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Qasr al-Mschatta: The early Islamic desert palace of Mshatta, Jordan. Documentation and interpretation

The desert palace of Mshatta lies 30 kilometres south of Amman. The structure belongs to a chain of over thirty 'desert palaces' that stretch all the way to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, through Bilad as-Sham. The complex, attributed to the Umayyad caliph al-Walid ibn Yazid (known as al-Walid II), remained uncompleted after his assassination and is thought to have been severely damaged probably during an earthquake in the year 749.

The monument is one of the most important works of early Islamic architecture. A large part of the richly ornamented south facade was presented as a gift from the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II to the German emperor Wilhelm II and made its way to Berlin in 1903. The façade is a unique example of extensive stone-carved architectural ornamentation in the early Islamic period. Characteristic features and motifs from late-antique, Coptic, Syrian, and Sasanian models typify it as a synthesis and reinterpretation of the traditions of the Ancient Orient.

Now situated very close to the airport, the original structure has suffered badly from air pollution and the effects of weathering. The project is organized by a German-led team together with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and pursues several objectives. The Technische Universität Berlin has documented the structure in its entirety to clarify unanswered questions regarding its construction history, as well as digging soundings in the interior space, examining construction techniques, and documenting the approx. 5500 inscriptions and graffiti. As part of this survey, the façade in Berlin was also re-documented. Restoration work has been carried out on segments of the portal, load-bearing structural elements, and the outer wall. The Museum für Islamische Kunst is responsible for the art-historical analysis of the diverse imagery used in the ornament and conducted an archaeological survey in the surrounding desert region in December 2012, to place the buildings in its geographical and cultural context.

Partners: Department of Antiquities in Jordan, Technische Universität Berlin, Department of Construction History and Urban History, Museum für Islamische Kunst - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project management (TU): Prof. Dr. J. Cramer, Technische Universität Berlin, Department of Construction History and Urban History
Project management  and Project staff (Museum für Islamische Kunst): Prof. Dr. St. Weber, Director, Prof. Dr. C. P. Haase, PD Dr. U. Franke, Dr. K. Meinecke
Funding: German Research Foundation Bonn (DFG)
Restoration and conservation funding: Federal Foreign Office, Kulturerhalt-Programm (cultural preservation programme)
Duration: 2009 to 2013