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Jausaq al-Khaqani at Samarra: A New Reconstruction

Author(s): Seton Lloyd

Source: Iraq, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Autumn, 1948), pp. 73-80
Published by: British Institute for the Study of Iraq
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Accessed: 23-06-2019 14:20 UTC

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The scale-model
constructed in the which forms
Laboratory of thethe
Iraq subject of the
Museum during thefollowing
early part notes was
of 1946, under the supervision of Sayyid Akram Shukri. It is composed for
the most part of plaster of Paris in solid castings and sawn strips, subsequently
carved and painted. The scale is one to four hundred, or one centimetre to
four metres.
The Jausaq al-Kh?q?ni or Dar al-'Amma, Palace of the Caliphs at S?marr?,
was first excavated in 1907 by Viollet, who published the results of his
investigations in 1909 and 1911.1 The work was soon afterwards resumed
for some months by Sarre and Herzfeld.2 The area of the Palace within its
main enclosure-wall is 432 acres ; so there could be no question of its complete
excavation in the short period of time occupied by the two consecutive attempts.
Viollet, however, by a careful study of the exposed remains and a minimum of
actual digging, was able to record his impression of the plan, and to reconstruct
in perspective the general appearance of the whole vast lay-out.3 Herzfeld's
excavations, which were on a much larger scale, resulted in the accurate
planning of the main buildings, and brought to light many details of their
architecture and ornament. Unfortunately, the sixth volume of Herzfeld's
Samarra publication,4 which was to contain the record of these excavations,
together with much other topographical matter, has to-day, thirty years after
the work was completed, not yet been published, though we understand that
it is now finally in the press. Meanwhile, his remarkable plan of the Palace,
together with some of his inferences in regard to its architecture, have been
incorporated by Creswell5 in a most important chapter of his magnum opus.
It is partly due to the long delay in the publication of Herzfeld's excavations
that this magnificent building has never until now occupied its correct place in
histories of architecture and works on monumental planning. In Baghdad
this has been much regretted, particularly since the ruins of so few 'Abbasid
buildings survive, to testify to the architectural accomplishment of the
Caliphate. It was accordingly, more than anything, the publication by
Creswell of Herzfeld's astonishing plan which seemed to justify some further

1 ? Description du Palais de Al-Moutasim ? 3 Viollet, ' Description/ Plate XIV.

S?marra/ in the M?moires de G Acad?mie des Inscriptions 4 Herzfeld, op. cit.
et Belles Lettres, XII, pp. 577-594, and * Un Palais 6 Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture. Oxford,
musulman du IXi?me si?cle/ ibid., pp. 685-717. 1940. Part 2. IX.
2 Her2feld. Die Ausgrabungen von 'Samarra.' Five
volumes, Berlin, 1923 onwards.

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attempt at a restoration of t
of a scale-model seemed the
The scale selected, which w
the Museum for the exhib
reconstruction of much ar
the principal fa?ades and the
well as the interpretation fr
the actual buildings, presen
our approach to these, only
actual writings of the excava
were based on such very sca
disconcerting paucity of m
which incorporates his ow
verbatim description obtai
up-to-date and comprehensiv
to certain modifications re
investigations, was adopted a
A glance at the plan (Fig.
around a single main axis, st
overlooks the racecourse on
focal point in the plan to the
west. Looking westwards,
ultimately in the building k
beyond the Tigris. There i
and indeed only, approach to
itself. If, therefore, the B?
up to it be considered a su
building and the ' working
difficulty ; for the stairway
not obviously accessible from
On this subject, Herzfeld's
his plan, since his topograp
* The Tigris once washed
low-lying garden. The " Gr
the palace wall where it str
beach on the south. Ther
Gate." A road about 600
the great basin, measurin

1 Creswell, p. 232.

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Fig. 6

Herzfeld's plan of the palace at Samarra. (Reproduced from K. A

by permission of the author and of the O
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Fig. 6

(Reproduced from ?. A. G Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, Part II, Fig. 194,

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steps, 60 m. broad and about the same in length, gently ascended

the terrace, 17 m. high, in front of the Bab al-'Amma/
In the plan, the B?b an-Niz?la is puzzling to locate, and there is no indicat
whatever of a road leading to the c Great Basin/ whose northern marg
separated from the bottom of the stairway only by a path a few metres w
In order to give some character to the stairway itself, we have in the m
adopted Viollet's reconstruction,1 where it divides at an intermediate land
into two flights with a decorative feature between. Ross2 spoke of the wh
structure as ' resting on arches/ But we suspect this to have been a confu
with the three arches supporting a section of the terrace itself, whose fo
tions Herzfeld excavated, and which in the model make a pleasant break in
broad expanse of the terrace-wall. At the northern end of this wall, Herz
also encountered the foundations of a projecting structure, which, judgin
the thickness of its walls, must have been one of the most substantial pie
of masonry in the entire group, and may consequently be assumed to
stood to a considerable height. This, in consideration of its appropri
position, commanding a view on one side of the approaches to the palace,
on the other of the palace itself, we have assumed to be a watch-tower and
reconstructed accordingly.
The restoration of the B?b al-'Amma itself required little ingenuity, sin
is by far the best preserved section of the ruins. The upper storey is authe
cated by a section of masonry, now fallen, which was seen by Gertrud
as recently as 1909,3 and the grouping of its windows was suggested b
columned upper chamber surmounting the main entrance of the palac
al-Ukhaidir.4 The openings in the fa?ade, however, beyond the two la
iwans^ need some apology. Sufficient evidence has survived to show that s
openings did indeed exist,5 but those in the lower storey did not reac
ground, and their restoration in the form of doorways is certainly incor
The treatment also of the long fa?ades facing the terrace beyond can only
conjectural, as they no longer exist ; but their proportion is some
reminiscent of the Mustansir?yah in Baghdad, with its long elevation
looking the Tigris, and we have suggested a horizontal accentuation of
character accordingly.
On entering through the main archway of the B?b al-'Amma, the vi
passed through a succession of five walls which Herzfeld regards as
chambers. He was encouraged by the discovery of wooden ' ceiling-be

1 Viollet, * Description/ Plate XIV. countryside through arches with columns between,
* J.R.G.S., XI, p. 129. has only recently been revealed by clearance and is
8 Amurath to Amurath^ Fig. 153. not published.
4 The architectural arrangement of this pleasant
6 Creswell, Fig. 181.
little * ga2ebo ' chamber, with its view of the
(5898) A2

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to think of these very large compart

We ourselves, however, considered
eight metres, would have made thi
substituted five transverse barrel va
beyond the passageway to the nor
access from the axial units, through
to what must in fact be the main co
Caliph's own apartments. In the proc
seemed spontaneously to acquire a ch
our interpretation of its remains, and is
features of the model. The excavators had found traces of a wide circular
pool with a small platform in the centre, the whole being placed slightly
southwards of the courtyard's cross axis, to make room for a circular curb,
which might have encircled the roots of a large tree. It remained only to
supply this tree and a domed baldachin standing on four pillars in the centre
of the lake in order to complete the already dignified effect of a colonnaded
Returning to axial units, a sixth and somewhat similar antechamber led to a
square court, again with a fountain in the middle, connected by a water duct
on the cross-axis with a large bath-compartment in the Caliph's residential
quarters to the north. Beyond again was a somewhat smaller ? Court of
Honour/ beneath which an underground passage permitted the Caliph,
without appearing in public, to pass from his own apartments to the women's
quarters, comprising the southern half of the building. For the purpose of
the model both the above-mentioned courts required architectural treatment.
Here as elsewhere, therefore, some details were adopted from the almost
contemporary mosque of Ibn T?l?n (Al S?marrai), whose simple dignity we
may assume to be characteristic of this little-known phase of architectural
evolution.1 In fact, only the eastern end of the Court of Honour could be
restored with any certainty, for here a triple archway?perhaps the B?b
al-'Amma repeated in miniature?marked the approaches to the main
' crossing ' and the Throne-room complex:. The cruciform element beyond
marks the focal-point of the whole plan. In the centre is a square compartment,
referred to by Herzfeld as * almost certainly covered by a dome/ while the
arms of the cross are represented by four basilica-like halls with columns and
side-aisles. These latter should logically be reconstructed with clerestory
lighting, and have been treated in this way in the model. Framed in the
angles between them, Creswell refers to c smaller halls with dadoes of marble
tiles, also a mosque-room for the Khalif . . / It is less easy to imagine how
these were lit.
1 Creswell, Fig. 247.

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Our domed compartment, then, marks the point at which the centre-line
of the building is traversed by an important cross-axis. Turning northward,
successive antechambers lead to the throneroom-court, and beyond to the
great w?ny in which the Caliph would no doubt take his place on State
occasions. This section of the building was for some reason never excavated,
but its plan is comprehensible from the ruins above ground. The w?n unit is
clearly recognisable as an example of what has come to be called the ' H?rite
Order/ a sadr and human with the court itself taking the place of the riw?q.1
Once the function of the w?n in this sense is understood, Herzfeld's reference
to the square compartment at the crossing as the ' throneroom ' must at once
be seen to be erroneous. In the model we have shown a pisht?q framing the
wcin archway and rising a little higher than the surrounding walls, as was the
case with a corresponding feature, for instance at al-Ukhaidir.2
Balancing the throneroom-court on the south side of the building was
another of the same size, surrounded by State apartments, evidently used by
the Queen and her entourage. Beyond again was a large square chamber
enclosed by a wide corridor. In the centre of this chamber was the great
ornamental water-basin of Egyptian granite, now exhibited in the courtyard
of the 'Abbasid Palace Museum, Baghdad.3 Four marble columns, surround-
ing this object, probably supported arches and ultimately a dome, which has
also been suggested in the model. A single ' basilica-hall ' led westwards to
the innumerable courtyards and bayt units of the Harim. Only small sections of
these have been excavated, but it is clear that they had no direct access to the
more public part of the building.
The cruciform unit on the main axis should logically bring one to the limit
of the building on this side. Yet, after passing through the basilica-hall
forming the eastern arm of the cross, the visitor would find himself still
separated from the great esplanade by an extraordinary architectural feature.
This gigantic portico, projecting beyond the fa?ade of the main building,
seems hardly to constitute a coherent adjunct to the plan, and was in fact not
improbably an afterthought. In the model it has been given five squat,
arched openings, in keeping with the great thickness of its walls, while the
space between it and the ' basilica ' fa?ade behind has been left open.
Little need be said about the esplanade itself, save to mention that the
ornamental bridge over the transverse water-channel has been reconstructed
very considerably out-of-scale. It was not possible to show the elaborate
cresting to the enclosure-wall, of which Herzfeld recovered fragments, but the
blind arcading is authentic, and must have given an impressive effect, somewhat

1 Directorate of Antiquities, Excavations at s This chamber was also ornamented with an

Samarra, 1956-9 (Baghdad, 1940), p. 26. elaborate painted frieze, with human figures and
1 Creswell, Fig. 45. salukjs chasing hares. See Creswell, Fig. 192.
(5898) A3

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resembling the city wall of moder

only other features of the esplanad
which is generally assumed to have
and the entrance to the Summ
(ornamented by a circular fountain
accentuated by a small, square towe
to call it, has a sunken courtyar
around it carved out of the solid co
The remainder of the space bet
ground is occupied by horse-lines
sides are paddocks, overlooked by f
which the Caliph could watch the
evidently surrounded by loose-b
Palace is a * grandstand ' overlookin
long, pear-shaped racecourse, run
The plan of this building suggests
' Royal Box ' (which we have restor
tiers of seats facing in both directi
Of the many and varied buildings
few have been excavated and none c
of a swimming-pool contingent to
which appears as such in the model
magnificent and obviously importa
on the esplanade, is the square com
wall with semi-circular towers, whi
as the ' Great Serd?b.'
The outstanding feature of the ' Great Serd?b,9 to be inferred from the
surface indications and from the small amount of excavating which took place,
was a deep circular cavity, with remnants of masonry which indicated that it
was enclosed by four massive corner-structures, creating a cruciform shape on
plan. Between this section and the outer-wall were ranges of chambers,
many of them vaulted, which could have supported an upper structure.
Herzfeld assumed a deeper depression in the centre of the cavity to be a pool,
solely on the evidence of an ' underground canal ' leading to it, which might,
however, equally well have been an underground passage, such as those found
elsewhere in the palace. His designation of the building as a ' Serd?b ' was
presumably also based on the assumption of a pool, since it is the only point of
resemblance between this building and the ' Little Serd?b.' Viollet, on the
other hand, finds himself ' assez tent? de voir l? les restes d'une ar?ne en
gradins/1 He has accordingly created a charming and rather plausible
1 Viollet, ' Description/ p. 22.

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Two isometric sketches for the model, shewing 1. Axial units from the great
2. Nuclear building and main approach from the west.

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reconstruction1 of a classical amphitheatre with a double-domed structur

enclosing a * stage ' on the north side.2 We ourselves have adopted a simil
principle, adding only a development of the corner-structures to give a
cruciform character to the arena. Judging from the evident tendency of the
Caliphs to adopt architectural ideas as well as actual materials from the west,
the construction of such an arena on semi-classical lines would be by no mean
North of the ' Great Serd?b ' is the most heavily fortified unit of the whole
complex, which Herzfeld recognises as the ' Treasury.' This is a building
considerably larger than the palace itself, surrounded by a powerful enclosur
wall whose outer faces are strengthened with square towers nearly ten metre
wide. Again, Herzfeld's own short description of the main building
hopelessly confusing, since his ' southern strip/ where ' three ravines cu
through the ground/ is impossible to identify.
The smaller annexe to the west, with its own fortifications, he calls * The
Arsenal ' and recognises a separate residence for ' The Keeper of the Arsenal
on the Palace side. The whole of this section, however, remains unexcavated,
save for a single tower, and one must necessarily reserve judgment as to
exact function.
By contrast with these buildings, the ' barracks ' to the west are unmistakabl
and the three buildings in the barracks courtyard, described merely as ' masji
with inaccurate qiblasj are most interesting. Each clearly consists of tw
elements?a rectangular musall? with mihr?b, and a square sahn. Restore
with arched openings to the sahn and a three-domed musall?^ such as was
normal feature at the time, they represent the contemporary mosque in
simplest form.
It is perhaps no exaggerated claim that the contrivance of this model has
contributed something towards resurrecting the little-known architecture of
the 'Abbasid period. Of particular interest is the impression to be gained from
these buildings, even in miniature, that they somehow perpetuate the age-old
building tradition of Mesopotamia. Creswell admits that * a great part of the
palaces of S?marr? are built of that basest of materials, mud-brick, hidden by
thick coats of stucco/ and Herzfeld refers to them as * immense improvisations.'
Viollet's appraisal, however, is perhaps nearer to the truth when he says
c L'arch?ologie, qui ?prouve au premier moment un mouvement de d?pit en
voyant les mat?riaux si pauvres employ?s dans les constructions musulmans, ne
doit oublier que sous le beau ciel d'Orient les mat?riaux en apparence les plus
?ph?m?res ont une dur?e quasi-?ternelle ... et que l'impression esth?tique

1 Viollet, * Description/ Plate ?IV. 2 In the model the building is, I think, wrongly
(5898) a 4

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devait ?tre fort saisissante/

from the temples of pre-hist
been built in sun-dried brick
been revealed by excavation.
as also to some extent the style
by endless generations of b
of magnificence. Choisy ha
regarder les ?difices arabes c
appel?s du dehors/2 Their
much to the conservatism of master-masons and craftsmen.

1 Viollet, ' Un Palais musulman du IXi?me si?cle/ 2 Choisy, Histoire de I*architecture, II, p. 134, p. 18.
p. 18.

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