Qasr Amra , often Quseir Amra or Qusayr Amra, is the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. It was built early in the 8th century (probably between 711 and 715) by the Umayyad caliph Walid I whose dominance of the region was rising at the time. It is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture. The building is actually the remnant of a larger complex that included an actual castle, of which only the foundation remains. What stands today is a small country cabin, meant as a royal retreat, without any military function.
It is most notable for the frescoes that remain on the ceilings inside, which depict hunting, naked women and, above one bath chamber, an accurate representation of the zodiac. These have led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of three in the country. That status, and its location along Jordan's major east-west highway, relatively close to Amman, have made it a frequent tourist destination.
Qasr Amra is located on the north side of Jordan's Highway 40, roughly 85 kilometres (53 mi) from Amman and 21 kilometres (13 mi) southwest of Al-Azraq. It is currently within a large area fenced off in barbed wire. An unpaved parking lot is located at the southeast corner, just off the road. A small visitor's center collects admission fees. The castle is located in the west of the enclosed area, below a small rise. It is a low building made from limestone and basalt. The northern block, two stories high, features a triple-vaulted ceiling over the main entrance on the east facade. The western wings feature smaller vaults or domes.
Traces of stone walls used to enclose the site suggest it was part of a 25-hectare (62-acre) complex; there are remains of a castle which could have temporarily housed a garrison of soldiers. Just to the southeast of the building is a well 40 metres (130 ft) deep, and traces of the animal-driven lifting mechanism and a dam have been found as well.
One of the six kings depicted is King Roderick of Spain, whose short reign dates the image, and possibly the building, to around 710. For a long time archaeologists believed that sitting caliph Walid I was the builder and primary user of Qusayr Amra, but recently doubts have been cast. Now it is believed more likely that one of two princes who later became caliph themselves, Walid II or Yazid III, are more likely candidates for that role.
Qusayr Amra is most notable for the frescoes on the inside walls. The main entry vault has scenes of hunting, fruit and wine consumption, and naked women. Some of the animals shown are not abundant in the region but were more commonly found in Persia, suggesting some influence from that area. One surface depicts the construction of the building. Near the base of one wall a haloed king is shown on a throne. An adjoining section, now in Berlin's Pergamon Museum, shows attendants as well as a boat in waters abundant with fish and fowl.
On the walls and ceiling of the tepidarium, or warm bath, are scenes of plants and trees similar to those in the mosaic at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. They are interspersed with naked females in various poses, some bathing a child. The caldarium or hot bath's hemispheric dome has a representation of the heavens in which the zodiac is depicted, among 35 separate identifiable constellations. It is believed to be the earliest image of the night sky painted on anything other than a flat surface. The radii emerge not from the dome's center but, accurately, from the north celestial pole. The angle of the zodiac is depicted accurately as well. The only error discernible in the surviving artwork is the counterclockwise order of the stars, which suggests the image was copied from one on a flat surface.