Iraq al Amir

Around 24 kilometers southwest of Amman, stand the ruins of Qasr al-Abd (Castle of the Slave) and the ancient caves of ‘Iraq al-Amir (Caves of the Prince).

Local legend has it that Qasr al-Abd was built by a love-smitten slave named Tobiah. While his master was away on a journey, Tobiah built a palace and carved lions, panthers and eagles on its walls in order to win the love of his master’s daughter. Unfortunately, the master returned before Tobiah could finish the work, and the slave’s efforts went unrequited.

Little is known for sure about the actual history of this castle, but it is widely believed to have been built in the second century BCE by Hyrcanus, head of the powerful Tobiad family and governor of Ammon. The name "Castle of the Slave" may thus refer to Hyrcanus himself, who, as governor, was a "slave of the people." The first-century historian Josephus recorded the wealth of the Tobiad family and the exploits of Hyrcanus, who built a strong fortress of white stone which was decorated with carvings of "animals of a prodigious magnitude." Perhaps the most interesting part is the north entrance, with one of the original carved animals, a giant stone lion, peering down over all who pass underneath. The entire building was once covered with such figures.

The estate was originally surrounded by a wall and included a lake and a park with trees and shrubs. The castle itself is unique, in that it was built from some of the largest blocks of any building in the Middle East. The largest block measures seven by three meters, but as most were only about 40 centimeters wide, the whole construction was quite flimsy. An earthquake in 362 CE completely flattened the palace.

As you return up the valley, stop around 500 meters from the Qasr. On the left you will find a group of caves cut from the rock. These are known as ‘Iraq al-Amir. The caves, eleven in total, are arranged in two tiers and are thought to be man-made. They were once used as cavalry stables, while the villagers today use them to house their goats and store chaff. At the front of one of the caves, easily recognizable by its carved doorway, the word "Tobiad" is engraved in Aramaic. This gives credence to the theory that Qasr al-Abd was built by the Tobiad family.