These partially reconstructed 8th-century ruins are of the winter palace of Umayyad caliph Walid II, planned as a lavish castle but never finished. They're a short drive from the international airport, but you'll need your own transport (or hired taxi) to reach them. If you ignore the occasional jet soaring overhead, the extensive site hints at the vast potential of the caliph’s grand vision – one cut short in 744, when he was assassinated by angry labourers on the site.
Sadly, the elaborate carvings on the palace facade are now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, a 1903 gift to Kaiser Wilhelm of the Ottoman Sultan Abd al Hamid of Turkey. Mushatta was also partially destroyed by earthquakes, and most of the columns and watchtowers have long since collapsed. However, the huge exterior wall and carved facades still hint at the original grandeur and beauty of the site.
Right of the entrance are the ruins of a mosque, with its obviously rebuilt mihrab (niche in mosque, indicating direction of Mecca). The northern sections have the remains of a vaulted audience hall and residences. Segmented pillars lie scattered around like broken vertebrae. One unusual feature of the site is that the vaults were made from burnt bricks (an uncommon material in buildings of this style) rather than black basalt. Don't miss the ancient toilets (complete with drains), which are located at the back of the hall.
If you’re driving from Amman, turn right at the roundabout by the Airport Hotel. Make sure you have your passport ready to show the guards at the security checkpoints along the route. Leave your passport at the first security check and then follow the road for 12km around the perimeter of the airport, turning right by the second and third check posts.
A potential alternative is to charter a taxi from the airport (JD17) – an idea if you have a long wait for a flight – or combine a taxi to the airport with a visit to the ruins. A visit can be made from the airport in an hour.