The palace of Mshatta is located on the border of the desert in Jordan (about 25 km south-west of Amman). It is generally dated to the late Umayyad period (the reign of Walid II) although an Abbasid date has also been suggested.
The palace consists of a large square enclosure with four semi-circular buttress towers. Outside the enclosure are the remains of a large bath house which has recently been excavated. The best-known feature of this palace is the southern facade which consists of a delicately carved stone frieze incorporating animal and plant motifs within a geometric scheme of twenty giant triangles (this facade is now in Berlin). Internally the building is divided into three longitudinal strips of equal size; only the central strip (running north-south) was developed, and contains within it the entrance, the central courtyard and the audience hall. The area immediately inside the entrance has only foundations to mark the positions of rooms which were arranged symmetrically on either side of a central axis. This consists of a narrow vaulted passageway leading to a small square courtyard, on one side of which is the small palace mosque. This courtyard opens on to a large central courtyard (including a rectangular pond) at the other side of which is the heart of the palace. This consists of three iwans. the central iwan leading to the throne room (audience hall) and the side iwans leading to housing units (buyut - pl. of bayt) either side of the audience hall. The audience hall consists of a triple-apsed room covered by a large brick dome.
The importance of the palace for architectural historians is that it combines western (Roman and Byzantine) elements with features derived from the art of the Sassanians. The decorative frieze at the front of the building is one of the best examples of this combination. The vine leaves and naturalistic depictions of animals resembles Byzantine art although the decoration also includes popular Sassanian motifs such as the senmurv, a dragon-like mythological beast, and griffin. The most significant eastern feature of the design is thought to be the way the geometric pattern of giant triangles dictates the nature and space of the more naturalistic ornament.
Other eastern features found at Mshatta include the use of brickwork for vaults and the layout of the palace which resembles that of early Islamic buildings in Iraq (cf. Abbasid palaces at Ukaidhir and Samarra). However, Byzantine elements are also present, most notably in the basilical arrangement of the approach to the triple-apsed room and in the motifs of the stonework.