chapter  12
39 Pages

La Dolce Vita in Early Islamic Syria: The Evidence of Later Umayyad Palaces

WithRobert Hillenbrand

This chapter discusses certain problems of interpretation posed by the residences of caliphs and princes of the Umayyad dynasty in the Syrian desert. Some typical palaces will be examined, and their functions explored, in the light of the literary sources. The chapter investigates what light can be shed on court life in Umayyad times, as described in literary sources, by some of the major surviving secular buildings in Syria which date from this period. As a group, the Umayyad palaces are surprisingly varied in their architecture, their decoration and their appointments. The Umayyad desert palaces tend to conform to a single type. The casual overspill into the countryside found in many Umayyad palaces may help to explain the accent on open courtyards and on running water in a palace like al-Mafjar, whose very name suggests a spring. Even in the close confinement of cities the caliphs were at pains to evoke memories of the countryside.