Qasr Amr – pleasure palace of the Caliphs

Qasr Amr is located on the desert road to Azraq and only a short distance from Iraq.  It is possibly the highlight of the chain of desert castles built in eastern Jordan.  It was built by Caliph Walid I around 715AD.  As the name suggests it was originally part of a castle but now all the remains is a small stone structure which was built as a royal retreat away from the noise and prying eyes of Damascus.

Qasr Amr

Qasr Amr from the desert highway

It as a UNESCO World Heritage status which puts it up with the greatest buildings and monuments on Earth and it is most notable for its painted frescos on the interior walls and roofs.   The paintings amongst other things depict pagan images, animals, hunting scenes and naked women.

Qasr Amr Lady

One of several painted depictions of naked ladies about 1300 years old

Qasr Amr is widely to be considered what would these days be called a Pleasure Palace and seemed to be a placed where the Caliph and his associates could cast off the stricter teachings of Islam.  It is a useful study place for those interested in the development and take-up of early Islam in that some of the earlier followers found problems reconciling their new faith with their established cultural heritage.  In a similar way there are examples of coinage in from Damascus and Jerusalem that show the slow evolution from Christian Byzantine coins to more recognisably Islamic coinage, something that took several decades.

Qasr Amr animals

Qasr Amr animals

For perhaps a thousand years the building was lost from popular memory until its re-discovery by Alois Musil in 1898 with the frescoes being restored about 70 years later.  Many paintings show influences of Persian culture and wild-life perhaps due to the mother of Caliph Yazid III who was from there.

There is a victory image of the Caliphs 6 major enemies, these being the Byzantine Emperor, Roderic the Visigoth king, the Sassanid Persian Shah, the Negus of Ethiopia, a Turkic rule from Central Asia and an Indian Raja.

One of the rooms has depictions of animals performing human actions overlooked by an Angel and three figures of whom the middle is thought by local Christians to represent Jesus.

The domed roof of the hot bath room has a painted representation of the night sky with 35 recognisable constellations on show.  It is thought to be the first pictorial representation of the night sky on something other than a flat surface.

It should be noted that however unexpected the interior images might be to modern visitors to an apparently Islamic building that the painting also followed the best advice of contemporary Arab doctors who believed that bathing drained the life force and spirit of bathers and that the only way to recover their spirit was to surround themselves by the animal, the natural and the spiritual.  This is obviously something that those who enjoyed Qasr Amr took to heart.

Qasr Amr is well worth a visit to anyone in or visiting Jordan being just metres off a main desert highway and less than an hours drive from central Amman.  I went there on one of my overland desert adventures some time ago.  A day trip can be made by visiting some of the other nearby castles such as the ruined castle at Azraq where Lawrence of Arabia reputedly spent a winter. As opposed to other castles, lying just a few miles from Iraq this castle is in a ruinous state after an earthquake and great care must be taken if you go off exploring on the first floor!   However none of the castles are as unique as Qasr Amr.

Stephen Liddell at Azraq Castle

Me at Azraq Castle

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to Qasr Amr – pleasure palace of the Caliphs

  1. yepiratehere says:

    Fascinating – I decided to try to pen a book, and was looking around for somewhere like this to put into the novel for a part of the book…so all the more interesting.
    I really like Jordan, and in some ways found it more ‘European’ than say Spain, though that was when i was working in Saudi Arabia, so my perspective was maybe slanted…
    If it was 100 years ago we’d be planning an expedition through Central Asia by now!
    I’ll be buying your book as soon as I understand Amazon…sorry about that, don’t want you to think I am not interested – I am, and will…am just a bit slow sometimes…

    .

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    • It really is the most unexpected place. One can only imagine what used to go on there. I really like Jordan, it does seem like a European country doesn’t it. I can imagine living there at least for a while.

      Yes I imagine we would though ot sure which of us would be Sean Connery and which Michael Caine!! i have just penned 2 posts on Lawrence if Arabia, one mostly on the film and the second about my travelling in his footsteps and I mentioned how I probably would have done something similar 100 years ago. These will be published tomorrow and next Saturday.

      I imagined you must be very busy as I haven’t seen you around much this year. What would your book be about? Do let me know if you need someone to go out and do some research with you!

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  2. Fascinating, It’s interesting how much the style of painting resembles early Roman wall paintings.

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