Qusayr 'Umrah Is the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. It was built some time between 723 and 743, by Walid Ibn Yazid, the future Umayyad caliph Walid II, Whose dominance of the region was rising at the time. It is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture. Located beside the Wadi Butum, a seasonal watercourse, this desert establishment was both a fortress with a garrison and a residence/pleasure palace that comprises a reception hall and hammam (a bath complex with changing room, warm and hot rooms), all richly decorated with figurative murals.
The extensive fresco paintings of the bath building and reception hall are unique for Islamic architecture of the Umayyad period. The wall paintings depict bathing scenes, hunting scenes, Byzantine style portraits, crafts and trades, animals, among other motifs, and are accompanied by inscriptions in Greek and Arabic.
In 1985 Qusayr Umrah was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The building is actually the remnant of a larger complex that included an actual castle, meant as a royal retreat, without any military function, of which only the foundation remains. What stands today is a small country cabin. It is most notable for the frescoes that remain mainly on the ceilings inside, which depict, among others, a group of rulers, hunting scenes, dancing scenes containing naked women, working craftsmen, the recently discovered "cycle of Jonah", and, above one bath chamber, the first known representation of heaven on a hemispherical surface, where the mirror-image of the constellations is accompanied by the figures of the zodiac. This has led to the designation of Qusayr 'Umrah as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The bathhouse is also, along with examples in the other desert castles of Jordan, one of the oldest surviving remains of a hammam in the historic Muslim world.
Qusayr 'Umrah History
Qusayr Umrah was built in the 8th Century by the Umayyads as a fortress and place of residence. After construction was complete, it quickly became famous for being a pleasure palace with nightly parties. The castle also contained a Hamman and was adorned in non-religious wall paintings that reflected early Islamic life.The painting takes inspiration from pagan themes and Byzantine portraits but they have their own unique style which sets them apart from other periods. The building was originally attached to a larger castle which no longer exists. The site was re-discovered in 1898 by the Czech explorer Alois Musil.
The abandoned structure was re-discovered by Alois Musil in 1898, with the frescoes made famous in drawings by the Austrian artist Alphons Leopold Mielich for Musil's book. In the late 1970s a Spanish team restored the frescoes. The castle was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 under criteria and masterpiece of human creative genius,unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition and an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
Things to See at Qusayr 'Umrah
Along with the intriguing architecture of the building Qusayr 'Umrah is also famed for its wall paintings. Each wall painting in the castle depicts the life of the Umayyads with images of wrestlers, half-naked women, dog races and hunting. These paintings were a pleasant surprise to historians as they shed some light on the livelihood of the Umayyads.
The bath building still remains and is adorned with murals depicting local life during the 8th Century. In the changing room, visitors will find a painting with three blackened faces which is believed to reflect the three life stages.
The most famous painting on site is the Dome of Heaven; a map of the northern hemisphere sky located in the domed ceiling. The map includes the zodiac signs and is thought to be the very first map of the universe painted onto a curved surface.