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Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة) aka Qasr al Harrana, Qasr al Kharanah, Kharaneh, Hraneh

Qasr Kharana




Location: 60 km (37 miles) East of Amman, Zarqa Governorate   Map

Build: 710 AD by Caliph Walid I




Description of Qasr Kharana


Qasr Kharana (Arabic قصر خرّانة, DMG Qaṣr Ḫarrāna), sometimes also called Qasr al-Harrana, Qasr al-Kharanah, Kharaneh or Hraneh, is the best known and one of the best-preserved desert castles in Jordan, a number of small castles and fortresses eastern part of the country can be found scattered. Its location is about 60 km east of the capital Amman and in relative proximity to the Saudi Arabian border in the Amman governorate. Due to the visible influences of Sassanid architecture together with some graffiti in one of the upper rooms, it can be assumed that it was built in the later 7th century. It is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in the region.

The original use of the system is still unclear. Since the internal arrangement of the building does not indicate military use, the obvious term “castle” due to its external appearance is not an appropriate term for this building. There are slits along its outer walls that may remind you of embrasures, but they were definitely not designed for this purpose. The building, on the other hand, could have been a caravanserai or a resting place for traders, but there is no water source for this, which should normally be in the vicinity of such facilities. In addition, the Qasr Kharana is not on any of the region's major trade routes.

Regardless of its original use, the building is very well preserved. As it is not far from Amman and is located on a main road, it is one of the most visited castles in the Jordanian desert. Archaeologist Stephen Urice studied Qasr Kharana as part of his doctoral thesis and later published his findings in a book. Based on his studies, it was possible in the late 1970s to restore the decayed and weathered sections of the building.





Location and structure
The Qasr Kharana Desert Castle is located south of Highway 40, on one of the important links that connect Amman with the village of Azraq, the Saudi Arabian border and the remote areas of eastern Jordan, and with Iraq. The building was erected on a slight elevation, which rises 15 m above the surrounding desert, which is why the building can already be seen from afar.

A dirt road leads from the main road to a gravel area south of the entrance that is large enough to accommodate a few cars and several buses. The area is fenced at its southeast corner. Here is the main entrance to the facility, which is connected to a visitor center.

The building occupies a floor area of ​​1225 m². Its floor plan is square with a side length of 35 m, with the corners provided with small protruding round towers. The main gate, the only access to the complex, is located on its south facade. The central entrance is framed in two protruding, semicircular buttresses, which are connected at the top by a wide arch, which thus covers the entrance gate.

The walls are made of rough limestone blocks held together by a mud-based mortar. A decorative ornamental path made of flat stones, which form a zigzag pattern, runs along the upper third of the outer walls.

The building originally consisted of a total of 60 rooms, which are arranged on two floors around a central cream, in the middle of which a Houz, a rainwater basin, was created. Two vaulted chambers, which probably functioned as stables and storage rooms, frame the entrance hall of the Qasr on both sides. The corridor ends in a central courtyard, on which the rooms on the ground floor border on three sides. All rooms are grouped in so-called Bayts, which represent self-contained units that consist of a central hall, which are flanked on the right and left by two rooms that open to the central hall. Many of the rooms have small slits that let the light into the room and support ventilation. The rooms on the second floor contain almost all decorative details and are decorated with decorative pilasters, with striking stucco ornaments, medallions or with blind niches made of high-fire plaster. The construction of the building can be dated to before 710 by some graffiti in one of the upper rooms.

The Qasr Kharana combines various regional architectural elements with those that were influenced by the then new religion of Islam, which eventually led to a new, independent style. The shape of the fort is determined by Syrian architectural elements, which were, however, implemented using Sassanid construction techniques. It cannot be ruled out that the building was erected around 620 when the Persian Sassanids controlled the area; however, it is more likely that it was built in Umayyad times using Persian artisans.

The construction of the Qasr is inspired by the conception of Syrian houses, which in turn were influenced by late antiquity and Roman architecture. This is evident, for example, from the division of the rooms, each of which is arranged around a large magnificent room and which, like the entire building, has been arranged around the central courtyard. As with other buildings that have a Sassanid construction, the structure of the building system is supported by belt arches that are supported by a barrel vault.

On the sides, it was necessary to change the construction techniques slightly. The arches are not connected to the continuous wall here, instead they were placed on arms in the bed. These elements are held together by the total weight of the construction. Some newer building materials such as lintels were apparently used to make the building more flexible and more resistant to earthquakes.

There must have been stone entrances to the upper floors on all sides, as can still be seen inside the palace on the east and west sides of the courtyard. On the south and north sides there are also borders on the walls, which indicate that two wooden roofs must have existed.


In the rooms, the Islamic ideas of public access with sufficient privacy were implemented through narrow slits that allow a view to (and from) the outside. In addition, larger windows were installed on the inside and a northern terrace was designed to separate the two apartments. On the south side, a room was arranged out of the way because it was intended for prayers (salāt).

The slots in the wall look like embrasures, but were unusable for archers because they are too high and have an unfavorable shape. Instead, they served to regulate the amount of dust and the incidence of light; but above all they correspond to the two prevailing wind directions: the rooms were kept cool by differences in air pressure and the resulting venturi effect.

The desert castle was probably built during the reign of the Umayyad dynasty, at the latest during the reign of Caliph Al-Walid I, which ranged from 705 to 715. According to Stephen Urice, the building can be dated even earlier and may have been between 661 and 684, the early days of the dynasty. This suggests stucco work, which was typical for the decoration of Sassanid architecture and differs from all other Umayyad buildings that are dated to later periods. (The Sassanid Empire had perished in 651, but its culture had a significant influence on early Islam.) The Qasr Kharana is thus an important example of early Islamic art and Islamic architecture. Even dating to late Assanian times, as I said, is not out of the question, but is unlikely.

An inscription in the Umayyad script that refers to the caliph Al-Walid I was left in a room on the upper floor. They can be used to derive indications of the time when this section of the building was built, and this gives an indication that this room may have been used as a guest house. Due to the unusual nature of the dating, the authenticity of the inscription is controversial.

The Qasr Kharana may have served a variety of non-military, agricultural, and / or commercial agendas, like other splendid Umayyad buildings in Greater Syria. Due to the limited water supply, it is likely that the Qasr Kharana was only intended for temporary use. There are various theories about the function of the complex, which was used as a fortress, as a meeting place for Bedouins (among themselves or with the governor of the Ummayyad) or as a caravanserai. The latter is unlikely since it was not directly on one of the great trade routes of the time; there is also no spring or well, which would have been necessary to supply large herds of camels.

The complex was abandoned and neglected in the centuries that followed. In addition, several earthquakes caused damage to the building structure. Many cracks have expanded so that the west and south walls have been isolated from the rest of the building. The Austrian geographer Alois Musil finally rediscovered the desert castle in 1901, but extensive restoration work was not carried out on the building until the late 1970s. There were some changes during the renovation; a door was locked in the east wall and in some sections cement and plaster mixes were used that did not match the materials originally used. Archaeologist Stephen Urice dealt with the building between 1977 and 1981 and contributed to the renovation work on the Qasr Kharana between 1976 and 1979. He then wrote his doctoral thesis on this subject and published it in 1987 as a book entitled Qasr Kharana in the Transjordan.




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