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Volume 41, Number 5September/October 1990

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Qasr Mushatta

Written and photographed by Rami G. Khouri

The unfinished Qasr Mushatta, largest and most ambitious of the Umayyad desert palaces, sits incongruously just north of Queen Alia International Airport's runways. It is dramatic both for its size - it is surrounded by a square enclosure wall measuring 144 meters (472 feet) on a side, incorporating 25 semi-circular towers - and for the deep-orange fired bricks used in its construction. It. is thought to have been stated by the Caliph Walid II around 743 or 744 -Just before the Umayyad dynasty gave way to the Abbasids of Baghdad. In the eighth century, Mushatta was a showcase of Islamic stonework and carved plaster; the few remaining pieces comprise floral, animal and geometric motifs, including bold rosettes, acanthus leaves and grape-laden vine stems. Many of the ornate carvings were sent to Berlin at the turn of the century - a gift from Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid to Kaiser Wilhelm.

Unfinished foundation stones show the layout of buildings that were planned but never completed. One area at the north end of the palace is still flanked by impressive barrel-vaulted rooms made completely of fired bricks on stone foundations. Everywhere, there are signs of an architectural splendor that was never fully realized - column drums, capitals, pilaster bases, half arches and carved stones scattered on the ground.

Rami Khouri has written two guidebooks to Jordan's antiquities, heads that country's Friends of Archaeology society, and is host of a television interview program.

This article appeared on page 37 of the September/October 1990 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for September/October 1990 images.