Qasr Ibn Wardan (قصر ابن وردان) is a fascinating Byzantine church and palace complex located at the edge of the desert to the northeast of Hama (حماة). Built during the reign of Justinian and completed in 564, the site supplemented other Byzantine fortifications such as Halabiyeh (حلبية) and al-Rasafeh (الرصافة) in defense of the Persians to the east. The approach here was far more elegant in design, with significant attention paid to architectural details. High quality materials were utilized in the construction of Qasr Ibn Wardan (قصر ابن وردان).
The site originally consisted of a church, palace (or administrative building) and a military barracks. Practically nothing remains of the barracks, but the palace remains relatively well preserved and the church is in excellent condition. The palace is the largest remaining structure and consists of several rooms on two floors surrounding a central courtyard. The building was dated by inscription to 564. South of the palace is where the barracks once stood, but aside from a small portion of surviving wall, nothing remains to be seen.
The church, to the west of the palace, is the most impressive structure at the site. Though the dome collapsed long ago, the church is otherwise excellently preserved. The building was largely constructed with brick and local basalt, though there are columns and capitals that may have been brought from Apamea (آفاميا) as well as imported gypsum, limestone and marble. It was square in plan, with two floors and a high dome supported by arches. The stone carvings are somewhat crude compared to later Byzantine sites in the region, particularly in the limestone massif.
Allow at least an hour to fully explore Qasr Ibn Wardan (قصر ابن وردان). The palace and church are often kept locked, a local caretaker will let you in and collect the nominal entrance fee to the site. Consider combining nearby sites such as al-Andarin (الاندرين), Salamiyeh (سلمية) and/or Qalaat al-Shamamis (قلعة الشماميس) with your visit.
Getting There: Unfortunately, getting to Qasr Ibn Wardan (قصر ابن وردان) is not so easy. Public transportation from Hama (حماة) only travels as close as the town of al-Hamra (ال حمرا), from which private transportation must be arranged for the remaining distance of about 25 kilometers. Microbuses run from Hama (حماة) to al-Hamra (ال حمرا) fairly regularly, and the trip takes 30 minutes.
While it shouldn’t be too difficult to hitchhike to Qasr Ibn Wardan (قصر ابن وردان) from al-Hamra (ال حمرا), it is a matter of luck. You might be picked up after a few minutes, or it could take half an hour. There is less traffic midday, so it is best to get an early start. If negotiating with a driver in al-Hamra (ال حمرا) for a round-trip fare, be sure to allow at least an hour to fully explore the site. You could also negotiate a one-way fare, and then attempt to hitchhiking or find a passing driver for hire back to al-Hamra (ال حمرا).
Given the remoteness of this site, it isn’t recommended you attempt to visit alone, particularly if you are a woman. The Riad Hotel and Cairo Hotel in Hama (حماة) also offer reasonably priced tours to this area.