In the early Muslim caliphate – and I’m going back to the 7th and 8th centuries AD here – you can find Islamic architecture that takes you completely by surprise. The buildings borrow heavily from Roman and Persian styles. There are human and animal depictions. And even a bathhouse can have some very racy material on the walls to rival Pompeii.
During my recent visit to Jordan I journeyed into the eastern deserts towards Iraq and visited the only remnant of an early Islamic castle dating back to around 723AD – built by the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid II. This was within a hundred years of the death of the prophet Muhammad – so fascinating to see how an early Muslim lived. And it seems Al-Walid lived very well.
Early Islamic bathhouse yields its secrets
The site was being cleaned by a team of archaeologists as I entered and being in the middle of a vast, hot desert, I was very much on my own. What I saw was not what I expected. The remaining building of a once great palace was a bathhouse with Roman-style underfloor heating and rather racy paintings on the walls and ceilings.
Dancing ladies and animals playing musical instruments. Quite lurid and exotic portrayals of human and animal forms. Strong colours everywhere. The closest thing I could compare it to was the frescoes I’ve seen in Pompeii in Italy. So it seemed appropriate that when I walked around in 2013, a team of Italian archaeologists were busy cleaning the walls and revealing new detaiuls.
Judging by this early Islamic bathhouse – it seems like the caliph liked the high life!