Positioned at the northern section of the upper level of the Jabal al-Qal'a in Amman, Jordan, it is speculated that this Umayyad Qasr served as the regional administrative center from 720 to 750 AD. The complex incorporates an audience hall, four vaulted assembly rooms, and a colonnaded road. Outside of its walls to the southeast, yet still an extension of the site stands a palace bath, mosque, and cistern. It complex was probably built during the reign of Umayyad Caliph Hisham, between 724 and 743.
The palace compound is approached from a large piazza to the south and accessed through an impressive gateway complete with stone benches that flank the entrance, which leads into a grand reception hall. Constructed of two varying sizes of limestone, the builders used sizeable masonry from structures previously extant on the site to assemble the lower section of the hall with slender and longer cut stones layered over them. The reception hall is formally organized as a cross with a central courtyard-like area, off of which are four equidistant rooms. Pointed, barrel-vaulted corner chambers flank the southern room of the cross and might have been used as waiting areas to enter the complex. The central area is 10 meters square; it is uncertain as to whether it remained covered or open. The entrances to each of the rooms from the central area are all arched, the north and south being barrel-vaulted and the east and west having semi-domes.
These interior sections of the audience hall were richly adorned with stuccoes and other paintings depicting geometric patterns and leaf motifs of Sasanian influence. Structurally, two layers of stone measuring one meter high and two meters long form the walls, over which stands a ledge and then another band of masonry both of the same elevation. The band of stone supports a blind arcade that extends the course of all the rooms and consists of a total of 106 niches. Above this runs a dog-tooth relief with a ledge over it that extends into the west, north, and east rooms, and to the east and west walls of the southern room.
Upon leaving the reception hall through an exit in its northern room, one enters a courtyard across from which runs the colonnaded street. The street itself extended thirteen columns long and it is probable that a wood constructed roof had covered its arcade. The street and the courtyard are flanked to the west and east by six suites (three on each side) of residential rooms, each organized around three sides of a central courtyard. The suites to the west are still under excavation. While the rooms vary slightly in their dimensions, their general layout remains consistent.
Following the street to its conclusion one reaches the residential quarters of the Umayyad palace complex. Known as the Umayyad Residential Palace, it consists today of three buildings organized around a courtyard. Of the three, two are located to the east and were probably organized similarly to the suites of rooms mentioned earlier although little remains to discern their exact layouts. The third main structure encompasses a large barrel-vaulted hall that leads to the north into another small cross-shaped room with doors leading out of its four arched alcoves. It is speculated that this space acted as a throne room for the Umayyad governor. Behind this diwan, a terrace extends to the northern most part of the upper platform of the citadel. The main entrance to the hall is to the south and overlooks the courtyard with an iwan. To the south of the hall on either side of the hall, two rooms connect to back to the courtyard and the hall itself. To the west of these quarters extends an area largely unexcavated.
Creswell, K. A. C. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture, 169-173. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1989.
Rollin, Sue and Streetly, Jane. Jordan Blue Guide, 51-57. London: A & C Black, 1998.
Damgaard, Kristoffer. "Access Granted: The Phenomenology of Approach in Early Islamic Palatial Architecture." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 2, Number 2 (pp. 273-305), edited by Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2013.
Early Islamic palatial architecture displays certain identifiable and formalized characteristics that have been extensively discussed for decades now, and scholarship is gradually moving towards a coherent understanding of the intrinsic principles behind their conceptualization. One of the central principles in early Islamic palaces was the use of an axial approach as a structuring architectural principle. This axis was subdivided by physical demarcations that indicated increases in a given space’s social and symbolic importance. The assignment of value to space was based on proximity to the patron, and the architecture is designed to manifest this spatial hierarchy. This article explores the origin of this tradition by analysing the application and development of transitional devices in the late Umayyad palaces of Amman Citadel and Mshatta. By considering spatial composition as a subtle yet powerful means of stimulating a cognitive recognition of social hierarchies, and the movement between them, a number of pre-Islamic complexes are gauged as possible sources of inspiration for the early Muslim patrons. This includes the identification of certain features and concepts that not only are suggested to be common, deliberate and meaningful, but indeed are key to understanding how the late Umayyad rulers formulated a sustainable materiality of Islamic rule.
Keywords: Islam; Umayyads; approach; monarchy; palaces; royal cities