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Syria

Images from The Syrian History:

Syria under the Umayyad and `Abbasids (7-11th c. A.D.)


The Ummayad era (661-750 A.D.)

  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 it).
 
  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.

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