A Bathhouse in Jordan: Qusayr 'Amra



Dancers displayed on the arched doorways in Qasr 'Ama.


(Vibert-Guigue and Bisheh 2007, 50)



A floor plan and an elevation of Qasr ‘Amra, showing in dotted lines the vaulted ceilings and in the elevation the presence of the poles on which the floor of the building once rested. On the floor plan one can see (1) the main audience hall and (2) the section of the building that makes up the baths. The baths are then divided into 3 separate rooms; the apodyterium (A), tepidarium (B) and caldarium (C), and an unroofed enclosure (D).


(after Taragan 2010, 141; http://urbanist.typepad.com)


Qusayr ‘Amra, a small castle located in the Jordanian desert, was first discovered and excavated by the Czech scholar Alios Musil, in 1897-98. Its name, with Qusayr being a variation on the word Qasr, literally means ‘the little palace of Amra’.


However, while often called a desert castle (a title included in the name itself), the building is actually a bathhouse annex hunting lodge. It fits in well with the examples of early bathing discussed here, as it dates to the period 700-750 AD. The building likely functioned as a temporary retreat for prince (and later Caliph) Al-Walid II.


‘Amra, a fairly small building with two main areas (entrance hall and the actual bathing space) divided into a total of five enclosed spaces, is an interesting building to look at because of the large amount of paintings found in the building. Besides a number of political scenes and images of workers decorating the building, the perhaps most infamous imagery from Qusayr ‘Amra concerns a large number of paintings often seen as fairly sexualised, which are uncommon for the time period, during which depicting a human body alone would have already been somewhat controversial.

The Healing Power of Flowers, Hunting and Sex

The presence of nudes and love scenes in bathhouses has a long history. Muslim scholars recommended looking at beautiful images during bathing to stop the viewer from becoming melancholic. On top of this, it was thought that men lose their strength when they go into a bathhouse, which can be remedied by showing them particular images; (1) hunting scenes, (2) love scenes or nudes, and (3) gardens or plants. The hunting scenes were supposed to call to the animal potential in the viewers, the sexual scenes were supposed to strengthen the person psychologically, and the plants had to reinforce that strength. All three of these types of images can be found at Qusayr ‘Amra, although the gardens or plants are more difficult to find than hunting scenes and nudes.

The Bathing Beauty

One of the famous paintings found at Qasr 'Amra,  called the Bathing Beauty. In this painting,a woman steps out of a small pool dressed in nothing but undergarments and some jewellery. She is observed from balconies by people around her.