Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jordanian architectural treasures in Berlin Museum

Arabic and English information carving on stone block in Jordan
Bird`s eye view

Qasr Mshatta is the ruin of an Umayyad winter palace probably commissioned by caliph Al-Walid II (743-744). The ruins are located approximately 30 km south of Amman, Jordan, north ofQueen Alia International Airport, and are part of a string of castles, palaces and caravanserai known collectively in Jordan as the Desert Castles. Though much of the ruins can still be found in the Jordan the most striking feature of the palace, the Mshatta Facade, has been removed from the site and is on display in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The complex was never completed.

Old Photo of Qasr Mshatta 1903
with Jordanian Baudouin (right)

The facade of Qasr Mushatta now located in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum

In 1904 the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid  gifted palace decorations to William II Caesar of Germany and this is the reason for the existence of the facade in Berlin.

There are a large number of castles and palaces in Syria and Jordan that date of the Umayyad dynasty. In 1964 a brick was found at Mshatta with an inscription on it written by Sulaiman ibn Kaisan. Kaisan is known to have lived between 730 and 750 CE which lends further evidence to the theory that Caliph Al-Walid II commissioned the construction. His was the first of four short reigns of Caliphs between 743 and 750, after which the Abbasid dynasty came to power and moved the capital from Damascus, near the palace, to Bagdhad. If work had not already been abandoned, it no doubt was at that point.


The Mshatta Facade
The Mshatta Facade is the decorated part of the facade of the 8th century Umayyad residential palace of Qasr Mshatta, one of the Desert Castles in Jordan, which is currently installed in the south wing of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. It is part of the permanent exhibition of the Pergamon Museum of Islamic Art dedicated to Islamic art from the 8th to the 19th centuries.

The facade belonged to the Qasr Mshatta or Mshatta palace, which was excavated about 30 km south of the contemporary Jordanian capital of Amman. It is thought to have served as a winter residence and storage halls during the Umayyad period. The building of the palace probably dates to the era of the caliph Al-Walid II (743-744). After Al Walid was murdered, it was left incomplete and later ruined in an earthquake. The sections of the outer wall remaining in situ are much plainer.
Unusually for an Umayyad building, the main structures are built from burnt bricks resting on a foundation layer of finely dressed stone; the carved facade is also in stone. The name of the place, Mshatta, is a name used by the modern Bedouins in the area, and the original name remains unknown.
The remains of the palace were excavated and discovered in 1840. The facade was a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. A large part of it was brought to the then Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bode Museum) in Berlin in 1903. It was reconstructed as a 33 metres long, 5 metres high facade, with two towers, and parts of a central gateway. In 1932 it was reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum. It was seriously damaged during the Second World War and the bombardment of Berlin. Today, it is one of the most important exhibits of the Museum für Islamische Kunst in the Pergamon Museum, and a key monument of early Islamic art and architecture, demonstrating early forms of the arabesque and also animals carved in relief.



The ruins of Qasr Mushatta consist of an outer wall made up of 25 towers as well as a small central tract of rooms. These rooms included a throne room, courtyard and mosque.The rooms occupy a central tract within the walls. The southern side contains the entry hall and mosque which was situated to faceMecca. The southern side contains another small gate that leads to the courtyard. The north side of the central tract contains the residential section of the palace. The residential building was a three-bay hall which led to the domed throne room. Surrounding the throne room are a group of apartments covered by wagon vaults and ventilated with concealed air ducts. The main gate of the palace faced south and had a carved stone facade now known as the Mshatta Facade. While the facade has now been removed the rest of the site can still be visited in Jordan, though little of what were probably once lavish decorative schemes remain.


Isometric view 

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