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Essay: The Umayyad qusour (the desert palaces)

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The Umayyad qusour also known as the desert palaces are structures built during the first Islam caliphate. Some conspicuous researchers like Cresswell 1969, Hamilton 1988 and Hillenbrand 1982 for the most part dismiss these Qusours as hunting lodges or pleasure palaces. Some different researchers (Almagro 1992 and Addison 2000a) however contend that the structures are intercessions of the scene. The Abbasid caliphate, which lasted from 750 to 1258, succeeded the Umayyad caliphate, which lasted from 661 to 750. The focus of the cultural and Islamic political life moved eastwards to Iraq from Syria where Baghdad, which is considered as the circular city of peace, was made the capital. The purpose of this research is to get more information about different palaces during the Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties. The research buttress the fact that the Umayyad dynasty came before the Abbasid dynasty and there are differences in the architectural design of the palaces. Grabar, 1963 referred to the Umayyad as “Palace” and the Abbasid as “Revolution”


The desert palaces otherwise called Umayyad Qusour are structures that were raised amid the primary administration of Islam. They were built for the capacity of gathering region, homes, and government organization for the main Islamic caliphate center and retreats. The auxiliary remains can still be found in Jordan, Syria and on the West Bank. An example of the remains is that of the Umayyad Great Mosque situated in Damscus, Khair Al-Sarqi, Jabel Sais and Khair al-Gharbi palaces in Syria. Another precedent is that of the Umayyad remains in Isreal/Palestine, which was recently exhumed, called Dar al-Idara. (Alhasanat Et Al, 2012)

The Abbasid caliphate, which lasted from 750 to 1258, succeeded the Umayyad caliphate, which lasted from 661 to 750. The focus of the cultural and Islamic political life moved eastwards to Iraq from Syria where Baghdad, which is considered as the circular city of peace, was made the capital. Later on, the Abbasid established another city, which was located at the northern part of Baghdad and called it Samarra, which is an abbreviation of “He who sees it rejoices”. Samarra became the capital for a short period of time from 836 to 83. (Blair, 2011)

The Umayyad Dynasty

There were an aggregate of seven palaces known as Azraq, Amra, Haranah, Muwaqqar, Umm al Walid, Mushatta and Qastal that were arranged in a straight line and deliberately situated in a way that they would all be able to see one another and protect each other if there should be an occurrence of any assault. All the desert palaces were arranged near a water source. (Alhasanat Et Al, 2012)

Some conspicuous researchers like Cresswell 1969, Hamilton 1988 and Hillenbrand 1982 for the most part dismiss these Qusours as hunting lodges or pleasure palaces. Some different researchers (Almagro 1992 and Addison 2000a) however contend that the structures are intercessions of the scene. The idea underpins that fact that the Umayyad was built for an extremely useful reason since it was an enduring wellspring of water bolster and very utilized exchange and travel routes.

One of the groups of palaces is ‘Desert Castle of Jordan’. This group emerges on account of their intricate design/size and they were developed over a time of 30 years. Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was situated inside a bound by Syrian Republic toward the north, toward the west is Palestine, toward the South and East is Saudi Arabia and toward the east is Iraq. The zone adds up to measure 89,000 km and the castles are generally invigorated secular shape. (Alhasanat Et Al, 2012)

Wadi Sirhan was famously known as an unmistakable trade route from Arabia toward the Eastern Mediterranean world for a huge number of years, which is on account of the whole 140 km lasting water source and this urge dealers to exploit this route (Parker 1987).  Travellers come all the way from Kufa and Madina to al-Jauf to take advantage of the water source for stocking up water for their journey and getting water for their animals. Azraq oasis is at the northwest end of Wadi Sirhan and oasis od al-Jauf is at the south end. Travellers go through Wadi Sirhan to Azraq which is a temporary rest location before they proceed in their journey.

Qasr al-Tubah and Qasr al-Mushatta

They were both constructed in the mid 700’s AD under the support of Caliph Walid II ibn Yazid. They were built with mud blocks, marble, cutting edge auxiliary design and they additionally had a similar architectural design around then which is the motivation behind why they are grouped together.

Qasr al-Tubah was built before Mushatta judging from the remaining parts when they both got deserted. It is situated toward the end of Wadi al-Ghadaf, which is one of the route explorers take from Wadi Sirhan. Qasr al-Tubah is furnished with three extremely deep wells, a water framework, which is unordinary for that time, and vast pools which were utilized to water domesticated animals. It may have been set in Wadi al-Ghadaf late as per the development proof in light of the fact that from Azraq, they fanned out southwards continuously watching each other of the outlets from Wadi Sirhan. (Alhasanat Et Al, 2012)

Fig 1: Qasr al-Tubah

Qasr Mushatta then again is situated between Qasr al-Muwaaqqar and Qasr al-Qastal which positioned it inside the line of site of the communication network. It is outfitted with 30 storages, an arrangement of pools and shower complex outfitted with huge channels. More points of interest stay obscure on the grounds that the Qasr was relinquished empty which has made it hard to decide more specifics about the inside. Qasr Mushatta assumed an extremely noteworthy role in the finish of the watch system of the Umayyad qusour.

Fig 2: Qasr al-Mushatta

Qasr Burqu

There was an engraving on Qasr Burqu, which recommends that Romans constructed it in 708 AD in the third century and it is the only human home within miles away. (Luck, 2018). It likewise makes reference to the fact that it was enhanced and remodeled from the old Byzantine building that it used to be. The lake is the main area that has all year watering place situated in Jordan (Northeastern badia). The lake swallowed the northwest-facing wall on account of how much water is streaming in that area. It is assessed that the zone is more than 400 kilometers square. One noteworthy issue that the lake confronted was occasional variance of water level in the lake. (Luck, 2018).

The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) has reported that they have plans to change Burqu into a nature reserve to ensure the creatures and the memorable site is protected. A portion of the uncommon species that were sited in the lake was a sand cat, which has just been spotted four times since 1960. (Namrouga, 2017)

The lake is said to be transient flying creature’s shelter and speaks to the Kingdon’s last Oasis, which has crisp water for creature and adjacent residence survival (Namrouga, 2018).

Fig 3: Qasr Burqu

Qasr Jabal Sais

This is the second watering point on the edge of harra. The first is Qasr burqu and it is believed that both palaces were constructed by Abd al-Malik. Jabal Sais was constructed for the same reason Burqu was constructed but the structure is more typical to the later structures of the Umayyad. There was a volcano activity towards the northwest of the Qasr. The volcano created cracks and faults in the structure which allowed water to escape from the lake. The lakes and springs has receded in recent decades because of the drop in the water level in the Middle East. There was a modern reservoir to the East of the volcano but it is now used for water harvest. Between the modern reservoir and the lake is an earlier reservoir, which is now dry. This is because as the water level dropped, the spring that supplies the reservoir dried up (Alhasanat et al, 2012)

Fig 4: a Qasr Jabal Sais. b. Where Jabal Sais, the volcano and the two lakes are located

The Abbasid Dynasty

The first three centuries of Abbasid rule were a golden age in which Baghdad and Samarra’ functioned as the cultural and commercial capitals of the Islamic world. During this period, a distinctive style emerged and new techniques were developed that spread throughout the Muslim realm and greatly influenced Islamic art and architecture. (Petersen, 2009)

Back in the early days of Islam, they had no uniformity in the architectural structures because mosques were constructed in local styles or older structures. During the period of the Umayyad caliphate, the congregational mosque for Friday prayers in major cities like Medina, Jerusalem and Damascus, has been consecrated with a wide range of ancient architectural decoration/forms. All of these changed in the Abbasid dynasty. The Abbasid caliphate’s power and the growing role of ulama made the standard Friday prayer mosque change over a wide geographic area. Individual examples differ because of the use of different local materials (Blair, 2011)

Because of the defensive nature of the city Baghdad, their structure are circular in shape which is because it is cheaper to build and they do not want to have any weak corner point. All the entrances to the city were bent and all the wall were double walls. A massive defensive wall was later built during the twelfth to the thirteenth century of the Abbasid Caliphate, which was located around the eastern part of Baghdad to signify the boundaries of the city. The walls were secured with 4 gates but only one of them survived which was called the Bab al-Wastani (archnet,n.d)

Fig 5: Madinat al-Salam, the round city of Baghdad

The madrassa of al-Sharabiyya which was built by Sarif al-Din in 1230 is now known as the Abbasid palace, which is situated within a 430 Sq meters rectangular enclosure, dominated by a 9 meter high vaulted wall. The decoration (Brickwork) of the building is similar to that if Zummurud Khatun Tomband the surviving minerats belongs to the Jami. (archnet, n.d)

Palace of Ukhaidir

This palace is the best saved royal residence of the early Abbasid Era. It is situated toward the south of Baghdad. Every one of the sides of its enormous external fences had a circular pinnacle. Semi-circular towers were set in the middle of these corner pinnacles. Ukhaidir emerges among different palaces because it is saved in a very good condition. The greater part of other royal residences are just referred to as plans by researchers. A portion of the block vaults of the palace have been developed in complex patterns. The development of the royal residence has not been ascribed to a particular individual yet. However, researchers trust it was somebody who held huge riches and influence because of its tremendous scale and nature of development

Fig 6: Palace of Ukhaidir

Qasr al-‘Ashiq

This palace is situated on the western bank of Tigris, 16km west of Samarra. It was constructed under the patronage of Al-Mu’tamid, the 15th Abbasid Caliph during the period of 887 to 882. The person that constructed the palace is not certain as there are different accounts of who was assigned to construct the palace. Ali bin Yahi al-Munajam and Moez al-Dawla were mentioned by Yaqut al-Hamawi. The palace was referred to differently during the medieval period. It was known as al-Ma’shuq, meaning ‘beloved’. The palace was restored in 1980 after being excavated in 1960.

Qasr al-Ashiq is a good example of the surviving Abbasid style palace. The palace is two floors, is rectangular shaped building. One of the floors was utilized as a vault and catacomb. The building was secured with walls, which was surrounded by yards. Outside of the palace is a good water channel (moat) which is higher that that of the rivers nearby. (Samarra — Qasr al-Ashiq, n.d)

Fig 7: Qasr al-‘Ashiq

Some terms


Mughal and Indian term for roof with curved eaves. It looks like the traditional Bengali hut.


Iraq’s principal port.


This is an Arabic term for house. In Umayyad and Abbasid architecture it is used to describe the living units within palaces and desert residences.

Bayt ai-mal

This is an Arabic term for treasury, which literally means a house full of money


This is an Indonesian term, which means enclosed walls. This was used to describe the outer walls of the palaces in Java


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