In 1896 Alois Musil, a Czech explorer and Arabist, was cold by the bedouin of Madaba of some old palaces in the desert, adorned with columns, paintings and inscriptions. On his return two years later, he found Qasr at-Tuba, the largest and most remote of a group of desert residences built in the early 8th century under the auspices of the Umayyad caliphs.
Called Qasr (palace) in Arabic and castle in English, they are in fact neither, all are enchanting examples of early Islamic architecture, individual in style and materials; and all had an agricultural base.
The Umayyad caliphs and their governors doubtless relished an escape from Damascus to the unconfining desert, where they could hawk and hunt and race their Arab horses. But a more serious purpose underlay these buildings – they provided meeting places for contacts with the bedouin tribes of the desert, on whose support they depended.
Qasr at-Tuba, built in the time of Caliph al-Walid 11(743-44), consists of two equal enclosures making a double square. Only the north corner was completed but the outline of the whole complex is clear from the air. The walls are of three courses of stone with baked mud brick above, including the barrel-vaulted roofs. Stone was also used to frame the door arches. Musil found some fine stone carvings but these have disappeared, apart from one lintel now in the Amman Archaeological Museum.
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