Iraq al-Amir, 20km west of Amman

2nd Century BC

Residents – 1 JOD
Non-residents – 1 JOD

NO

North 31° 54′ 46″
East 35° 45′ 07″

4.3/5

Qasr Al-Abd

Although the presence of Greek civilisation had been found in Jordan previously, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Middle East and Central Asia firmly consolidated the influence of Hellenistic culture. Qasr Al-Abd is perhaps the best example of Hellenistic palaces in the Middle East, was built between 182 and 175 BC, on an elevated platform in the middle of an artificial lake. To reach Qasr Al-Abd one had to cross a dam and access through an imposing gate. The heavily decorated two-storey stone structure (measuring about 40 metres by 20 metres, and 13 metres high) was built from some of the largest single blocks of any building in the Middle East, with the largest block measuring seven by three metres.

Qasr Al-Abd

Archaeologists have established that Qasr Al-Abd once stood in a much larger estate, which was originally surrounded by a wall and included a park with trees and shrubs.

The entrance to the building is a small courtyard fronted by two columns. Two additional columns, engaged on either side, complete the entrance facade. A mirror-image facade on the south side was added for reasons of symmetry but did not serve as an entrance.

At the base of each long wall is a fountain, carved in the shape of a leopard with a raised paw. The mottling of the stone seems to mimic the leopard’s spotted coat, although this may be an artefact of repair. The corners of the upper facade are decorated with relief carvings of lionesses suckling their cubs, such as the one seen here.

A large stone olive press has been found on the site, suggesting the estate was partially self-sufficient in agricultural produce. Much of the estate now stands beneath the village of Iraq al-Amir.

The early death of the building owner Hyrcanus, who committed suicide in 175 BC, left the palace unfinished. Later on, the structure collapsed during the devastating Galilee earthquake of 363 AD, so a great part of the reliefs and decoration elements remained buried for centuries under the large stone blocks.

In the last decades, the 38 x 19 m large building was partially reconstructed. The ground floor of the original two-story building with its two portals, the remains of magnificent life-size lion reliefs flanking the building corners, leopard fountains on each lateral wall, several capitals and further construction and decorative elements can be admired on-site.

Qasr Al-Abd

Qasr Al-Abd have been built by a Tobias notable, Hyrcanus of Jerusalem, head of the powerful Tobias family. According to a local legend, Tobias was a commoner who fell in love with the daughter of a nobleman. When he asked for her hand in marriage, the nobleman said that Tobias could only have her hand if he built the so-called “Castle of the Slave.” After completing the castle, the nobleman had Tobias killed as he did not want his daughter marrying a commoner.

It is known that the structure was originally surrounded by a large excavated reflecting pool, leading the first-century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus to suppose that this was a moat and the building a fortress. However, more recent evidence for the building’s original function being as a country pleasure palace has been presented by the contemporary Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer. It has also been suggested that the site was intended to serve as a mausoleum of the family of Tobias, the Tobias. In any case, it was never completed.

The name Qasr Al-Abd can be translated as Castle of the Slave or Servant, a title which may refer to Hyrcanus himself, who, as governor, was a “servant of the king”. The biblical Book of Nehemiah mentions “Toviyya, the Servant, the Ammonite”. According to Josephus, Hyrcanus left Jerusalem after losing a power struggle, and established his residence east of the Jordan, apparently on the ancestral lands of the Tobias dynasty. The area was then a border zone between Judea and Arabia, and Josephus mentions that Hyrcanus was in constant skirmishes with Arabians, killing and capturing many. He took his own life in 175 BC, following the ascent to power in Syria of the strongly anti-Jewish Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, fearing the latter’s revenge for his support for the Egyptian Ptolemies against the Syrian Seleucids. The building was unfinished at the time of his death (as indicated by several incomplete carvings and columns on site), and was seized by Antiochus Epiphanes. Josephus mentions the “beasts of gigantic size carved on it” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, 230), and carved tigers or lions are still perfectly preserved on the remains visible today.

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Timeline of Qasr Al-Abd History

2nd Century BC

Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic palace was built between 182 and 175 BC on an elevated platform in the middle of an artificial lake.
2nd Century BC
4th Century AD

Byzantine Period

The structure collapsed during the devastating Galilee earthquake of 363 AD so that a great part of the reliefs and decoration elements remained buried for centuries under the large stone blocks.
4th Century AD
20th Century AD

Present Time

The ruins of Qasr Al-Abd have been partially restored due to the efforts of a French team directed by Ernest Will and the architect François Larché in collaboration with Fawzi Zayadine of the Jordanian Archaeological Service.
20th Century AD

Nearby Attractions

The fifteen caves from the Hellenistic Period are situated within 1 km from Qasr Al-Abd …
An ancient columbarium more than 7 meters high is dated from the late Iron Age …
Byzantine Church and cave. The entrance of the cave can be identified by a facade …

Hellenistic Palaces

Available Tours

Half-Day Private Tour to Qasr Al-Abd and Ancient Caves

from $103 (73 JOD)

Fixed price per group (1-3 travellers)
Rating:
5/5

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