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Qasr Amra is the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. It was built early in the 8th century (probably between 711 and 715) by the Umayyad caliph Walid I whose dominance of the region was rising at the time. It is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture.
The building is actually the remnant of a larger complex that included an actual castle, of which only the foundation remains. What stands today is a small country cabin, meant as a royal retreat, without any military function. It is most notable for the frescoes that remain on the ceilings inside, which depict hunting, naked women and, above one bath chamber, an accurate representation of the zodiac. These have led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of three in the country.
Qusayr Amra is most notable for the frescoes on the inside walls. The main entry vault has scenes of hunting, fruit and wine consumption, and naked women. Some of the animals shown are not abundant in the region but were more commonly found in Persia, suggesting some influence from that area. One surface depicts the construction of the building. Near the base of one wall a haloed king is shown on a throne. An adjoining section, now in Berlin's Pergamon Museum, shows attendants as well as a boat in waters abundant with fish and fowl.
An image known as the "six kings" depicts the caliph with the rulers of neighbouring powers—the Byzantine Emperor, the Visigothic king Roderic, the Sassanid Persian Shah, the Negus of Ethiopia and two others who are unidentified, possibly a Khazar or Turkic khagan and an Indian raja. Its intent was unclear until conservators in the late 1970s discovered the Greek word "NHKH", or nike, meaning victory, nearby. It was concluded that the "six kings" image was meant to suggest the caliph's supremacy over his enemies.
The apodyterium, or changing room, is decorated with scenes of animals engaging in human activities, particularly performing music. One ambiguous image has an angel gazing down on a shrouded human form. It has often been thought to be a death scene, but some other interpretations have suggested the shroud covers a pair of lovers. Three blackened faces on the ceiling have been thought to represent the stages of life. Christians in the area believe the middle figure is Jesus Christ.
On the walls and ceiling of the tepidarium, or warm bath, are scenes of plants and trees similar to those in the mosaic at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. They are interspersed with naked females in various poses, some bathing a child. The caldarium or hot bath's hemispheric dome has a representation of the heavens in which the zodiac is depicted, among 35 separate identifiable constellations.
It is believed to be the earliest image of the night sky painted on anything other than a flat surface. The radii emerge not from the dome's center but, accurately, from the north celestial pole. The angle of the zodiac is depicted accurately as well. The only error discernible in the surviving artwork is the counterclockwise order of the stars, which suggests the image was copied from one on a flat surface.
The frescoes in all rooms but the caldarium reflect the advice of contemporary Arab physicians. They believed that baths drained the spirits of the bathers, and that to revive "the three vital principles in the body, the animal, the spiritual and the natural," the bath's walls should be covered with pictures of activities like hunting, of lovers, and of gardens and palm trees.

See one fresco in WS-

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Additional Photos by Aleksandar Dekanski (dekanski) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 307 W: 125 N: 954] (6581)
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