After extensive restoration, the Umayyad desert palace, Qasr al-Mushatta, will be handed over to the Jordanian authorities

16.05.2014

Shared Heritage - a project for shared responsibility for cultural assets in Germany and Jordan

On 18 May 2014 - International Museum Day - the restored desert palace, Qasr al-Mushatta, will be handed over to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities at a formal ceremony attended by Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan. The hand-over will be performed by Stephan Steinlein, Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Dorothee Dzwonnek, General Secretary of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), and Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and will represent the Federal Republic of Germany’s contribution to the promotion of science, culture and tourism in Jordan. The project is run by the Technische Universität Berlin, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Department of Antiquities of the Kingdom of Jordan.

Qasr al-Mushatta lies 30 km south of Amman, immediately to the north of Amman airport. Built in the mid-8th century, it is one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture anywhere in the world.

The architectural decoration of the main facade is outstanding for its artistry and wealth of detail. Three quarters of the facade came to the Berlin museums in 1903, gifted by Sultan Abdulhamid II to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Today it is the highlight of the Museum of Islamic Art in the Pergamonmuseum (still housed in the South Wing until 2019). The rebuilding of the Mushatta Facade in the North Wing, scheduled for 2019, and the present restoration program in Jordan are part of a close cooperation between the two countries under the 'Shared Heritage’ project, a scheme for shared responsibility for cultural assets at two sites.

Although almost a million visitors have marvelled at the Mushatta Facade in the past year, its original site in Jordan has received little attention until now and was under considerable threat from looting and disrepair.

The extensive palace complex was destroyed by an earthquake as early the 9th century. In has been under restoration since 2009, the object of a jointly led German-Jordanian research and restoration project initiated by Günther Schauerte, Vice-President of the SPK, while he was still working at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The research project has received sponsorship of €850,000 from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, making it one of the largest in the region. Architectural research, archaeological excavations, geophysical, scientific and conservation studies, and materials analysis have yielded numerous new insights into the history of the complex and its extremely lavish interior decoration. In particular, the research has uncovered a hitherto unknown occupation phase lasting around half a century. Art-historical investigations demonstrate the development of a distinctively Islamic art, absorbing earlier models from classical antiquity and Christian art and transforming them into an artistic language which is new, though still imbued with the characteristics of late antiquity.

The restoration project was financed by the German Foreign Office as part of the cultural assistance programme and has a budget of around €500,000. In charge of architectural research and conservation is Prof. Dr. Johannes Cramer of the Technische Universität of Berlin.

Building on the results of the research project, steps have been taken to ensure the conservation of the Qasr al-Mushatta complex in the long term. For example, the preconditions have been met for it to be opened as a tourist attraction and to be included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. In addition, some of the arches from the main palace, which collapsed in the 9th century, have been reassembled from the original material, substantially increasing the 'readability’ of the whole complex. The repair of the 150m-long western outer wall and the restoration of the foundation walls, whose masonry had been looted, make the historical groundplan visible once more. A visitors’ information system and a lapidarium provide on-site information about the research project.

All the restoration work is being carried out by local staff, who are being trained on the project. This transfer of knowledge is laying the foundations for the project to be carried on independently by the Jordanian authorities. By coupling scientific research so closely with restoration, a model has been created for dealing with sites from antiquity whose heritage is shared between several states, which may be a useful example to follow for other sites.

The following institutions are participating in the project:

Antikenverwaltung des Haschemitischen Königreichs Jordanien

Auswärtiges Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Technische Universität Berlin

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Deutsches Evangelisches Institut für Altertumswissenschaft, Amman