Qasr Amra is the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. It was built early in the 8th century, sometime between 723 and 743, by Walid Ibn Yazid, the future Umayyad caliph Walid II, whose dominance of the region was rising at the time. It is considered one of the most important examples of early Islamic art and architecture. The discovery of an inscription during work in 2012 has allowed for more accurate dating of the structure.
The building is actually the remnant of a larger complex that included an actual castle, of which only the foundation remains. What stands today is a small country cabin, meant as a royal retreat, without any military function. It is most notable for the frescoes that remain on the ceilings inside, which depict hunting, naked women and, above one bath chamber, an accurate representation of the zodiac. These have led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of four in the country. That status, and its location along Jordan’s major east-west highway, relatively close to Amman, have made it a frequent tourist destination.
The caldarium or hot bath’s hemispheric dome has a representation of the heavens in which the zodiac is depicted, among 35 separate identifiable constellations. It is believed to be the earliest image of the night sky painted on anything other than a flat surface. The radii emerge not from the dome’s center but, accurately, from the north celestial pole. The angle of the zodiac is depicted accurately as well. The only error discernible in the surviving artwork is the counterclockwise order of the stars, which suggests the image was copied from one on a flat surface.