Name of Monument:

Qusayr ‘Amra

Location:

Amra, Jordan

Date of Monument:

Hegira, after 92 / AD 710

Period / Dynasty

Umayyad

Patron(s):

Probably al-Walid I (AH 86–96 / AD 705–15).

Description:

Qusayr ‘Amra, which was rediscovered by the Austrian scholar A. Musil in 1898, lies about 85 km east of Amman, beside wadi al-Butm (Valley of the Terebinth [Pistacia atlantica] Trees). The complex comprises two principal components, the first being a three-aisled hall which is bordered from the south by an alcove, which in turn is flanked by two side rooms comparable to the Roman apodyterium (dressing room). The alcove is believed to have functioned as a throne-room. The second component of the monument is the bathhouse, which is located to the east of the hall. It consists of three small rooms: the frigidarium (cold room), the tepidarium (warm room), and the calidarium (hot room). The complex is (approximately 120 m sq) and is built of locally available hard reddish limestone. It is best known, however, for its extensive frescoes, which represent an important formative stage in the development of Islamic art. These frescoes are also amongst the most significant secular paintings to have survived anywhere from before the Romanesque period. The walls and the ceilings of the complex are completely covered with depictions of a great variety of activities including bathing, hunting, and relaxation. The last room of the bath complex contains a representation of the northern sky with signs of the zodiac. The frescoes were executed in the tradition of oriental classical art and show the influence of the Sassanid tradition. Qusayr ‘Amra was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986.

View Short Description

Qusayr ‘Amra lies about 85 km east of Amman, at Wadi al-Butm. The complex, around 120 m sq, comprises a hall bordered by an alcove that may have been a throne-room and a bathhouse of three rooms. It has extensive frescoes, which represent an important formative stage in the development of Islamic art. The walls and ceilings are completely covered with depictions of a variety of activities including bathing and hunting. The last room of the bath has a representation of the northern sky with signs of the zodiac. Qusayr ‘Amra was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986.

How Monument was dated:

Qusayr ‘Amra has a few fragmentary and illegible inscriptions in Arabic and Greek but has been dated primarily by its frescoes which date to the Umayyad period, the most important being the fresco panel depicting six rulers; 'The Family of Kings'. Their names, written above their heads in Arabic and Greek, identify them as: 'Caesar', the Byzantine emperor; 'Kisra', the Sassanid emperor; the king of Abbyssinia (Ethiopia); and 'Roderick', the Visigothic king of Spain. Historical inference has established the identities of the other two as the emperor of China and the ruling prince 'khaqan' of the Turks. Since Roderick ruled for only one year before he died in a battle against Arab-Muslim armies in AH 92 / AD 710–711, this date provides a terminus post quem for construction of the palace.

Selected bibliography:

Almagro, M., et al, Qusayr 'Amra: Residencia y baños omeyas en el desierto de Jordania, Madrid, 1975, plates XXII–XX; XXX–XXXI, p.61.
Creswell, K. A. C., and Allan J. W., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, Cairo, 1989, pp.105–17.
Grabar, O., The Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven, 1973, pp.154–56.
Khouri, R. G., The Desert Castles: A Brief Guide to the Antiquities, Amman, 1992, pp.22–6.
Musil, A., Kusejr 'Amra, Vienna, 1907.

Citation of this web page:

Mohammad Najjar "Qusayr ‘Amra" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;jo;Mon01;4;en

Prepared by: Mohammad NajjarMohammad Najjar

Mohammad Najjar is an archaeologist and has been Director of Excavations and Surveys at the Department of Antiquities of Jordan since 1988. He studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in 1982 as Curator of Jordan Archaeological Museum. He was the Technical Director of Cultural Resources Management (sites development) at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities between 1994 and 1997. He is the author of numerous publications on the archaeology of Jordan.

Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: JO 04

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