Qantara Qantara

Umayyad Palace of Amman

  • Name : Umayyad Palace of Amman
  • Place : Jordan
  • Construction date/period : First half eighth century, reign of Hisham (724–43)?
  • Construction materials : Stone, mortar
  • Architectural pattern : Sculpted stucco, mosaics
  • Dimensions : Approx. 21,000 m²

Situated on Citadel Hill, a lofty plateau overlooking the city of Amman, the palace complex was built during the first half of the 8th century in the capital of the wealthy region of Balqa', in the north of modern Jordan. It doubtless functioned as an urban palace, combining an emir's residence with the seat of government and thus establishing a precedent for many other such buildings, among them the Abassid palaces in Baghdad and Samarra and the caliphal city of  Madinat al-Zahra. Facing it was a mosque, whose remains echo the facade of the sole surviving room of the palace. Its three-part structure, its ramparts and the disposition of its living quarters place the complex in the tradition of the "desert castles", especially those, slightly later, of Mshatta and Ukhaydir, but also the contemporaneous Qasr Kharana. However it differs from them in the irregularity of its ground plan, attributable to the reutilisation of the substructure of a Roman temple. Such reuse of ancient foundations was very frequent in early Islamic times, as attested by the Grand Mosque in Damascus. More generally this recourse to such earlier materials as blocks of stone and columns was routine in medieval times, as much in the Islamic world – the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, for example – as in Western castles and churches.

The Amman palace also differs from the majority of "desert castles" in its frequent borrowings from Iranian culture, these being especially visible in the two domed cruciform rooms, each preceded by an iwan, of which only one has survived. Situated at the entry to the palace and in its most northern part, they most likely served as a diwan-i Amm and a diwan-i Khass: public and private audience chambers. An almost identical layout is to be found in the eleventh-twelfth century palace of Lashkari Bazar in Afghanistan, although here there are reminders of the desert castles.

The association of a domed room with the iwan goes back to Sassanid times, as borne out by the remains of the palace of Bishapur. It was often made use of in Iran, in both religious and civil architecture.

The still-standing cruciform chamber betrays Iranian influences both in its barrel vaults and the use of squinches under the dome. Such characteristics of the stucco ornamentation as narrow plinthless columns and arches bearing sawtooth patterns are also to be found at Qasr Kharana, a small building of the same period equally remarkable for its Iranian features. By contrast the vegetal embellishments  – running foliation, palmettes, rosettes – circumscribing a tree-trunk or arranged geometrically have equivalents in Syrian decoration of this period. Thus a stucco screen wall in the palace of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi presents very similar motifs and these are already present in the Dome of the Rock.

The use of stone masonry is another characteristic of the region and the stone mosaics of the private section, whose geometrical patterns are probably similar to those of the palace of Qastal in Jordan, display the architects' familiarity with Roman and Byzantine techniques. In Alastair Northedge's opinion the builders, well versed in local practice, had been told by their clients to provide something in the Iranian style.

In its marrying of Eastern and Western traditions the palace of Amman represents a landmark in the new sharing of decorative patterns and building techniques between the two.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE MONUMENT

Almagro Gorbea, A., El palacio omeya de Amman, 1, La  arquitectura, Madrid, instituto hispano-arabe de cultura, direccion general des relationes culturales, 1983.

Northedge, A., « Survey of the terrace area at Amman citadel », in Levant, XII, 1980, p. 135 – 154.

Northedge, A., Studies on Roman and islamic ‘Ammān. The excavations of Mrs. C.M. Bennett and other investigations, vol. I, History, site and architecture, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allan, J.W., « New additions to the new edition », in Muqarnas, 8, 1991, p. 12 – 22.

Hillenbrand, R., Islamic Architecture. Form, function and meaning, New-York, Columbia University Press, 1994.



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