1. The Ummayad castle of Quseir `Amra, on a desert caravan road and
100 km. east of Amman, Jordan, was built sometime after 711 A.D. Its
interior frescoes represent the largest collection of early Islamic
wall paintings. The castle was originally protected by a small
square fortress and a watchtower on a nearby hill. The building had
three parts: a detached hydraulic center (a deep well, pump room for
an animal-driven pump, and water storage tank), an audience hall,
and connected to it a bath. Water was used to satisfy the thirst of
travellers, to supply a caldarium, and supply an air freshening
system in the audience hall.
2. Quseir `Amra castle audience hall interior. Two transverse arches
divide the audience hall into three naves of equal width - a design
that is not Byzantine, but Sassanid, although Byzantine influences
can be seen in some of the grape-vine frescos. It is possible that
Quseir `Amra was the castle of the Amir Walid II (743-44 A.D.),
noteworthy for his love of wine, music, and dance. The amirs
were Arab military governors set up by the Ummayad dynasty as it
expanded in defense of the Rightly-Guided Community (a struggle
called the jihad).
3. Audience hall transverse arch fresco from Quseir `Amra castle.
Female holding a plate of food for a feast. The audience hall was
evidently much used for feasting, but the feast served an
essentially political purpose, for it helped draw the warrior élite
to its aristocratic leader, the amir, by creating
opportunities for direct personal contact and for jpgt exchange.
Walid may have cultivated his reputation as a lover of wine, women
and song for its political benefits.
4. Quseir `Amra fresco. In the audience hall is this fresco of a
woman reclining on a sofa and wearing bracelets and torques. Her
right hand seems to be welcoming visitors to the feast. This would
be a familiar theme in both Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean world.
At the left, Victory presents her with a wreath, suggesting she
enjoyed some political importance (Walid II divorced his wife to
pursue the beautiful Salma, but her family would hear nothing of
5. Quseir `Amra castle fresco on northern arch: a flute and a lute
player who are accompanying a beautiful dancer, not seen here. Other
pleasures are displayed: a hunt, lovers embracing in an erotic
posture; dancers and courtesans. These frescos show the influence of
Late Roman art, but they also are likely to be political propaganda
very much aimed at the present, for feudal political bonds were
based on an appeal to private interest, and in the desert, Quseir `Amra
must have seemed a paradise to the warriors who visited it.
6. Quseir `Amra castle fresco: detail from a desert hunting scene in
which beaters drive the game into a net. Sassanid cultural
influence, which was profound in this region, associated hunting
with royalty. A local amir might not have realized the ideological
implication of hunt scenes. The area outlined in white shows the
condition of the fresco before it was cleaned of soot.
7. Quseir `Amra castle. Fresco of a bathing women at the edge of her
tub, standing in a Venus pose. She is assisted by a servant and
watched by courtesans on the balcony. Off to the right are male
wrestlers and gymnasts. In pastoral societies, women were often
elevated to a status equal to that of their consorts. Later on in
Moslem society, due to the influence of the Sassanid tradition,
women were placed under special protection and secluded.
8. Quseir `Amra castle fresco of camel carrying dressed stone from a
quarry. Most of the frescos reflect an aristocratic world and its
political environment. Represented in the frescos are the Byzantine
emperor, Visigothic King Roderick of Iberia, the Negus of Ethiopia;
Shah-an-shah Khrosroes of the Sassinid Empire; and perhaps a Turkish
Qan and the Huang Di of China. In contrast, the relatively
unsophisticated Carolingians of Western Europe at the time were only
aware of those neighboring peoples who directly affected them. Some
32 frescoes, on the other hand, reflect the work of artisans: the
quarrying and trimming of stone in a quarry, the transportation of
the stone by camel caravan, and the laying of stone to build a wall.
Also shown are blacksmiths, carpenters and masons. It is often said
that feudal society tended to see a positive value in labor, while
in the ancient life, its representation was often merely a rural
idyl or meaningful only as the social environment of a political
power. Like the feudal notion of labor, the jihad, which
combined alienation from home (social reproduction), and struggle
(personal development), was a means of personal salvation.
9. Quseir `Amra castle. Detail of a fresco in the tepidarium. The
subject is probably from the myth of Dionysius. Evidently more than
one artist was at work, for the castle's mosaics reflect somewhat
different styles. This one is more classical in its subject and
aesthetic, and probably reflects the influence of Nabattaeans, who
conveyed Hellenistic techniques and iconography to the Byzantine
cities of the Decapolis. The taste for neo-hellenism may reflect the
Moslem aristocracy's attempt to gain political legitimacy through an
association with Romanitas, but at the same time opposing
the contemporary expression of that ethos by the Christian Byzantine
empire, whose relation with the Ummayads was antagonistic.