Qasr Ukhaydir
Kufa, Iraq
Approximately 120 miles south of Baghdad stand the remains of Ukhaider, a complex encompassing a mosque, palace, and bathhouse enclosed in a protective rectangular outer limestone masonry wall measuring 2.6 meters thick and 19 meters high. It is certain that it dates to the late 8th century. According to Creswell, it was most likely commissioned by Isa ibn Musa, the nephew of the 'Abbasid caliphs as-Saffah and his successor, al-Mansur.

The outer wall is composed of individual arched recesses framed by semi-circular towers that alternate two to one, respectively, with four round towers buttressing its corners. Above these recesses running the periphery of the structure are a series of openings that serve as arrow slits. The southern, eastern, and western facades each possess gateways contained by quarter-round towers. While Ukhaider's main entrance is located at the center of the northern face and leads to the palace. There are signs that reveal how each of these gates featured a portcullis type gate that could be lowered to prevent passage. However the central gate also boasted a rectangular tower with a vaulted entrance hall with transverse arches that sheltered an overlooking chamber from where soldiers could pour boiling oil for defense against siege. This hall was flanked by two windowless rooms. It has been argued that this entrance was an afterthought as directly behind it the gateway is designed exactly the same as the other three, with a portcullis and domed chamber. Extending eastward and westward from this area were two arched hallways that served as stables while an arch opening to the south led to a vaulted area approximately seven meters wide by 15 meters deep.

Beyond this area is a mosque that in plan is almost 25 by 16 meters. It includes a rectangular mihrab in its southern face featuring a half-domed cover that extends onto horizontal brackets which alludes to Persian-Mesopotamian influence.

Extending straight out of the domed chamber is the Court of Honour, where vaulted rooms are organized around a blind-arcaded courtyard. To the south of this court is one of the earliest examples of the pishtaq, a rectangular encased liwan, common in Persian construction in later periods. Another Persian feature introduced here is a technique known as hazarbaf, which consists of geometrically organized patterns constructed of brick in varying lengths. Situated on either side of this liwan were the Hall of Public Audience and the Hall of Private Audience each including adjacent waiting rooms.

To the south of this main area is the residential part of the complex. Four individual and separate living quarters are each organized around a central courtyard. These suites contained a central reception hall with side rooms as summer and winter living quarters, an outer staircase that extended to the roof, and areas designated for cooking that had terracotta piped chimneys.

A baked brick bathhouse is constructed into the outer enclosure at the southern most part of the site revealing a later date, indicating that the complex was developed over time.


Bell, Gertrude Lowthian. 1914. Palace and Mosque at Ukhaidir: A Study in Early Muhammadan Architecture. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Creswell, K. A. C.1989. A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture. Rev. ed. Allan, James W. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 248-264.

Ettinghausen, Richard and Grabar, Oleg. 1987. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 79-82.
Kufa, Iraq
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Associated Names
764-78/146-61 AH
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Variant Names
Ukhaydir Palace
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