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Desert Place of Mshatta Facade

Desert Place of Mshatta Facade - Pergamon Museum

The Desert Place of Mshatta Facade

The Mshatta Facade is the decorated part of the façade of the 8th century, Umayyad residential palace of Qasr Mshatta, which was one of the Desert Castles of Jordan. The Mshatta Facade is a monument of early Islamic art and architecture, demonstrating early forms of the arabesque, millefleur and animals carved in relief. The decoration on the left side of the facade has many animals among the foliar forms, while on the right of the entranceway in the centre there are no animals.

The carved stone wall, in the Pergamon Museum, is only a small section of the full length of the facade, surrounding the main entrance. Most of the palace wall was undecorated and remains in its original place in Jordan. The facade belonged to the Mshatta palace, which was excavated about 30 km south of the Jordanian capital of Amman. It served as a winter residence during the Umayyad period. The building dates to 743 and unusual for the time, the main structures are built from burnt bricks resting on a foundation layer of finely dressed stone and carved stone.

The Desert Place of Mshatta Facade

Drawing of the reconstruction by in 1903

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 in 1840. The facade was a gift from the Ottoman Sultan to Emperor 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 moved and reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum. Unfortunately, it was seriously damaged during the Second World War during the bombardment of Berlin.

Desert Place of Mshatta Facade - Pergamon Museum

Arabesque

Arabesque is a form of artistic decoration consisting of rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, tendrils or plain lines, often combined with other elements. Foliate ornament typically uses leaves, derived from stylised half-palmettes, which were combined with spiralling stems. This art form usually consists of a single design which can be repeated as many times. The term “arabesque” is used by art historians to describe elements of the decoration found in Islamic art from about the 9th century onwards and European decorative art from the Renaissance onwards.

Qasr Mshatta

Qasr Mshatta is the ruin of a Umayyad winter palace, commissioned by Caliph Al-Walid II during his brief reign (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 its original place are much plainer. The ruins are located about 30 km south of Amman, Jordan, and are part of a string of castles, palaces and caravanserais known collectively in Jordan as the Desert Castles. The ruins of Qasr Mushatta consist of a square enclosure, surrounded by an outer wall comprising 25 towers.

There are many castles and palaces in Syria and Jordan that date from the Umayyad dynasty, the so-called “Desert Castles”. Qasr Al-Mshatta is one of the grander examples. They seem to have had many roles, probably including political and military control of the local area, and for entertainment and hunting.

Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four significant caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. The Umayyad dynasty ruled the caliphate, and Damascus was their capital. During the period of the Umayyads, Arabic became the administrative language. State documents and currency were issued in the Arabic language. Mass conversions brought a massive influx of Muslims to the caliphate. The Umayyads also constructed famous buildings such as the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque at Damascus.

Umayyad Desert Castles

The Umayyad desert castles, of which the desert castles of Jordan represent a prominent part, are fortified palaces or castles. Most Umayyad “desert castles” are scattered over the semi-arid regions of north-eastern Jordan, with several more in Syria, Israel and the West Bank (Palestine). The castles represent some of the most impressive examples of early Islamic art and Islamic architecture, and some are notable for including many figurative frescos and reliefs depicting people and animals, less often found in later Islamic art on such a large and public scale. Many elements of the desert palaces are on display in museums in Amman, in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum (decorations from Hisham’s Palace) and the Pergamon Museum of Berlin (the Mshatta Facade).

Reflections

  • Islamic frieze from a Desert Place in Jordan

The Desert Place of Mshatta Facade

  • Name:                    The Desert Place of Mshatta Facade
  • Created                  743
  • Original Location:  Amman, Jordan
  • Discovered:            1840
  • Culture:                  Umayyad
  • Material:                Stone
  • Dimensions:          5 metres high facade
  • Museum:                Pergamon Museum

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“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

– Aldous Huxley

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM Sources: Museum material and Wikipedia 

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