Façade of the Palace of Mushatta
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Probably Hegira first half of the 2nd century/ AD 8th century, c. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4
Façade; archaeological find
Limestone, decorated with relief work in block sections.
Height 5.07 m, length 33 m
The façade of the palace of Mushatta in Berlin is a section of the outer façade to either side of the entrance to the palace complex. Of the square surrounding wall, only this southern section was decorated between two circular towers. It was decorated with relief work consisting of a continuous band of zigzags that was originally 47 m long, bordered by a base with mouldings and a ledge. Large rosettes decorate the triangular corners formed by the zigzags. The background is covered in vine tendrils that spill out of basins. On the façade’s left side, a variety of animals and mythological creatures – such as birds, lions, griffins, a peacock dragon (Senmurw) and a centaur – can be found within the triangular spaces, living peacefully alongside one another as if in the Garden of Eden, mainly occupied in refreshing themselves with water from the large basins. The tower gateway on the right-hand side heralds a change in motif: instead of living creatures, there is now a small-scale plant-motif decoration. The background is filled with shoots and tendrils that rise up from vases or calyxes, spiralling in all directions. This change of motif can be understood by taking into account the fact that the Palace Mosque was situated behind this part of the façade: the depiction of pictorial images was at the time already prohibited in mosques. The triangular sections from the right-hand side of the façade that were not brought over to Berlin in 1903 remained there, where they were destroyed.
It could have been the Umayyad Caliph al-Walid II (r. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4) who, during his short reign, commissioned the building of a palace in the Jordanian desert, southeast of the present capital Amman. The four-sided wall that was built around the palace complex – which included an auditorium, living quarters and a mosque and other buildings needed for temporary government activities there, although the wall looked more defensive and impregnable than it actually was. However, the construction was to remain incomplete, as is testified by the finished pieces pre-worked on the ground, and the sketched markings that are all that exist on the chiselled relief backdrop. A building inscription was never found.
Mushatta was only rediscovered in the 19th century. The Ottoman Sultan donated considerable sections of the façade to the German Emperor. The rest of the ruin remained in situ in Jordan and can still be seen.
Probably Caliph al-Walid II (r. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4)
At present, on stylistic grounds, it has been dated, not without difficulty and controversy, to the Umayyad period. During the course of the 20th century, there have been several pre-Islamic (Sassanian, Ghaznawid, Byzantine) and early Islamic (Umayyad, Abbasid) suggestions as to its date. The discovery of an incomplete fragment of tile in 1964, on which is inscribed a name that appears in the literature of the period between 730 and 750, supports the suggestion that it is from the late Umayyad period.
Acquired as a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to Emperor Wilhelm II, who presented it to the Royal Museums in Berlin in 1903.
It originally belonged to the Qasr al-Mushatta building, which is in situ, before a section of the façade was removed.
Bisheh, G., “Qasr al-Mshatta in the Light of a Recently Found Inscription”, in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ed. A. Hadidi), Vol. 3, Amman, 1987, pp.193–7, fig. 2f.
Creswell, K. A. C., Early Muslim Architecture, Vol. 1 Umayyads, AD 622–750, 2nd edition, Oxford, 1969, Vol. 1(2), pp.578–606, plates 112–36.
Enderlein, V., “Die Erwerbung der Fassade von Mschatta”, Forschungen und Berichte 26, 1987, pp.81–90.
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Mainz, 2001, pp.117–25.
Trümpelmann, L., Mschatta, Tübingen, 1962.
Jens Kröger "Façade of the Palace of Mushatta" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;ISL;de;Mus01;1;en&id=architectural_elements
Prepared by: Jens KrögerJens Kröger
Jens Kröger is a historian of Islamic art and archaeology. He studied European art history and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology at the Free University of Berlin and obtained his Ph.D. in 1978 on Sasanian and early Islamic stucco (Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz: von Zabern, 1982). As a curator at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and published on the subject of pre-Islamic and Islamic art, including Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), and edited Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen (Berlin, 2004).
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 01