Hegira 180–92 / AD 796–808
Caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. AH 170–93 / AD 786–809).
Palace B is part of the extensive palatial complex to the north of modern-day Raqqa (Rafiqa), erected by Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who chose Rafiqa as his residence from AH 180 to 192 (AD 796 to 808). The complex comprises seven palaces and two residential ensembles covering an area of almost 10 sq km. The most monumental palace of the complex, Qasr al-Salam, which measures 350 m x 300 m, served as the caliph's residence. The other palaces, identified as palaces A, B, C, D, as well as the west and east palaces, probably housed family members and court officials. As historian al-Tabari (d. AH 310 / AD 923) records, the caliph's wife Zubayda, and his heirs, al-Amin, al-Ma'mun, al-Qasim and al-Mu'tasim, all resided there. The newly extended residence was also the army-command centre and the administrative centre of the Abbasid Empire where the caliph's treasuries were safeguarded. The new capital also housed considerable industrial activities. Remains found outside the northern city-wall testify to the existence of pottery- and glass-production workshops.
The plan of Palace B shows a north–south oriented parallelogram that measures 115 m in length, and which is 74.6 m wide at the southern wall, and 69.7 m wide at the northern wall. The outer walls are articulated by 1.4 m-wide round buttresses. The palace's 17 m-wide entrance is located along the northern façade, preceded by a buttressed enclosure comprising the outer garden.
The walls are 1.5 m thick and built of sun-dried bricks occasionally strengthened by fired bricks. The main entrance provides access to the western wing of the palace which accommodated the court officials consisting of a spacious courtyard paved with fired bricks and surrounded by a peristyle colonnade. Numerous painted and carved stucco fragments were found in this area, thus providing some information regarding its original decorative program. Three doorways in the south wall lead to a series of official rooms comprising two halls, one of them paved with glass tiles. The eastern section, which can be accessed by three separate doorways in the official's quarters, comprises the residential areas. These contain the kitchen, bathrooms, and a spacious guest house with a courtyard. Both the official and private wings of the palace are completed by an enclosed garden to the south.
Both the exterior and interior walls of the palace that were in public view were coated with white plaster. The official, prestigious areas, especially the doorways, were decorated with stucco friezes in deep relief consisting primarily of vine ornaments. Despite the resemblance to Umayyad decorative motifs, the motifs from Raqqa rely directly on classical prototypes, specifically those found in the desert city of Palmyra, about 180 km further south.
An abundant inventory of nearly 400 pieces, including carved and painted stucco fragments, a carved and gilded wooden panel, ceramics, glass objects and jewellery, testify to the sumptuous equipment of this palace.
The 'Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. AH 170–93 / AD 786–809) decided to build a palatial complex for his family and administrative elite outside the walls of Raqqa city. He chose an area of almost 10 sq km to the north of the city and commissioned a complex of seven palaces. Among them, Palace B has yielded many important artistic and architectural finds. Its space is divided into two parts, official and private, both provided with an enclosed garden. Decorative artefacts found include carved and painted stucco and wooden panels as well as luxurious ceramics, glass and jewellery.
The historian al-Tabari (d. 310 / 923) records that the Caliph, Harun al-Rashid sought a new residence since disturbances in Baghdad unsettled him. He considered the area of Qatul in northern Iraq – known today as Hisn al-Qadisiyya – and began constructing a palace complex there but it remained unfinished. He eventually chose Rafiqa (Raqqa) as his new residence.
Numismatic evidence also supports the attribution of these palatial complexes to Harun al-Rashid. Numerous coins minted at Rafiqa in the year 189 (804–5) were found at the site in the name of Harun al-Rashid. The fact that very few coins dating to his successors have been found on site indicate that the area fell into sporadic use and, indeed, the court soon moved back to Baghdad.
Meinecke, M., “al-Rakka”, Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. VIII, Leiden, 1995, pp.410–14.
Meinecke, M., “Abbasidische Stuckdekorationen aus ar-Raqqa”, Rezeptionen in der Islamischen Kunst (B. Finster and C. Fragner, eds), Beirut, 1999, pp.247–67.
Salibi, N., “Les fouilles du Palais B 1950–1952”, (V. Daiber and A. Becker, eds) Raqqa III, Baudenkmäler und Paläste I, Mainz, 2004, pp.77–104.
Verena Daiber "Palace B" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;30;en
Prepared by: Verena DaiberVerena Daiber
Verena Daiber is an historian of Islamic art an archaeology. She studied Near Eastern Archaeology and Arabic Literature at the Free University of Berlin. After her employment as research associate at the German Archaeological Institute in Damascus she obtained her PhD at the University of Bamberg in 1991 on the public architecture of Damascus in the 18th century. Since 2017 she is the curator of the Bumiller Collection / Bamberg University Museum of Islamic Art that holds Islamic metalwork from the Persian world. After publishing on ceramics, architecture and imagery of the central Arabic lands, she works on the development and publishing of the Bumiller Collection.
Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: SY 37
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Abbasids | Al-Raqqa: Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s Capital in Syria The Abbasids | Managing Prosperity
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