Desert Castles

 

 

Qasr Al Kharana

The splendid State of preservation has imposing aspect, more than justify the name of castle, for Qasr Al Kharana which rises up from a bare plain about 60 kilometers southeast of Amman. Completely rebuilt or at least remodeled by the Umayyads in 711, the building stands on the site of preceding Roman and then Byzantine structures rebuilt in the 7th century when the Sassanian Persians briefly conquered the area. The semicircular towers and narrow arrow-slits that articulate the facades of this massive square building have led many scholars to believe that it had a real defensive function. It seems, however, to be contradicted by the fact that many of the arrow-slits were not level with the floors and therefore could not have been used. The painstaking stucco decoration inside also seems to indicate that the building was meant to be a typically sumptuous residence for the Caliph.


Qasr Amra

Fundamental for an understanding of the characteristics of Islamic art in its formative phase, this building was probably built as a place where the Umayyad Caliph (Spiritual Leader) Al Walid I 705-715AD could find restoration and diversion. This same Caliph was also responsible for the spectacular Great Mosque of Damascus. The name of Qusayr (small castle) with which this building is better known is due to its small size, fully compensated for by the profusion of decoration which lends it a distinctive character. The walls of the building, which in the surviving portion is constituted essentially of an audience hall with three aisles covered with barrel vaults and a bath inspired by the Romans, are in fact completely covered with frescoes most likely by Syrian or Arabian artists. The pictures are packed with symbolism which celebrates the power of the Caliph, they are not always legible: on the wall to the right of the entrance, the rulers of the earth who are paying homage to the Muslim sovereign can barely be made out. The haunting scenes and the decorations of the bath are better preserved of which the cupola frescoed with astrological figures can be noted.




Qasr Al Azraq

In all probability built by the Romans at the end of the 3rd century. This castle then passed into the hands of the Umayyads but was completely rebuilt in 1236-37AD under the Ayyubid dynasty as indicated by the inscription set on the main entrance. The castle owes its fame above all to the fact that the legendary Lawrence of Arabia resided here in the winter of 1917. He influenced the English Secret Services to incite the Arabs to revolt against the Ottoman Empire and it was from this fortress that he organized the battle of Aqaba. Of interest, in the entrance vestibule is the collection of plaques with inscriptions in Latin and Greek or bas-relieves of plant or animal motives. In addition there are heavy monolithic doors in basalt some of which are still in place in the building. The Mosque in the courtyard dates to the Ayyibid period. It stands in an oblique position so that the orientation towards Mecca of the back wall could be respected.




Qasr Al Hallabat

D

istinguished by its building material, blocks of light colored limestone and dark basalt from the volcanic region of the Hauran, this castle was rebuilt by the Umayyads on a site that was originally occupied by a Nabataean outpost, followed by a Roman fortress and finally a Byzantine monastery. Nothing but portions of ruined walls and piles of stone remain today of this square structure with corner towers. A few extant architectural elements which have miraculously survived provide an idea of its original elegance (such as the polylobate arch flanked by columns on one of the entrances). Further confirmation of the attention paid to the aesthetic aspect rather than to the defensive function is shown by the presence in almost all the rooms of mosaic floors now covered by a thin layer of earth to ensure their preservation.


Qasr Al Mushatta

This extraordinary complex, which rises from the desert not far from the airport of Amman, might have been one of the most interesting of the castles of the Umayyad times due to the extraordinary refinement of its decorations, carved in bas-relief in a porous rosy-hued limestone. Unfortunately, almost the entire frieze that decorated the fašade has been removed and is now on exhibit in the Islamic Museum in Berlin. Nevertheless, the few decorative elements still in site succeed in giving us an idea of the high quality of work which is a fusion of the finest Greco-Roman traditions with elements of Persian derivation. Building begun by Caliph Al Walid II in 743 but was interrupted at his death and remained incomplete. What remains today includes stretches of the fortified enclosure, a square of 148 meters per side, the vestiges of an elaborate entrance vestibule and the throne room behind it.