Lost views: ‘Palaces of Mechatta’

This image from our lantern slide collection is labelled “PALACES OF MECHATTA: ON EDGE OF SYRIAN DESERT, CARVING” “SYRIA (6th AD) “XEm”


The monumental unfinished palace of Qasr Mshatta was discovered and excavated in 1840, and lies about 30km south of Amman in Jordan. It probably dates to the mid 8th century. The huge intricately carved southern facade, illustrated in this image, was given as a gift to Kaiser Wilhelm II and transported to Berlin in 1903. A significant proportion of the carvings have been reconstructed and are now on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, having suffered damage from bombing during WWII.

In an article of 1908, P. Siméon Vailhé described the site as: ‘this fairytale palace, pearl of the Syrian desert, before the facade was taken to Berlin’. He also added that ‘the legendary palace of Mechatta has been measured, drawn and photographed to the last detail’, and noted that the 24 extremely good, large format photographs allowed the facade to be studied as it was when it was still in place.

HEIR, the Historic Environment Image Resource, contains many evocative images which provoke a debate about how and why ancient sites have changed, whether changes are beneficial or destructive, and how the treatment of material culture in the past and present represents a complex interplay of political, social and cultural attitudes. Change is inevitable, and the value of a resource such as HEIR is the opportunity it gives to study lost views of the past, as Simeon Vailhe noted.

P. Siméon Vailhé (1908) Chronique byzantine et médiévale de Palestine (Vizantijsky Vremennik, xiv p462-482)

About Archaeology Archives Administrator

Researchers in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Home of the Historic Environment Image Resource. Passionate about old photographs and fresh biscuits.
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