Go’s Whitney McNamara took a trip up to Qasr Amra, the most well-known of Jordan’s eastern desert castles
Image by Humzah Azouqa
One of Jordan’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Qasr Amra epitomizes early Islamic art and architecture. The complex,which once spanned 62 acres, is visited less for the limestone and basalt remains, and more for its spectacular frescoes and artistic remnants. The frescoes here depict hunting, work animals, women, and representations of the zodiac.
The starry art, called the Dome of Heaven, is impressive on several counts. First, it’s believed to be the foremost illustration of the night sky positioned on a round surface. Additionally, its accuracy is also amazing: the radii of the dome come not from the center, but from the northern celestial pole. Plus, the direction in which the zodiac is represented is also accurate
While historians agree over the function of the castle (a luxurious retreat home for an Umayyad caliph’s family), historians still disagree over which caliph built the structure. It was first assumed that the early eighth century castle was built under Walid I. However, his predecessor and uncle, Walid II, was known to partake in quixotic extracurricular activities — indulging in women, poetry, and music, reminiscent of the romantic subject matter found in the frescos. Walid II was also said to be fascinated by constellations, which would explain the sky delineation on the dome of the castle.
Rediscovered in 1898 by Alois Musil and then later restored by a Spanish team in the 1970s, the remaining extraordinary ancient artwork is worth checking out!
Qasr Amra is located on the north side of Jordan’s Highway 40, roughly 85km from Amman and 21km southwest of Al Azraq.