April 25, 2020
Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi is situated in the Syrian Desert, about 80 Kilometers south-west of Palmyra. It is built in an oasis watered from a valley which feeds it during the rain seasons. Its site is significant for being located at the cross-roads of two significant routes of the Desert: the route of Homs-al-Jawf and the route of Damascus-Qaryatayn Palmyra, both are ancient routes connecting together the two wings of the Fertile Crescent (Jan, 1). Petersen states that the palace was constructed by the Umayyad caliph al-Wild in 728. The complex contains a palace, a bath house, mills, a courtyard and diverse hydraulic installations (237).
The palace is considered as one of the most comfy models of Umayyad architecture. The construction is built onto a pre-existing complex ascetic tower dating from the sixth century and is roughly square. The tower is erected of huge dressed stonework whereas the rest of the palace is made of mud brick on stone basis. There are residues of a box machicolation which might have been the example for the gateway at Qasar al-Hayar East positioned on top of the entrance to the tower (Petersen, 238).
The richest architectural part in the structure is the face of the palace’s doorway. The varied embellishment, forming an incessant wall cover from the stature of the gateway’s lintel upwards, is thick and does not leave any unfilled space. The firmly structured design is not masked by the variety of forms and the rich notion. The display of the attractive units on both sides of the perpendicular alignment is proportioned. The transitions from one ornamental unit to another are not free: on the contrary, the panes and arcatures are very forcefully bordered by horizontal bands. The horizontal partition of the wall surfaces plainly relates to factual or replicated architectural units (Talgam, 20).
The entrance of the Palace is through a large gate in the eastern frontage. There is a huge corridor provided with counters on each side, having elbow-rests and its ceiling is held by arcs. Above the huge rectangular entrance is an Arabic writing with the date of construction 727. Inside, the khan contains a chain of rooms around a colonnaded innermost courtyard (Petersen, 237). After passing over this corridor, one arrives ate the central courtyard of the Palace. This courtyard is square and gaping to sky. It is bounded by a porch on all sides. The porch’s capitals are of statured gypsum consistent with the Corinthian style and are of stone. The bases of the porch are like an angle whose margin ends with a half column (Jan, 13).
As Petersen indicates, the courtyard is a square formation with two prognostic wings to the east, on the side of the doorway. The southern wing of the exterior is a petite mosque with the mihrab in the middle of the south wall; the north wing has a water furrow against the wall and might have been a stable or animals watering point (237). Directly to the north of the palace, there is a bath house. This is a moderately small building containing a domed hall with counters around the side and three warm rooms. A strange feature is that a mosque was connected to the south side of the dressing hall (238).
Jan states that only two apartments are represented in the complex. Each one encloses a broad hall; its ceiling is held by a large arc. There are two openings on both sides of the hall: Two entrances linking with two closets close to the corridor, and two doorways, on the opposite side, linking with several closets. On getting into the hall, one remarks an illumination beam in stucco over the door (21). The ground floor is apportioned into six flats; each one encompasses several halls and chambers. They are fifty nine altogether with the exclusion of the Byzantine tower. Only two segments of the flats close to the corridor are exhibited in the renovated part of the palace at the National Museum of Damascus (14).
The decoration of the palace was loaded and as well incorporated floor frescoes, wall canvas imitating granite, carved and tinted wood facings, a metaphorical painting and some wall mosaics. Greater significance was directed to the decoration of both sides of the frontage of the palace’s doorway and to the east wing, which was most likely the executive area of the palace (Talgam, 19). Jan adds that the adornment also included carved wood which were gilded and colored. These were presented in one of the showcases and the pieces are alleged to be the most ancient and the most significant of what were left over of the Umayyad Period. In addition, there are animal, human and flowery ornamental designs. The beautifications in stucco are the most plentiful, in wide diversity and the richest (16).
Petersen argues that the domed entry set between two half-round towers is the most inspiring attribute of the structure. The lower segment of the adornment is large panels of vegetation set in arithmetical outlines. Above this is a smaller set of panels containing vegetal ornament within diamonds, circles and squares. Over the panels is a chain of blind niches with irregular sharp and round arches. The inside of the gatehouse over the doorway was most likely a splendid pitched reception hall adorned with frescoes (238). The pair or towers and the part over the entry are identified as a single unit, in spite of the disparities in their decoration. This is due to the permanence of the horizontal bands and the upper arcatures along the front’s whole length. Another important aspect in the organization of the frontage adornments was the placement of metaphorical reliefs mainly in the upper parts of the building (Talgam, 20).
Decorations of the walls of the palace were also very unique. They were decorated with regions of curvy designs in red and black colors. The adornments of the walls comprise diverse examples which give an impression of the beautification of the other halls. There is a white region over these colored designs which might have been adorned with human themes. After the white zone there is a region in brick color, and then a new white zone decorated with flowery patterns. The angles of these closets are ornamented with a stylish design by using brick-red color. This design is in the form of a candlestick resting on the fudging (Jan, 21).
Talgam indicates that the artists entrusted with beautifying the palace concentrated mostly in the decoration of the palace. The beautification of the bath-house was rather plain and incorporated a few stucco grills, frescoes replicating marble paneling and real marble paneling in the hot rooms. A few stucco adornments were also set up in the volley which, besides its major function, it also served as a leisure area (19).
The whole structure of the palace depended on water system eventually obtained from a dam which was at a distance of 15 kilometers from the palace. There were two major canals, one leading to the palace and bath house and the other leading through a boiler to the courtyard, some mills and then a vast rectangular field having a system of small irrigation channels (Petersen, 239). The dam was constructed before the arrival of Islam, but was mended when the palace was built. The dam holds its water in a lake of 1550 meters long by 800 meters wide (Jan, 7).
The Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi palace was one of the most significant palaces in Syrian Desert. It is very unique to its location and the artistic work. The entrance to this great palace is the most important segment of the palace. It is decorated with different styles that have symbolic meanings. The complex structure comprising the entrance, the courtyard, the bath house and the palace is regarded as the richest model in history of Umayyad architecture.
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