The Caliphal Palace

(Arabic: Dar al-Khilafa or Jawsaq al-Khaqani)

 

The main palace was built by the caliph al-Mu`tasim in 836, and finally abandoned about 895. It is one of the largest imperial palaces to have survived from ancient times – 125 hectares.

 

Plan of the Caliphal Palace

The layout is based on two architectural palace units. The first, on the south side, is composed of a square building of 180m x 200m, containing the Bab al-‘Amma - which has the form of a triple iwan - and the Throne Halls. On the east side of the square building there is a large courtyard of 186 x 344 m (the “Great Esplanade”). On the north side a second palace structure, with a smaller square reception hall block and residential apartments, is situated within an outer enclosure wall.

 

The Large Serdab or Birka Da’iriyya in 1989

On the west side of the southern unit there is a large formal garden, and probably a further garden of a different type on the south side. Between the two palace units there is a large circular sunken basin, termed by Herzfeld the “Large Serdab”, and in Iraq the Birka Da’iriyya. Further to the east, there is a smaller square sunken basin, termed the “Small Serdab”, and in Iraq Hawiyat al-Siba` (“Lions’ Den”). On the north and south sides of the basin there are courtyards with two pavilions, and lines of parallel halls, which called the “Stables”. On the east side there is a maydªn for the sport of polo, with a spectators’ lodge, and the start-line of Racecourse 2, stretching away to the east. On the south side of the main courtyard, there is what must have originally been the main entrance of the complex leading to the city, and a further square building, adjacent to the main reception hall block.

The Small Serdab or Hawiyat al-Siba’ (al-Hir), restored in 1987. It is possible that this pool was the famous 'al-Birka al-Husna', mentioned by the Abbasid poet al-Buhturi

Many of the buildings have been excavated and restored by the Iraq Directorate of Antiquities, and before them, by the German Samarra Expedition in 1913. The excavations have brought to light a wide variety of different decorations: in many of the rooms there are carved stucco panels, with some in marble. From the ceilings come painted wooden beams. There are hexagonal and square glazed ceramic tiles with metallic lustre decoration, and panels of glass mosaic. From one dome chamber in the so-called ‘Harem’, there were extensive wall-paintings under the dome.

 
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