The Umayyad Palaces are spread throughout the greater Levantine countryside in what today extends into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. While providing the earliest example of secular architecture in Islam, the Umayyad palaces have generated animated discussion relating to their function and the date of their patronage. Insufficient textual evidence from the Umayyad period prohibits a thorough analysis of these sites. However, the number of buildings still extant and quality of archaeological evidence is extremely helpful for studying the desert palaces.
Comparable to the roman villa, the Umayyad Palaces were primarily country settlements that often incorporated a bathhouse, residential areas, a mosque, an irrigation system that could sustain agricultural activities and sometimes other facilities such as a khan. With their use of stone and brick, mosaic and carved stucco, the palaces marry Byzantine and Sassanian influences in their decoration and building materials. It is speculated that they were not used as permanent shelters, perhaps functioning as stations on a Caravan route, or as administrative outposts. Commissioned by the princes of the Umayyad Caliphate, who would in turn become Caliphs, these estates might have provided a meeting point to maintain political connections with tribal communities.
Creswell, K. A. C.1989. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press.
Grabar, Oleg. 1973. Islamic Secular Art: Palace and City. In The Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1-44, 139-78.
Grabar, Oleg. 1993. Umayyad Palaces Reconsidered. In Ars Orientalis, Vol. 23. Gülru Necipoglu, ed. Ann Arbour: Department of History, University of Michigan.
Ars Orientalis is sponsored by the University of Michigan Department of the History of Art and the Freer Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian Institution. This journal is an annual volume of scholarly articles and book reviews on the art and archaeology of Asia, including the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. It fosters a broad range of themes and approaches, targeting scholars in diverse fields. Occasional thematic volumes are published.