Quseir Amra is an early 8th century Umayyad building known for its well-preserved wall paintings. It is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture.
This “desert castle” with a triple-vaulted ceiling was used as a retreat by the caliph or his princes for sport and pleasure. The interior walls are painted with decorations such as hunting scenes, fruit, musicians, portraits of great rulers (including the Umayyad Caliph himself), bathing nude women and a map of the northern hemisphere sky accompanied by the signs of the Zodiac.
Part of the building is a bath complex that shows a Roman influence.
Visit October 2012
Like everybody else, I visited Quseir Amra as part of a (half) day trip along the desert castles. In my small rental car, I sped on at Highway 40, one of the few roads in Jordan where it is allowed to drive 100km/h. Most of the other traffic consisted of trucks, on their way to either Iraq or Saudi Arabia. This far northeastern part of Jordan is in the border zone with both countries.
After having warmed up at the already quite pleasant Qasr al-Kharanna, I arrived at the 3 vaults of Quseir Amra. The site is outfitted with a large parking lot, a small visitor center and a bedouin tent where you can buy drinks and souvenirs. Entrance costs 1 JD, but the ticket is shared with the al-Kharanna and Azraq castles so I did not have to pay again. I surely wasn’t the only one visiting these castles. I caught up with an English tour group here, after I was already shocked by finding 3 tour buses in the parking lot of Qasr al-Kharanna.
What remains of Quseir Amra is a rather small building, which held a bath house and an audience hall. Next to it stands the well that was responsible for this being a popular caravan stop during its days. The restoration of the exterior seems to have finished, but they’re still working on the wall paintings inside. The large wall to the right after entering was obstructed unfortunately by scaffolding. Two Spanish women were busy reconstructing the paintings on that side.
There’s enough left to admire though. The walls of all rooms (5?) are completely covered by paintings. Many different scenes, different painters also I guess. Some are like Roman hunting scenes or parts of Greek mythology. Others depict famous persons, and some do represent scenes out of daily life. It all looked very Byzantine to me, although it is early Islamic. The Umayyads in this region must have been inspired by the mosaics and paintings of the Byzantine churches in this part of Jordan.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
I visited Qsar Amra on a half-day trip from Madaba with a rental car. It is located about an hour east of Amman, and well sign-posted from the main road.
At first, this desert castle seems a bit disapointing. The outside walls were been restored and surrounded by scafoldings.
The real treasure lies within. The walls are painted (some of them are also being renovated). It shows very fine figurative murals depicting humans in pleasure activities (hunting, bathing) princes and angels, animals of all kinds, even a bear playing a music instrument.
One would not expect this kind of painting from the 8th century Umayyads dinasty.
They is a small museum near the car park, giving explanation on the paintings and the buildings (in fact a hunting and pleasure palace rather than a real desert castle).
There was not entrance fee. And we were the only tourists on the site.
I would strongly recommend a visit to this site.
| Date posted: November 2011|
|Christer Sundberg (Sweden):|
Having driven round Jordan to famous sites on the World Heritage Tenative list for a couple of days, including the Roman city of Jerash and Jesus’s baptising site Bethany, it felt good to be on the way out in the desert in order to visit a REAL site.
On the east side of Amman, on the way towards the Iraqi border, you find a number of Caravan Seray’s, known as “desert castles”. During it’s hey-days one could say that they filled they same function as today’s motel or road-side-restaurants. Park your camel over here and join the party, so to say. One of these desert castles is the beautiful Quasir Amra, a place where baths, dinners and probably a “few other things” was enjoyed back in the good old days. Inside, you will find unique – and reasonably well-preserved – frescos, portraying bathing women, animals, hunting scenes and other motifs.
Quasir Amra in itself is not worth a detour but if you visit a few of the other desert castles on the way to Azrac (where Lawrence of Arabia stayed), you could make it into a quite rewarding day-trip. Watch out for the desert heat though…!
| Date posted: June 2006|
|Paul Tanner (UK):|
If you are in Jordan to see the world class site of Petra it is relatively easy to pick up the desert castle of Qusayr Amra. It is certainly not an “unmissable” site but “worth a detour” if you are mobile and have half a day to spare.
It lies around 80kms east of Amman on route 40. Nearby are a number of other desert castles. Indeed if you have a whole day to spare you could do the “Desert Castle loop” going out by Zarqua towards Asraq and then back via route 40 taking in some 5 castles and also the opportunity to see Oryx at the Shaumari Reserve (we didn’t do this so I can’t comment on whether it is worthwhile)
The castles all date from the time of the Damascus-based Omayyad dynasty around the 8th century – although many were built on earlier remains including Roman and Nabatean. They are often lonely buildings built on a treeless desert.
The choice of WHS status for Qusayr Amra is probably determined by its frescoes and you will certainly be surprised by the depiction of living things (including naked bathers!) by an Islamic culture. Among the most interesting to us was a dome in what was a hammam’s steam room (the castle was used as a caravanserai) with a map of the heavens in the layout of a zodiac with the “bear” and other signs clearly visible.
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