Approaching this two-story, rectangular palace invokes impressions of grandeur, as it is strategically located on a rise some fifteen meters above its neighboring wadi. This splendor is further reinforced by the vast and encompassing desert landscape that isolates Qasr Kharana from human settlement for several kilometers to the north, 12 km to the south, and 30 km to the west, leaving the eastern horizon vista extending unobstructed into the horizon. (Please see thumbnails for directional views.) The southern façade houses the main and only gate to the palace. The entrance is centrally located and stands encapsulated by two quarter-round buttresses. Three-quarter-round buttresses fortify each corner of the building while semicircular ones support the remaining facades at their center. In addition, bands of vertical openings run the course of the outer surface of the structure.
The austere presence of its exterior is complemented by the starkness of its internal organization. Two vaulted chambers that functioned as stables and storage areas frame the entrance hall of the Qasr at either side. The corridor concludes in a central courtyard, which is bordered by three suites of rooms on the ground level and five on the upper floor. The rooms on the second floor contain nearly all and certainly the most pronounced decorative detail in the building featuring stucco moldings, sculpted plaster roundels, and both closed and open arcades.
Lacking a bath and with a limited water supply (there is a shallow cistern in the courtyard), Qasr Kharana sustained temporary usage. While scholarship has suggested that Qasr Kharana might have served a variety of defensive, agricultural and/or commercial agendas similar to other Umayyad palaces in greater Syria, new research posits that it could be a product of Sufyanid rule where it's argued tribal political leadership prevailed. Such a hypothesis proposes that Qasr Kharana dates from the early Umayyad period (inscriptional evidence confirms a date prior to 710 AD) and functioned strictly to provide a private and protected backdrop for political meetings between tribal communities and government representatives from Damascus. The remote yet highly visible location, coupled with the layout and organization of the building, speak to such a use as Qasr Kharana contains groups of rooms whose differentiation is vaguely discernible, designated areas for stables and storehouses, and a meeting hall.
In relating Qasr Kharana to other Umayyad palaces in the region, it acts as a model as it is approximately one forth the size of many later examples. This indicates that it could have represented a formal standard for new and developing Islamic typologies, as later Umayyad secular buildings display refinements of architectural and decorative forms found at Qasr Kharana.
While today Qasr Kharana is extremely well preserved, contemporary restoration efforts have masked some of the original features, altering the spirit and initial intent of several of the rooms.
Creswell, K. A. C. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, 96-105. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1989.
Urice, Stephen K. Qasr Kharana in the Transjordan. Durham, North Carolina: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1987.