, Archnet Digital Library
Pictures of the site, many frescoes
Umayyad Desert Castles
Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi
Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi
Israel and Palestine
World Heritage Sites in Jordan