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MSHATTA PALACE (QAṣR MSHATTā)

Mshatta palace (qaṣr mshattā)

Mshatta Palace (Qaṣr Al-Mshattā) is an unfinished Islamic palace - Jordan desert . It may have been built by the calipha al-Walid II to welcome pilgrims returning from Mecca , passing through Jordan Desert, and it can be visited in a day trip tour from Amman / Day trip . 

The outer enclosure is a square shaped building made of fine ashlar masonry with regularly spaced half-round buttresses and, on the south, a gate flanked by two semi-octagonal towers.

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The interior of Mshatta is divided into three tracts, of which only the central one was laid out, again in three parts. The gate-block appears to have consisted of an enclosed hall, a small court and a mosque, but only the base courses were laid out.

 

The second part comprised a large open court. The third block had a triple-arched façade in front of an audience hall containing two rows of grey–green marble columns terminating in a triconch.

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The hall, of which the plan derives from a late Roman type, was flanked by four suites of four vaulted rooms around a court. The walls, which rested on three courses of limestone masonry, were built of fired brick and supported slightly pointed pitched-brick vaults of Mesopotamian style.

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The most notable feature is the richly carved south façade presented by the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II (1876–1909) to Emperor William II. The façade is divided by a zigzag moulding into 40 triangles 2.95 m high, in various stages of completion. Each triangle has a central rosette in high relief, and the remainder of the field is sculpted in low relief with chalices, vines, lions, birds and griffins.

 

Rediscovered by Europeans several times in the 19th century, the Mshatta was variously attributed to the Ghassanid and the Lakhmid dynasties in the 6th century AD or to the Sasanian occupation of Syria in the early 7th.

 

An attribution to Islamic times, however, is certain because of the integral presence of the mosque and is supported by the find of two bricks fired with Arabic graffiti and one with an Arabic stamp impression.

 

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As one of the largest and most impressive of the Umayyad palaces, the unfinished, tawny-toned limestone and brick complex at Qasr al-Mshatta includes an entrance hall, mosque, an audience hall, and residential quarters. It is located in the Jordan desert approximately 32 kilometers south of Amman, a short distance from the Queen Alia International Airport.

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A product of the late Umayyad period, it is speculated by several scholars that the Umayyad caliph al-Walid II built Mshatta during his brief reign (743-44) in an effort to commemorate his authority. Construction concluded in 744 when he was assassinated. Massive in size-at 144 sq. meters-it provided accommodation for a large group of people for ceremonial performances and lodging. Byzantine and Sassanian influence is evident in the stone and brickwork, and its plan and design.

The outer walls of the palace remain 1.7 meters wide and vary in height from 3 to 5.5 meters. The foundation and lowest layers of the exterior were constructed in masonry while the upper courses, the domed roof, and the interior walls were made of baked brick. A total of 25 towers support the exterior including four at each corner that are round and two semi-octagonal towers that flank the main gate at the center of the southern façade. All are solid with the exception of four that were serviced with latrines.

Internally divided into three almost equal sections, it is in the middle third on the palace's central axis where building occurred. In addition, this section was further divided into thirds with only one third actually constructed to fruition. One enters an area of the palace that was built only as far as the foundation. This section is partitioned into a main gateway leading into a small courtyard off of which would have stood a mosque to the east and living quarters to the west. A mihrab in the southern wall of the mosque indicates the qibla. Through a doorway on its central northern wall, the small courtyard leads into a larger one that encompasses the core of the entire structure. Directly across from this door is a triple-arched entrance to the north and a complete section of the palace. A colonnaded hallway directly behind the archway extends to a triple iwan, two of which lead into tunnel-vaulted residential suites with the central one continuing into the audience hall/throne room, a small tri-apsidal room covered by a vaulted brick roof.

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The most beautiful feature of Mshatta, however, remains in the rich and intricately carved features on its southern exterior, a significant section of which was given to Kaiser Wilhelm as a gift from the Ottoman sultan 'Abd al-Hamid just before World War I and today is located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The façade consists of a zigzag pattern creating a panel of triangular forms, each framing a rosette surrounded by a completely carved surface of interwoven vines, animals and humans, including lions, buffalo, and parrots. The panel stands almost 3 meters in height and 2.5 meters in width. It has been suggested that craftsmen were conscripted from Iran and Egypt because of the use of Persian, Sassanian influenced mythic animals and Coptic iconography inspired by vine and rosette ornamentation. Once again, it is possible to visit this place in a Day Trip tour starting from Amman / Desert Castle day trip.