In situ at al-Qastal, Jordan
Hegira 101–5 / AD 720–4 or AH 125–6 / AD 743–4
3.30 m x 3.30 m
During the Umayyad period (first half of the AH 2nd / AD 8th century) many luxurious palatial complexes were built in Syrio-Palestinian territory, such as Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik Palace in Jericho, Qasr al-Hir al-Gharbi and al-Hir al-Sharqi in Syria, Qasr al-Amra, the Umayyad palace on the Citadel of Amman, Qasr al-Hallabat, al-Muwaqqar and al-Qastal in Jordan. These palaces were lavishly decorated with carved stucco, wall paintings and mosaic floors.
At al-Qastal a very important floor mosaic was uncovered. It was discovered quite by chance in 2000 as a result of illicit excavations on the site, where most of the building's walls had been levelled to the foundations.
Fortunately, the mosaic floors in the northern and southern rooms of the palace were well preserved. These complete floor mosaics are a good example of the high-quality mosaics produced during the Umayyad period in such palaces.
The floor mosaic in the northern room measures 3.30 m x 3.30 m. It consists of a central mosaic framed by a three-strand guilloche (or plait-band) border that is edged by lines inverted into T-shapes in a variation of colours. Working further into the central field, there is an interlaced border of a two-strand guilloche, the concave corners of which form an octagonal frame around the central field containing the main theme of the mosaic: a bloody scene of a lion attacking a bull, his jaw and his forepaws piercing the bull's neck trying to bring him down. The mosaic is of an extremely high quality, seen in the tonal variations of colour, the size of the tesserae and in the shading; all employed to breathe palpable life and depth into the scene of the lion and the bull. Placed at each corner of the mosaic are various birds with plants on a white background in quarter-circles. The panel on the north-eastern side of the mosaic depicts a duck turning its head backwards, and in the south-eastern corner is a partridge pecking a plant; the other two panels on the north- and south-western sides are as yet partially preserved and possibly depict a duck and a partridge.
The floor mosaic in the southern room is identical to that in the northern room except that the scene depicted in the central octagonal space is a leopard hunting a gazelle. The scene is also very realistic revealing details such as the accentuated eye, the bare fangs and the spiked teeth that pierce the neck of the gazelle, making it bleed profusely. One can see, almost feel, the extreme ferocity of the leopard, and the agony of the suffering gazelle.
Scenes like these were associated with a demonstration of power and a warning message about the defeat of adversaries. Similar floor mosaics can be found in other Umayyad palaces, such as Qasr al-Hallabat in Jordan, and the audience hall of the bath complex at Khirbat al-Mafjar in Jericho.
Mosaic floors from al-Qastal, built by Yazid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik (r. AH 101–5 / AD 720–4) or his son al-Walid (r. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4); one depicts a lion attacking a bull, the other a leopard hunting a gazelle. Such scenes were associated with a display of power and warning about the defeat of adversaries.
Yazid ibn Abd al-Malik (r. AH 101–5 / AD 720–4) and his son al-Walid II (r. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4)
This palace and the mosaics have been dated to the Umayyad period through the poetry which associated both Qasr al-Muwaqqar and al-Qastal with Yazid ibn Abd al-Malik (r.101–5 / 720–4) and his son al-Walid II (r.125–6 / 743–4). The poet Kuthayyir Azza mentions al-Muwaqqar and al-Qastal in a context which indicates that they both belonged to the same patron: 'May God bless the quarter [family] who is in Muwaqqar [and extends] to Qastal al-Balqa of the elevated chambers.' Furthermore, excavations carried out at the site since 1983 uncovered ceramic shards, fragments of carved stucco and fresco paintings indicating that the building was reconstructed in the Umayyad period.
The mosaic floor is still in situ at al-Qastal.
The mosaic was unearthed in the palace complex at al-Qastal.
Bisheh, G., 'Two Umayyad Mosaic floors from Qastal', Liber Annuus, 50, 2000, pp.431–7.
Piccirillo, M., The Mosaics of Jordan, Amman, 1993, p.352.
Schick, R., The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study, Princeton, 1995, p.432.
Ghada Al-Yousef "Floor mosaic" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;jo;Mus01_H;17;en
Prepared by: Ghada Al-YousefGhada Al-Yousef
Ghada Al-Yousef is an archaeologist and the Director of the Friends of Archaeology Society in Jordan. She studied at the University of Jordan from where she received her BA and MA in Archaeology. In 1993 she undertook a course in the restoration and conservation of ancient mosaics held by the Italian government in Jordan. She was affiliated to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities from 1994 to 1997 as a trainee in the restoration of ancient mosaics and the production of modern mosaics at Madaba Mosaic School. In 1995 she opened her own gallery and workshop for producing mosaics. She was appointed as the Director of the Friends of Archaeology Society in 2001. She has carried out excavation work in Amman and Madaba.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: JO 29
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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