Qasr al-Heer al-Sharqi


Location: 10 km (6 mi) from al- Sukhnah Map


Destinations in Qasr al-Heer al-Sharqi

Qasr al-Heer al-Sharqi is an early medieval castle that is located 10 km (6 mi) from al- Sukhnah in Syria. Its name of Qasr al-Heer al-Sharqi is translated as a "Eastern Castle" by its geographic location. It was constructed by a Umayyad caliph or kalif (ruler) Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 728- 29. It served as a royal residence surrounded by a desert. The complex contained a mosque, palace as well as extensive olive gardens surrounded by high walls and towers. In 1999 the ruins of the royal outpost were designated as UNESCO World Heritage site.


The castle was built before 729 under Kalif Hischam as a retreat from the plagued capital Damascus. A canal system brought water from the oasis at-Taibe, 15 km away. As a result, the desert was transformed into a flowering garden in which the caliphs liked to retreat. The castle was also built for political reasons. The Syrian desert was crossed by important trade routes. It was economically and politically one of the most important regions under her rule. The caliph also built the castle with the intention of controlling local Bedouin tribes and protecting trade routes.

The castle was completed and continued to be used during the Abbasid reign. With the relocation of the manor from Damascus to Baghdad in 762 under the Caliph al-Mansur, however, the desert castle gradually fell into oblivion - at least there are indications that some buildings will continue to be used until the 14th century; afterwards the ruin was only temporarily visited by caravans and nomads as a resting place.

The entire complex consists of two parts, one of which is referred to as a 'palace', while the other is to be understood as an urban settlement (Arabic mad─źna); the latter was uncovered in seven excavation campaigns between 1964 and 1972 under the direction of Oleg Grabar.

The palace with the huge entrance is the most impressive part of the complex. The structure is square, the outer walls, which are mostly made of precisely hewn natural stones, are each about 70 m long; some parts are also made of bricks, but were probably originally clad. Inside there is a large courtyard reminiscent of a khan. The columns and capitals of the palace area are spolia of a previously unidentified Roman building; there were also baths, cisterns and smaller gardens.

The city, which was significantly larger in area, was located opposite the palace. The old mosque, whose minaret, which is still about 10 m high today, is also well preserved, was located between the city and palace walls. An additional 16 km long outer wall ran around the palace and the city - hardly any of it can be seen today.