Essential Architecture-  Palestine

Khirbat al-Mafjar






c. 740






  plan and Isometric reconstruction of bath hall
  Portal to bath hall and Sculpture of standing caliph
  Small diwan reconstruction
  Lion and Gazelles mosaic
Located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley, Khirbat al-Mafjar remains one of the most highly sophisticated Umayyad palaces in the region for its elaborate mosaics, stucco carvings and overall sculptural magnificence. Built mainly of sandstone highlighted at times with baked brick, the complex encompasses three main areas including a two-storied palace, a mosque accompanied by a small courtyard, a bath including an audience hall (throne room), all of which are enclosed by an outer wall. To the east, bordering the length of the site extends a forecourt with a centrally featured fountain. The main gate of the compound is centrally located on the southern fa├žade of the palace and is flanked by two buttress towers at either edge of the front of the structure. The palace itself features a central courtyard off of which one of two pathways guides a visitor to either the side forecourt to the east or to a small courtyard to the north. Off of this court to the north one finds the opulently decorated hammam and a small mosque to the east. (Please see the thumbnails for detailed plans.)

Khirbat al-Mafjar is renowned for the mosaics and stucco carvings, evidence of Byzantine and Sassanian influence respectively, that adorn the audience hall and bathhouse. Geometrically decorated mosaics of the highest standard cover the floor of the bathhouse like carpets in 39 uninterrupted rectangular and circular sections, creating the largest of its kind known from antiquity. In the audience hall, another famous mosaic panel at the site displays an apple tree providing cover on its right side to two gazelles that chew at its foliage while to the left a lion is shown attacking another gazelle from behind. Interpretations of this scene speak to its symbolic implications of the Umayyad caliphate: life can be peaceful and serene under Umayyad authority while those who threatened central power face physical defeat. While during this period Syria continued its well-established and widely respected local tradition of mosaic production, stucco sculptures alluded to an increasing Sassanian influence. Stucco was an inexpensive and rapid medium to sculpt with. In addition, it has been deduced that due to the unit of measurement used in parts of the complex, the Nilometric cubit, the Copts had a large role in the construction of the site.

While the complex was built during the reign of Hisham, it has been suggested that the owner of Khirbat al-Mafjar was Walid ibn Yazid, Hisham's successor. The complex was abandoned shortly after his death in 744.


Al-Asad, Mohammad and Bisheh, Ghazi. 2000. Palatial Residences. In The Umayyads the Rise of Islamic Art. Amman and Vienna: Ministry of Tourism, Department of Antiquities, Amman, Jordan & Museum With No Frontiers, Vienna, Austria, pgs. 50-51.

Creswell, K. A. C.1989. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 179-200.

Yeomans, Richard. 1999. The Story of Islamic Architecture. Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing, 39-40.


Special thanks to the Islamic architecture website