JORDAN ARCHITECTURE / Ch.2 of the Architectue of the MIddle East / Takeo Kamiya /

Jordanese arch.

Chapter 2
(with the State of Palestine)


On this website, the "Architecture of Jordan" has now been relocated from the division of 'Gallery of World Architecture' into the newly created division of 'Architecture of the Middle East' in the site of the "Architecture of Islam", and it includes the State of Palestine (the areas of the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip). As Gaza has little to see architecturally, instead I am inserting here for reference Kafarnaum (Capernaum) and Ramla, both located in the territory of Israel, in order to better understand this area's architecture. However, the main site is Jerusalem, which is the common 'Holy City' for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Although Palestine was the general term for the southern part of 'Greater Syria', it came to be used more to indicate Arab people who live in the region of Palestine, distinguishing from Jewish people after the founding of the country of Israel in 1948, and the area in which they resided came to be called the Palestine district, distinguishing from the country of Israel. After the four Arab-Israeli Wars, the Palestine Autonomous Region was established and in 1988 it declared itself to be an independent state. Though it made East Jerusalem its capital, since Israel effectively rules the whole of Jerusalem, the State of Palestine is obliged to make Ramala, 10km north of Jerusalem, its temporary capital.

Most countries in the world have approved this 'State of Palestine', recognizing Tel Aviv, Israel's second largest city facing the Mediterranean, to be the capital of Israel, and putting their embassies there. Japan also does not acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Map of Jordan
Location of Jordan Hashemite Kingdom

However, the U.S. president Trump abruptly declared in 2018 that Jerusalem was Israel's capital, and moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv, giving cause for more conflict in the Middle East. The addition of the pages of State of Palestine and the whole of Jerusalem to the chapter 'Architecture of Jordan' on this web site contains a meaning of protest to Trump. Adding the great museum city of Jerusalem has resulted in the diminution of ratio of Islamic building in this chapter in contrast to the increase of Christian and Jewish ones.
As I wrote in the chapter 'Architecture of Syria', most of the land facing the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea was called Syria from ancient times, which included not only the territory of the current Syrian Arab Republic but also Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, occasionally southern Turkey too. In order to distinguish from the modern state of Syria this broader historical area is sometimes referred to as 'Greater Syria'. Since Jordan is a region culturally (architecturally) continuous to Syria, its historical vicissitude is almost the same as that of Syria from the ancient Roman era until modern times.

The country name Jordan derives from the River Jordan that was widely known since the epoch of the "Old Testament". The western half of its territory, along the river, is a fertile land where agriculture is practiced, while the inland eastern half is mostly desert. Though the West Bank of the Jordan, including Jerusalem and Jericho, was a territory of Jordan from 1950, it was occupied by Israel through the Six-Day War in 1967. It became the 'Temporary Autonomous Region of Palestine' in 1993, and then it applied to the United Nations for admission as the State of Palestine in 2011. Many countries and the UN have now recognized it as a state or a quasi-state, but the conflict between the state and Israel dies hard.

Map of Jordan
Map of Jordan Hashemite Kingdom


Most Jordanian architectural legacies, such as those in Jerash in the Roman era or in Petra in the Hellenistic age, are located in the western half of Jordan, while a series of buildings known as 'desert castles' or 'desert palaces', built in the epoch of early Islam under the Umayyad dynasty, are scattered around the desert area. They are always mentioned in books as the earliest works in the history of Islamic architecture. In Syria too, at places not far from Palmyra are similar remains of old edifices called Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi and al-Ghalbi (Al-Hayr Palace East and West).

The most amazing site of Jordanian historical architecture must be Petra. Walking through a narrow passage called 'Siq', looking like a rift in the rock mountain more than one kilometer long, one comes out abruptly in front of a huge Hellenistic temple-like edifice, which is not a masonry work but sculptured on a rock surface of sheer cliff, like rock-cut temples of ancient India. After being staggered by it, one further walk to the center of the ruined city, staring at surrounding rock mountains carved of numerous temple-like cave tombs. When visiting there, I was excited as much as at my first visit to the cave temples at Ajanta and Ellora in India.

As for the medieval and early modern architecture of Jordan, since it has not a great 'museum city' like Damascus or Aleppo in Syria, there are unsatisfactorily not so many important monuments to be noted. However, as for the field of contemporary architecture, Jordan embraces the actively working architect, Rasem Badran (1945- ), who is considered the successor of the Egyptian Hassan Fathy, attracting more attention to Jordan rather than Syria from Europe and America.

Jordan  Jordan
Townscape of Amman & Young Girls in Amman

(March 01, 2015)


Since a super museum city is added to this chapter of Jordan now, architectural legacies of ancient, medieval, and modern ages have all been extremely enriched. I refer to the holy city of Jerusalem. I felt a little difficulty in discussing its historical remains where Islam, Christianity and Judaism are intricately intertwined.

Historically, the southern half of the Greater Syria has been called Palestine, where Muslims, Jews and Christians have peacefully coexisted. When reflecting that Jewish people were persecuted and massacred by the Nazis, I do feel supportive of the founding of the new state of Israel for Jews after World War II, but it is problematic that at the next stage, those Israelis themselves came to oppress the previously residing Palestinians, changing coexistence into conflict.

It is almost the same as in South Asia and Africa that the root causes of confusion and instability of the Middle East were the imperialism of the great powers of Europe and America and their competition to obtain colonies. The issue of Palestine was brought to the fore four times in the Arab-Israel Wars, in which Israel militarily won overwhelming victories with the support of the U.S.A, but it morally puzzled the world.

Townscape of old Jerusalem

Jerusalem has a history of 4,000 years, or it is also said 5,000 years, and now is a large city with a population of about one million. Most of the architectural pieces to see are concentrated in the old city area encircled with city walls, which was the whole city till the mid-19th century. It is quite small in size and the current large urban area outside on the west is the Jewish people's region, and on the east is the Arab people's region, which is the nominal capital of the State of Palestine. The majority of contemporary architectural works can be seen in the western region.

The derivation of the name Jerusalem is Arabic 'al Salaam', or a definite article 'al' plus 'Salam' meaning Peace; the all-purpose Arabic greeting 'As-salaam alaykum' means 'Peace be upon you'. However, the city was not able to have peaceful periods frequently, rather spending most of its time in disputes, occupations and destructions.

The origin of the city is said to have been a settlement of Semitic people at the lands called Canaan in about the 30th century B.C.E. The Hebrew Kingdom was established there around 1000 B.C.E, the greatest king of which was the second king, David, who founded its golden age and made Jerusalem his capital. Even now Israelis often call it the City of David.

Herod's Temple
A Model of Herod's Temple (In the Islaer Museum)

The third king, Solomon, erected the 'First Temple' (Solomon's Temple) on Mount Moriah, from which the history of this city cannot be detached. Later the 'Second Temple' (Herod's Temple) was constructed on the same 'Temple Mount'. Furthermore, on this mount was built the Aqsa Mosque on the place where Muhammad is said to have made the 'Night Journey' from Macca in legend, and was also built the 'Dome of the Rock' on the sacred rock, on which the prophet Abraham had been ready to sacrifice his own son Isaac in the "Old Testament", and from which Muhammad is said to have ascended to Heaven mounting the celestial horse Buraq in "Hadith".

In addition to this important Islamic monument, there stands, in the city, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the hill said to be Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, which has also been the stage of destructions, pillages, reconstructions, and conflicts of Christian sects. Other buildings of the three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are too numerous to be mentioned.

Holy Land

In this chapter of Jordan, I have put some examples of lithographs drawn by David Roberts (1796-1864), a Scottish painter, from his renowned book "Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia ", the lithographs of which were made from his water color paintings based on his sketches during his journey to Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt from 1838 to 1840. The three extra-large volumes, which are 63 centimeters long, were published by Francis G. Moon from 1842 to 1849. The smaller reprinted editions were published several times, of which the one in my possession is "THE HOLY LAND, 123 Colored Facsimile Lithographs and The Journal from his visit to The Holy Land" 1982, Wellfleet Press, New York, 34cm-360pp.

(December 01, 2018) _


JERASH (Gerasa)

Remains of the City, 1st -4th c.

Although the valley of Jerash is said to have had people inhabiting from remote antiquity, it was in the epoch of the 'Pax Romana', in the age of Trajan, the Roman Emperor from 89 to 117 C.E., to have developed from a small village to a prosperous city, constructing many public facilities. The city, the ancient name of which was Gerasa, was one of the 'Decapolis', or the league of ten Greek colonial cities in southern Syria. After having suffered a great earthquake in the middle of the 8th century, it declined and fell into oblivion. Long afterward, the ruins of Jerash was excavated by American archeological team from 1923 to 34, and the full view of this prominent Roman city came to light.

Forum & Cardo, 3rd c.



In the southern part of the city is a large elliptic square (Forum) surrounded by a magnificent colonnade with capitals of the Ionic order. A city's central square was called Agora in Greece and Forum in the Roman Empire. It was the focus of urban life as well as the main place for government and religious festivals. The English 'forum' as the venue for public debates was derived from this word.
Though it took a spontaneous irregular shape in early times, it became an impressive regular square since the later stage of the Republic of Rome.
From here extends the central colonnaded street to the north. Usually a Roman city was planned with a grid pattern of roads based on the two intersecting main streets, which were referred to as Cardo Maximus and Decumanus Maximus.

Hadrian's Triumphal Arch & Amphitheater, 1st -2nd c.


As Hadrian's Triumphal Arch is located on the south of the city, it was certainly the gateway for the return in triumph to the city.
There were two amphitheaters on the north and south of the city. This indicates the cultural maturity of Jerash (Gerasa). The southern one is said to have been erected around 90 C.E. and have admitted about 5,000 spectators.

Artemis Temple & Nymphaeum, 2nd c.


This is the Roman temple dedicated to Goddess Artemis. Since it was destroyed by crusaders, its roof was lost, but twelve tall columns in the Corinthians order remain. Although Nymphaeum is primarily a temple enshrining a half goddess of springs, Nymph, this site seems to have been used rather as a place of relaxation. It is said to have been built in 191, with a gorgeously decorated apse.


PETRA (Wadi Musa)

Remains of the Nabataean City, 1st c. BC- 4th c.

Petra (now called Wadi Musa) was the capital of Nabatean Kingdom, which flourished around 2,000 years ago. It was annexed to the Roman Empire in 106 C.E. by the emperor Trajan, becoming the state capital of Arabia. Its central part was constructed through the 2nd and 3rd centuries and innumerable cave tombs were excavated on the surrounding rock hills.
Although most of its masonry buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake in 363, many cave tombs have survived in half broken conditions, transmitting ancient rock architecture to us along with Ethiopia following India. After the rediscovery of its ruins in 1812, British archeological team prosecuted the excavations and inquiries, and the lithographs of the remains of Petra in the great book entitled "The Holy Land” drawn by David Roberts who visited there in the middle of the 19th century, mesmerized Europeans.

Al Khazneh, 1st c. B.C.E.



Al Khazneh (Pharaoh's Treasury) is said to have been excavated by the Nabataean King Aretas IV in the 1st century B.C.E. It is the most famous remain in Petra as an architectural rock-cut monument. When one goes from the entrance of the whole ruins through a long narrow passage between sheer rock cliffs, so-called Siq, it suddenly appears at the end. Its dramatic effect is great along with its large scale, 28 meters wide and 43 meters high. Its function is supposed to have been a funeral shrine.

Plan  Petra

City Center, 1st c.

Jordan  Petra

The central part of the city is a flat area like a basin surrounded by rock mountains, having a colonnaded street, around which were many public stone buildings.


Rock Carved Tombs, 1st c.


On the sheer cliffs of the east (El Kubtha) ern rock mountains (El Kubtha) are huge rock-carved tombs, so-called Palace Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Silk Tomb, and Urn Tomb, from north to south.


Al Deir (The Monastery), 1st c.


At the deepest west point of Petra soars the isolate rock-cut monument of 'Al Deir' (The Monastery). It is proud of the largest scale in Petra, though the dexterity of its details are inferior to El Khazneh. which is at the most east point of Petra. It has Nabatean style capitals and entablatures, differing from the Roman style. It seems to have been used as a monastery in the Byzantine era.




Tombs of Absalom & Zachariah, 1st c. BC


In Jerusalem, the so-called 'Vale of Kidron', east of the Temple Mount, is also called the 'Valley of Kings', for it was believed that ancient Israel kings, such as David and Solomon, had been buried here. It is interesting to find many rock-cut tombs and rock-carved monuments like those in India. It is said that they were made in the 2nd or 1st century B.C.E.
The Tomb of Zachariah on the south shapes a simple pyramidal roof, which is the regular form of ancient noble Jewish tombs. This was made as a piece of 'rock carved architecture' rivaling those in India and Ethiopia. It is a continuous mass of rock from ground to the top, having been carved from top to bottom on a rock mountain side just as in India. Christians consider this as the tomb of Zachariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the baptist.

The form of the tombs on both sides of Zachariah's could be influenced by Egyptian cave tombs. The right side one is said to have been the tombs of Bene Hesir family, a wealthy merchant. This is fronted with two round columns, looking as if having shallow depth, but actually, with many tomb chambers behind as caves. Tunneled flight of steps connects its front space to the tomb of Zachariah.

Plan of rock-cut tombs in Jerusalem
(From "Sacred City of Jerusalem" by Sadao Sekiguchci, 2003)

A freestanding tomb tower at a short distance to the north is supposed as the tomb of Absalom, son of King David, with a peculiarly curved conical stone roof on an ornamented cubic rock on the spot. This formation, though not large, attracts people's interest along with the Dome of the Rock.
It has a small tomb chamber at a high position inside. On its rear is a cave tomb having a facade with a gable roof, from which flight of steps leads to the underground tomb chamber.


-- Reference (in ISRAEL) --

Synagogue, 3rd, 4th c.


Since Solomon's Temple was destroyed three times, there has been no Jewish temple (worship hall), and only assembly halls of Jews have been constructed everywhere. They are called 'Synagogues'. The oldest one remains in Kafarnaum (Capernaum in English) in Israel. It is said to have been built in the 3rd century and rebuilt in the 4th century. Kafarnaum was a Roman army post 3 kilometers north from the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) in the Roman Empire.
As Jesus propagated in Galilee based on this town, he might have preached in this synagogue too. The town fell into ruin in the 10th century along with the synagogue. According to the plan of excavation, it was a great basilical hall with 24 meters in depth in the Galilean style, with no apse but benches along east and west walls. On its eastern next was an Atrium (courtyard) surrounded by cloisters.

Plan of the Synagogue at Kafarnaum (From "Ancient
Synagogues Revealed" by the Israel Exploration Society, 1981)


City Gates, City Wall, Citadel (David's Tower)



Since the second King of ancient Hebrew, David made Jerusalem his capital and brought the golden age in the 10th century, Jerusalem was also called the 'City of David'. and also the western citadel area neighboring Jaffa Gate is called the 'David's Tower'.
After the third King Solomon constructed the Temple (first temple) on the eastern Mount Moriah, the place has been called 'Temple Mount', enclosing wall of which continues to the then city wall. The current city wall and city gates are not ancient Jewish structures but those constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman dynasty during 1534 to 1540 on the whole.

The ancient city wall was destroyed by the Persian Sassanians, then repaired by Umayyads with Byzantine method. Such actions were repeated by Crusaders, Fatimids, Mamluks, and Ottomans. The current old city area is divided into four quarters conforming to religious separations: Muslim quarter, Christian quarter, Jewish quarter, and Armenian quarter.
The citadel adjoining the Jaffa Gate originated in the fortress erected by Jewish King Herod in the 1st century B.C.E. on the west of the city. As there was a David's palace there according to a legend, this citadel came to be called 'David's Tower'.
Among the eight city gates, the most magnificent one is the Damascus Gate on the north. It functions as the main entrance to the old city area, going into the boundary of Christian quarter and Muslim quarter. Although a part of the gate is very old as erected by Roman emperor Hadrian in the 1st century, most of it were from the 16th century, while the Golden Gate on the east, which can directly leads to the Temple Mount, has been long closed, holds better preserved figure.

map of Jerusalem

Architectural map of the old city of Jerusalem



Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 335

Jordan     Holy Sepulchre
Plan of the Holy Sepulchre、(left: original state, right: current state)
(Left from Henri Stierlin "Architecture de l'Islam, 1987)
Lower right: conjectural drawing of the Jupiter Temple supposed
to have been constructed by Hadrian on the hill of Golgotha,
over which St. Sepulchre would be built later.

Jordan  Holy Sepulchre

The Roman Empire officially recognized Christianity in 313 and established it as the state religion in 350. Meanwhile the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great constructed a church on the hill of Golgotha, where Christ had been crucified, including a Rotunda enshrining St. Sepulchre on the west and a five-naved basilical church of Resurrection (Anastasia) on its east across a courtyard, and dedicated them in 335.
While it was repeatedly divested by the Islamic army and regained, the Basilica was completely lost and the Rotunda was half destroyed. The remains have been restored, reconstructed and enlarged so many times, and now it is called the 'Church of the Holy Sepulchre' being administered communally by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Church, Coptic Church, and so on. This is the most sacred site and the place of pilgrimage for all Christian sects.

Its southern facade, which forms the current entrance, is only remains of the reconstructed church in the Romanesque style in the Crusader's era in 1009/10 (dedicated in 1149) after the destruction by the Fatimid dynasty.

Church of the Nativity, 4, 6, 11, 12, 19th c.
Plan of the Church, indicating the black first construction
in the 4th century, and the purple reconstruction in the 6th century.
(From "The Beginnings of Christian Art" by Andre Grabar, 1967)

Bethlehem, now a suburb of Jerusalem, only 10 kilometers south, is said to have been the native place of Jesus. Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was built at what is called the stable where Maria gave birth to Jesus. The cave of that place was found in the 2nd century and Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantin, constructed there an octagonal edifice like the Jerusalem's Rotunda in the 4th century. In front of it was built a five-naved basilical church just like Jerusalem's Anastasia, dedicated in 339.

After the period of its devastation caused by riots, the octagonal edifice was lost, instead the Byzantine Emperor Justinian erected a large trefoiled (triconque) chancel in the 6th century. The trefoiled chancel was popular in the ancient Roman or Egyptian churches and also in later Romanesque churches in the Rhine region in Europe.
Although the Church of the Nativity was repaired many times and current building is the one modified in the Crusader's age, but in general it holds well the ancient style of the early Chrsitian era, differing from the Church of St. Sepulchre that was exhaustively altered.



Cathedral , 4th c.


In Jerash there are 15 churches, most of which were built in the 6th century. The catheadral is said to have been built in the latter half of the 4th century in the then general basilical style as an early Christian building. The most conspicuous building architectually is the entrance gate to the cathedral. Its opening is not arched but spanned with a lintel, which is actually a horlizontal arch constituting three pieces of stone.


Mosaics of the Church of St. George, 6th c.


When thd Greek orthodox church of St. George, located 35km southeast of Amman, was reconstructed in 1896, fine mosaic drawings in a great scale were discovered on its floors. They depict maps of Jerusalem during the Byzantine-Umayyad period and others of Palestine. About one fourth of original mosaics are preserved. Madaba became known as the 'City of Mosaics' in Jordan.



Rock of the Dome, 7th c.

JordanDome of the Rocl

Next to Macca (Mecca) and Madina (Medina), the third important sacred city in the Islamic world is Jerusalem, and the monument symbolically standing there is the Dome of the Rock.
There is the Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, called the 'Noble Sanctuary' (Haram al-Sharif). It is also called the 'Temple Mount' where was once erected the Jewish Temple of Solomon. In the Umayyad era it had long been a ruined space since the Temple was destroyed by Rome during the Jewish War in the 1st century. There was an exposed rock on the ground, which is itself the legendary Rock (al-Safra), from which Muhammad went to the heaven on horseback of Burak.

Abd al-Malik, the fifth Khalifa (Caliph) of the Umayyad dynasty considered this rock as a sacred relic and ordered to cover it with a dome to be a splendid monument representing Islam. It became an Islamic octagonal round edifice resembling a Christian martyrium.
Since it was the first Islamic monumental building, and the Islamic style had not yet established, it adopted largely the technique of Byzantine architecture. The edifice decorated with brilliant mosaics must have fascinated followers as if symbolizing the heavenly paradise. Along with its golden dome it actualized a centripetal monument in the Islamic world.


As for the architectural composition, the deep resemblance between the Dome of the Rock and the nearby Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been pointed out: being a rotunda with double ambulatory, their diameter is 20.4 meters, having a sacred rock in the center, and opposite the rotunda is a basilical worship building (one is the Church of Resurrection and the other is the Aqsa Mosque).
In short, the Dome of the Rock was under the deep influence of Syrian art and architecture from the architectural concept to ornamentation. It is surmised that specialists from architects to mosaicist of preceding civilizations were invited.

See for more details the article “Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem” in the division ‘Masterpieces of Islamic Architecture’ on this website.

Al Aqsa Mosque, 7 c.

JordanAqsa Mosque

Site plan of Mount Moriah (Temple Mount)
(From "Architecture de l'Islam" by Henri Stierlin, 1979)

On the opposite to the Dome of the Rock stands the basilically planned Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was first constructed during 705 to 709 by the 6th Khalifa, Walid I, the son of Abd al-Malik, who had built the Dome of the Rock. It is the 'Farthest Mosque' depicted in the Koranic verses 17 the Prophet Muhammad's 'Nocturnal Journey'. It underwent many times reconstruction, enlargement, diminution, and damage by earthquake in the long time. Its Mihrab and Minbar were lost by incendiarism in 1969. The original appearance is kept only at the space in front of the current Mihrab and on several columns.

Nevertheless, since there was not the Walid I's mosque in the age of Muhammad, the underground part (in green in the above plan) is identified as the 'Old Aqsa Mosque'. The stairs on the left of the letters 'Al Aqsa mosque' leads to the underground floor.
It is considered that Walid I arranged the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque face to face in following the way of the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the same city. The mosque is said to have taken the current figure in 1345 to 1350 after six times of reconstruction. It has a huge scale to make possible 3,000 people's worship at the same time, and yet it has no minaret or courtyard, anomaly comparing later large mosques.

Plan of the Aqsa Mosque in the Umayyad era. (15-nave type)
 (From "A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture" by
K.A.C. Creswell, 1989, Scolar Press) The qibla wall might not have
coincided with the southern periphery wall of the Temple Mount.

In the period of the Crusaders, the Dome of the Rock was converted into an Augustinian Christian church, and the Aqsa Mosque into the palace of Baurdouin of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. K.A.C. Creswell presumes that before then (Umayyad period) the Aqsa Mosque was twofold wide (15 spans, twice of current 7 spans) according to descriptions of al-Muqaddasi (945/6- 991) and others.
As for such wide and deep mosques, I can recall only the Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali.
Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo has 17 spans, though the direction of beams is different, but its depth is much smaller, regarded as 'Damascus type'. The plan of the Aqsa Mosque forms 'T type', putting stress on the central nave and the row of three arched arcades along the Qibla Wall, with a dome on its crossing. Such 'T type' mosques would be widely used in Maghreb (cf. "Great Mosque of Qairawan"). It was in the age of Fatimid dynasty (909-1171) the Aqsa Mosque was reconstructed in the current scale.



Desert Castl, 710

JordanQasr Harana

There is a series of buildings called 'Desert Castles' from the age of the Umayyad dynasty in the desert valley of Wadi Boutm. Among them a small castle, Qasr al-Kharrana, took the form of the classic style of Roman army posts erected in the end of ancient times and still remained in the eastern boundary region. This Umayyad square planned edifice with circumferential round towers followed the defense system that had been introduced into the Arabian region by Roman army.
It is descended from Roman army town (Castrum) enclosed with ramparts. It has a courtyard in the center, connecting two residential stories. The vaulting method and arches on three pilasters might be under Sassanian influence. The form of arch-type corner squinches under domes are quite interesting.

Although it was regarded as a desert palace or a base of agricultural operation, it seems to have actually been a caravanserai. Nowadays one can easily visit it through a fine highway in a desert from Amman to Saudi Arabia via Qusayr Amra.



Desert Palace, 715

 alt=Qusayr Amra

The Qusayr Amra, 80 kilometers east of Amman, is the oldest existing building for bathing in the Islamic world. 'Qusayr' means a small Qasr (Castle) and this Qusayr was built in 715 in the age of the Khalifa Walid I (r. 705-715). It resembles the bath building of al-Anjar, Lebanon, in plan and plain walls, being one of the facilities for agricultural operation in the 'Fertile Crescent' region, which is now a barren desert.
The Qusayr Amra includes an audience hall, hot bathing room, and a furnace, accompanying outside a well of 40 meters deep. Its external appearance of half sylindrical vaults and domes, as if expressing its internal spaces as they were, can be said as an architectural work of functionalistic formation, contrasting with Qasr al-Kharrana's single cuboid.

Its interior walls and ceiling are filled with frescoes, which depict a bathing woman in the nude, noblemen, musicians, along with a hunting scene. Though paintings and sculptures of creatures were strictly prohibited in Islam as idolatry, in the Umayyad age of early Islam, the character of Islamic architecture had not been established, figurative expression was succeeded from preceding civilizations. This bathing woman can be a dancer, judging from surrounding people looking at her.

Qusayr Amra

-- Reference (in ISRAEL) --

Jami'a el-Abyad (White Mosque) & Cistern, 716


Ramla is not to be confused with the temporary capital of the 'State of Palestine', Ramala. Though Ramla is a little west of the State of Palestine, it is located in Israel, so this place is written as a referential item.
The city of Ramla was established in 716 by the 7th Umayyad Khalifa (Caliph) Sulaiman, who constructed there Abyad Mosque (White Mosque). The mosque was based on a Damascus-type plan with a long and narrow worship hall put to the Macca side. It was considerably destroyed by a heavy earthquake and Crusaders. When David Roberts visited here to draw it in the middle of the 19th century, only a small part of the worship hall and a minaret remained. The minaret, also called 'White Tower' was originally a military tower erected in 1318 by Mamluks and converted into a minaret in the 16th century.

The site of the Abyad Mosque was thoroughly excavated in 1948. At the center of the precincts of 93 meters by 84 meters is an underground great water cistern, which was constructed in the 8th century by Harun al-Rashid. It is 9 meters deep and its four vaulted ceilings are supported with two storied arcades of 15 cruciform columns, without any ornamentation.

Cistern   Cistern
Plan of the underground cistern
(From "A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture"
by K.A.C. Creswell, 1989, Scolar Press)


Khirbat al-Mafjar, c. 744


The palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar was probably constructed by the 10th Umayyad Khalifa Hisham (r.724-743) through 739-744, 20 years after the Qusayr Amra. Through many times of enlargement, the palace became an aggregate of several blocks. The first part on the south was a square of side nearly 70 meters surrounded by ramparts with semicircular towers on its each side. The principal scheme was directly modelled after fortresses transplanted into Syria, Palestine and Arabia regions by Rome.

Plan of Khirbat al-Mafjar, or Khalifa Hisham's palace
(From "Architecture de l'Islam" by Henri Stierlin, 1979)

On the second phase, an enormous magnificent Bath Hall was added in a classic style. Its grand square hall is supported with 16 pillars and equipped with floor heating. There are three continuous round apses on each wall and various Roman style bathrooms on the north. Its vaulted ceilings are higher up at center.
Its floor is covered with mosaics in geometric patterns like a carpet, while on the floor of the Audience Hall, mosaics depict creatures (lions and gazzelles) under a tree, very famous as an early Islamic pictorial art.



Umayyad Palace, 8th c.


In the palatial complex in Amman remains a building of cruciform plan that is inscribed in a square, called Reception Hall by Creswell. It has two entrances with slightly pointed arches and vaults and an orthogonal pair of iwans face to face. The central space is considered to have been surmounted with a dome. The iwans resemble those of Sassanid throne halls. Inside of walls overall have decoration with small pilasters and niches, reminding us of the Palace of Ctesiphon.
Although it has long been thought to be a work of the Ghassanids of the 6th century before Islam, but now it is considerd as a Umayyad palace in the 8th century.


(The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem)


Crusader's Castle, 1161


While Crusader's castles remain most in Syria, there are also some in Jordan. That of Kerak de Moab keeps best the figure at that time, disregarding not so well as that of Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. Moab is the ancient name of the region adjoining ancient Israel, and originating in Moab, the son of Lot in the Old Testament.
The Kerak (castle) of Moab was constructed between 1142 and 1162 by Payen, a liege of the Kingdom of Jerusalem established by Crusaders. Though it was proud of impregnability, it was sieged by the army of Saraf al-Din into the fall in 1188. As it became a stronghold of Islam side after that, it mingles a Crusader's church and Mamluk mosque together in its precincts.


St. Anne Church, 1140

JordanSt. Anne

This is only one Christian church that Crusaders erected in the city of Jerusalem, though it is now located in the Muslim quarter. It is a Romanesque church dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of St. Maria.
While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre became a bit vulgar due to surplus adornment by various Christian sects, this church has few decorations like Cistercian monasteries made with sole austere masonry. In this tranquil church, not only devotees but also tourists stay in deep silence, falling into a mood of prayer.



Crusader Church, 1141

JordanAbu Ghosh

At Abu Ghosh, 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem, stands a Romanesque church, which is the best preserved among those built by Crusaders. The village of Abu Gosh was identified with Emmaus in the Gospel according to St. Luke, where resurrected Jesus is said to have appeared.
The church was built on a crypt over a fountain in 1141 when the Hospital Knights occupied this village. Like St. Anne Church in the city, it is well restored chaste church, reminding us of Cistercian monastery due to its austerity. It is administered nowadays by a French monastic order.



Grand Hussein & Abu Darwish Mosques, 20th c. BC


Although there are many mosques in Amman, Jordan, most people of which are Muslims, there are none of especially important ones in the history of architecture. Here I show two conspicuous mosques from the 20th century: Grand Hussein and Abu Darwish Mosques.
The former stands in the old city of Amman, also called al-Husseiny Mosque, built in 1924 by the first King of Transjordan age, Abdullah I (1882−1951). It has two Ottoman-style minarets on both sides of Mamluk-style worship hall. It is said to have originally been the Cathedral of Philadelphia built in the Byzantine era, which was later reformed into a mosque in 640 in the age of the Rightly Guided Khalifas, but it is not certain how much the ancient vestiges had been retained till the 20th century.

The latter Abu Darwish Mosque stands on the highest hill among the seven in Amman, al-Ashrafiya Hill, most attracting public eyes among Amman mosques. It is a new mosque erected in 1961 in a strange formation with stripes of two-colored stones, etc. as if being conscious of Gaudi's architecture. It is said that a person named Abu Darwish (Mustafa Hassan) , born in Abhasia in Georgia in 1903, grew in Syria, then settled himself in Jordan, proffered the piece of land and money to build the mosque and even designed it himself. The two-colored stripe must have been influenced by Syrian architecture. The height of its single minaret is 36 meters.



Israel Museum, 1965


The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of the largest museums in the world, exhibiting from archeology to modern art, the history and culture of the Jew, as well as a huge restored model of the Herod's Temple in the open air. It was designed by the Israeli architect Alfred Mansfeld, (1912-2004), who was a Russian-born Jew, studying architecture in Germany and France, where he was a disciple of Auguste Perret. He came to Israel at the age of 23, since then he designed many edifices and taught in universities.
His most important work is the Israel Museum well planned as the great aggregate of square unit spaces. Overall, it is a typical box-shaped piece of modern architecture, slightly lack of artistic attractiveness. The display in each unit is excellent.

Shrine of the Book, 1965

JordanShrine of the Book

In contrast to the main buildings of the Israel Museum, it is the Shrine of Book that attracts strongly our attention by its unique form in the same premises of the museum, a pavilion to exhibit the 'Dead Sea Scrolls' that is said to be one of the most important archeological discoveries in the 20th century. Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew manuscripts, the Old Testament. found in the Qumran Caves in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea. The pavilion for these manuscripts was designed collaboratively for 7 years by a Jewish-American all-round artist, Frederic John Kiesler (1890-1965) and an architect, Armand Phillip Bartos (1910-2005).
The two-thirds were buried underground, exposing only a white dome on the ground as if floating on a pool. Its expressive form of the dome is said to have derived from the lid of the pot, in which the scrolls had been found.
In this completion year 1965, Kiesler received a gold medal from Architectural Institute of America and he died in this year's end at the age of 75.

ScrollsA Dead Sea Scroll

Ramot Polin Housing Complex, 1972-75

JordanRamot Polin

Zvi Hecker is a Jewish architect, born in 1931 in Cracow, Poland. After studying architecture in the Cracow University of Technology, he migrated to Israel and study under Alfred Neumann in the University of Israel Institute of Technology, with whom he later launched an architectural design office together. After further study in the Avni Institute of Art and Design and military service, he started practice in 1960, being able to get plenty of work in the newly founded county Israel. He became widely famous through the work of the Ramot Polin Housing Complex.
Its geometric design is constituted with 720 twelve-hedron housing units based on a pentagon like a beehive. It seems mysterious formation, but it actually repeats the front pentagonal balcony, without a roof, of each unit up to five stories. It must have been the tough work to actualize such a complicated construction. Since I have not yet visited here, I borrow photographs from websites.



Al-Iskan Bank Building, 1982

Jordan  ALIA bldg

Although a high-rise building with 21floors in the new city area, on the northeast of Amman, is now called Al-Iskan Bank Building, it was previously called ALIA Office Building Complex, including the Government Housing Loan Corporation, the headquarters. Although in current Amman are many skyscrapers of 200 meters-high class, in the 1980s to the 90s this 98 meters high building was the highest in Jordan and played the role of a symbol of the capital city, even if I could not reach the name of the architect. It is said that the design competition of this building was hold in the end of the 70s by designated six American design offices (NBBJ, Gensler, HOK, WZMH, SOM, WATG) without getting a good result.
Instead of a banal rectangular boxed building, this has attractive appearance, consisting of irregularly piled stepped balconies with vegetation.

Rasem Badran

Works and Theory, 20th c.


Worldwide known architects from the Middle East would be Zaha Hadid from Iraq and Rasem Badran from Jordan. The latter was born in 1945 in Jerusalem as a son of a Jordanian traditional craftsman and received an education of architecture in Technical University of Darmstadt, West Germany. He has been striving to introduce the tradition of Islamic architecture in the Middle East into contemporary architectural design.
As a result he is considered the successor of the Egyptian modernist architect Hassan Fathi, and a book of his works was published from Thames & Hudson in London in 2005. His role in architectural society is similar to that of Balkrishna Doshi (1927- ) from India. He won the Agha Khan Prize in 1995 for the design of the Grand Mosque of Riyadh.


Visual books that both specialists and amateurs can enjoy


THE UMAYYADS, The Rise of Islamic Art
"Written by Mohammad al-Asad et al., 2000, Electa & Museum
with no Frontiers, Vienna, paperback 21.5cm-224pp.

A good guidebook about the early Islamic architecture of the Umayyad period in Jordan. All figures are printed in color though small. this is one of the series of "International Museum with no Frontiers Exhibition Cycles" [Islamic Art in the Mediterranean], under the assist of the Ministry of Tourism of Jordan.


Written by Iain Browning, 1973,
Chatto & Windus, London, 25cm-250pp.

Although a little old, this is a classical notable book on the Roman ruins of Petra, Jordan, a visual book with more than 200 monochrome pictures and drawings. It presents not only the story of the city and its people, but also an exceptionally clear account of its monuments and scenic splendors. A companion volume to this is "Palmyra", both of which has hardback and softcover editions.

Dome of the Rock

Written by Oleg Grabar, 1996, Rizzoli, New York, 31cm-125pp.

A large beautiful photographic collection of the Dome of the Rock by Said Nuseibeh in color, with an essay written by Oleg Grabar. Especially it records all the mosaic murals inside. A companion volume to this book is "The Shape of the Holy, Early Islamic Jerusalem" also written by Oleg Grabar more scholarly about the Dome of the Rock and the city of Jerusalem.


THE NEW JERUSALEM, Planning and Politics
written by Arthur Kutcher, 1973, Thames and Hudson, London,
1975, MIT Press, Cambridge, 23cm-128pp.

Arthur Kutcher is an architect and was a pupil of Vincent Scully in Yale University. He, likely having taken part of the planning scheme of Jerusalem, made a lot of attractive drawings with freehand lines on the survey and analysis of Jerusalem's history and the status quo. Despite lack of special offerings of its urban planning, it is pleasant to see those drawings of Jerusalem. Vincent Scully wrote the foreword.

(December 01, 2018)

© Takeo Kamiya
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