Hegira 634 / AD 1236
Reconstructed completely during the Ayyubid period
Izz al-Din Aybak, (AH 611–44 / AD 1214–1246/7).
The Azraq oasis, 120 km northeast of Amman, was renowned for its copious natural springs which have provided a focus for settlement since the Palaeolithic period. A Latin inscription indicates that Azraq may have been called Dasianis or Basianis in Roman times. Today there are two settlements in the oasis, both of which were established by refugees in the early 20th century.
Azraq is strategically located at the northwestern end of Wadi al-Sirhan, a natural depression which stretches some 400 km in a southeasterly direction to al-Jawf (Ancient Duamta) in Saudi Arabia. A chain of Roman fortresses protected the approaches to the oasis: al-Uwaynid, 15 km southwest of Azraq, and 'Usaykhim 15 km to the northeast. A third large fortress was built on a basalt spur just 100 m to the west of a natural spring in Azraq North. The castle (80 m x 72 m) is constructed entirely of local basalt stone. Its salient features consist of semi-projecting towers at the corners and interval towers along the walls. The main gate projects from the south wall and is protected by a projecting machicolation (a projecting window) below which is an Arabic inscription indicating major building works by the Ayyubid governor Izz al-Din Aybak, in AH 634 / AD 1236. The central courtyard contains a small mosque and is surrounded by a range of rooms, apparently once two storeys high. Latin and Greek inscriptions indicate that the castle was occupied from at least the late 3rd–early 4th century AD; aerial photographs from the 1920s show that it was erected within a much larger enclosure. However, the castle has been modified a number of times in its history.
Evidence for early Islamic building activity has been found around the reservoir and marshes at Azraq South. A well-constructed six-sided wall, ranging in length from 200 m to 500 m, was erected around the main spring to create a large reservoir. The walls (2 m–2.25 m thick) were built of rubble core and faced with dressed basalt blocks resting on a foundation of a single course of unshaped basalt stone. Round and triangular buttresses jut out from either side of the walls. Along part of the eastern side the wall widens to form a platform (30.5 m x 6.00 m). Rectangular buttresses occur at each corner of the platform with six additional rectangular buttresses on the exterior and six triangular buttresses on the interior.
It was in front of this platform that a number of carved basalt stones were recovered in the autumn of 1983 in the course of removing reeds from the reservoir; Claude-Vibert Guigue from the Institut français d'archéologie du Proche-Orient, Amman (IFAPO) discovered additional carved stones in the spring of 2004. The decorative stones include various animals, birds, and fish as well as human figures, floral motifs, and mythical animals such as the Senmurv (a creature part mammal and part bird and a Pegasus (a winged horse). The way the edges of these bas-relief stones are bevelled may indicate that an arched superstructure once stood near the front of the platform.
An additional buttressed wall (1.30 m–1.55 m thick) extends around the marshland to the south and east. Stretches of this wall can be traced for a length of 3 km before it disappears into the silt and sand dunes of the marches. This long wall with rectangular and triangular buttresses may have once formed a complete circuit of the marshes and reservoir, thus inviting comparison with the large enclosures at Qasr al-Hayr West (Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi) and Qasr al-Hayr East (Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi) in Syria.
Lying 1.75 km, to the northeast of the castle at Azraq is a small Umayyad building (17.70 m x 17.80 m) known as Qasr Ayn al-Sil. Abutting the west wall of the qasr is a bathhouse with a vestibule and cold, warm and hot rooms all arranged along a north–south line. The walls, 1.40 m thick, are built of two facings of roughly quadrated basalt blocks with a rubble core. A range of seven rooms built against the enclosure walls surround a central courtyard. Excavation and clearance work uncovered two olive presses within two of the rooms, indicating that the building was the homestead of a small agricultural estate adapted for use by a family, rather than that it was attached to a large plantation.
The Azraq oasis, 120 km northeast of Amman, has been settled since the Palaeolithic era. A large fortress near a spring in Azraq North was part of a chain of Roman forts. Above its main gate there is a projecting window and an inscription indicating rebuilding by Izz al-Din Aybak in AH 634 / AD 1236. In the marshes of Azraq South, an early Islamic six-sided wall was built around the main spring to form a large reservoir. Along it were found carved basalt stones that belong to an arched superstructure. At 1.75 km to the northeast of the castle, there is the small Umayyad homestead of Qasr Ayn al-Sil.
The monument was dated by an Arabic inscription indicating major building works by the Ayyubid governor Izz al-Din Aybak in 634 / 1236.
Bisheh, G., “Qasr Mshash and Qasr Ayn al-Sil: two Umayyad sites in Jordan”, in The Fourth International Conference on the History of Bilad al-Sham during the Umayyad period, English section, Vol. II, (eds) M. A. Bakhit and R. Schick, Amman, 1989, pp.90–3.
Kennedy. D. L., “Archaeological Explorations on the Roman Frontier in North-East Jordan”, British Archaeological Review International Series, 134, Oxford, 1982, pp. 69–132.
Parker, S. T., “Romans and Saracens: A History of the Roman Frontier”, American Schools of Oriental Research Dissertation series, No. 6, Winona Lake, 1986, pp.16–20.
Watson, R. P., and Burnett, G. W., “On the Origins of Azraq's Roman Wall”, Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 64, cat. nos. 1–2, 2001, pp.72–9.
Ghazi Bisheh "Azraq" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;jo;Mon01;18;en
Prepared by: Ghazi BishehGhazi Bisheh
Ghazi Bisheh is an archaeologist and former Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. He studied archaeology at the University of Jordan, and history of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan for most of the period between 1980 and 1999, and was its Director General twice (1988–91 and 1995–9). He was also an associate professor of archaeology at Yarmouk University during the early 1990s. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Umayyads: The Rise of Islamic Art (Brussels: Museum With No Frontiers, 2000), of which he is a co-author. He has carried out excavation work both inside and outside Jordan in sites such as Qasr al-Hallabat, Madaba, Carthage and Bahrain. He is a member of the German Archaeological Institute and is the Deputy Director of the International Council of Museums for the Arab countries.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: JO 18