Qasr al-Abd

Qasr al-Abd is a rare example of Hellenistic architecture located in Iraq al-Amir in the Jordan Valley, 17 kilometres west of Amman. The building was erected in the 2nd century BC by Hyrcanus, son of the tax collector Joseph of Jerusalem from the influential Tobiads Jewish family. Qasr al-Abd (Castle of the Slave) is thought to have been the centre of a vast estate belonging to the Tobiads, as described by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the 1st century AD (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, Ch. 4):

Hyrcanus… seated himself beyond Jordan, and …erected a strong castle, and built it entirely of white stone to the very roof, and had animals of a prodigious magnitude engraved upon it. He also drew round it a great and deep canal of water. He also made caves of many furlongs in length, by hollowing a rock that was over against him; and then he made large rooms in it [the rock], some for feasting, and some for sleeping and living in. He introduced also a vast quantity of waters which ran along it, and which were very delightful and ornamental in the court. But still he made the entrances at the mouth of the caves so narrow, that no more than one person could enter by them at once…Moreover, he built courts of greater magnitude than ordinary, which he adorned with vastly large gardens. And when he had brought the place to this state, he named it Tyros.

Restitution of the Palace. F. Larché.

The Qasr al-Abd structure (measuring about 40 metres by 20 metres, and 13 metres high) was built in the Hellenistic style of the late 2nd century BC, similar to palaces at Alexandria. It had two floors with two portals and was adorned with life-size lion reliefs on the entablatures, eagles at the corners of the upper level, and wide-mouthed felines on each lateral wall.

Qasr al-Abd was badly damaged by several earthquakes that hit the region. It was largely restored and reconstructed by a French team between 1976 and 1986.

Archaeologist and architect Stephen Rosenberg recently put forward the idea that Qasr al-Abd functioned as the family mausoleum of the Tobiads, modelled after the mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (read here).

Coordinates: 31°54’46.1″N 35°45’06.5″E

PORTFOLIO

View of Qasr al-Abd from the southwest.
Upper corner with remains of a lions’ frieze and half-columns of the upper floor.
Northern entrance.
Relief of a Lioness with cub.
Interior view.
View from the northwest.
Western Leopard fountain.
Eastern Leopard fountain.
Upper level of the southern façade with Corinthian columns.
View of Qasr al-Abd from the southwest.

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