most important building in Islamic Spain and other centers
of Muslim civilization is the mosque (called in Arabic
masjid), a house
of worship. Mosques are almost completely empty inside,
without seats or altars. The empty space is a surface for
decoration and expression of form.
mosques are modeled upon the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinat al
Nabi (a city near Makkah, in today’s Saudi Arabia). It was a
simple rectangular building with a
prayer niche, to show the direction to face during worship.
It had columns made of date palm trunks, and a thatched roof
held up by palm trunks. The person who called the prayer,
climbed to the roof so he could be heard in the neighborhood
of the mosque.
Virtually all other mosques have these same features: a
prayer hall, a
a tower the muezzin climbs to project his voice in the call
to prayer. Beyond these common characteristics, however,
mosques are as varied as the lands and the Muslims living
around the world.
decoration is equally varied, from plain earthen or
white-plastered walls, to fabulously carved and tiled
geometric designs. None of these designs -- nor any other
feature of the mosque -- depicts an animal or human being,
which might suggest worship of any other being but God.
Calligraphy, or beautiful writing from the Qur’an, Islam’s
holy book, can be found in many mosques as part of the
decoration on walls, arches, domes and tiles.
Great Mosque of Córdoba was designed under Abdurrahman I. It
began construction in 787 CE, then expanded under later
rulers. The building was innovative. The double
horseshoe-shaped arches added height and drama to the prayer
space, especially with their red-and-white striped
decoration on top of simple columns.
color in architecture was a design element that traveled
widely under Andalusian influence. In 961 CE, a special
section of the mosque added “poly-lobed” arches with carved
decoration, meaning that the arch was scalloped. The ribbed
dome of the mosque gave it strength, but also formed a star
pattern that highlights the mosaic designs in the center and
between the ribs. The architectural features in the Córdoba
mosque spread to other forms of architecture and became
visual symbols of Al-Andalus. The ribbed vault design became
a familiar feature in gothic cathedrals of northern Europe.
minaret is another Islamic form that found many applications
in other places, from bell towers in Europe to skyscrapers
in the 20th century. Minarets can be very solid, like those
built using adobe brick, which have a narrow pyramid shape,
or they can be very thin like Ottoman period minarets. In
Spain and Morocco, brick towers with a square footprint
graced the rectangular mosque layout. The minaret rose to a
great height and featured geometric patterns in brick, and
symmetrical openings near the slender top.
for Andalusian rulers were legendary for their influence in
the West for centuries to come. Madinat al-Zahra was the
first palace to be built in Al-Andalus. Built during the
rule of Abdurrahman III (961-976 CE), it was a complex of
buildings on terraces, and composed of indoor and outdoor
spaces intermingled with gardens, pools, fountains, and
surrounded by walls. Its walls and pillars were decorated
with carving and tilework, and it was filled with fine
furniture and decorative pieces made by the best craftsmen.
It was a wonder to those who visited it and carried away
stories of its grandeur. Madinat al-Zahra was destroyed in
1010 CE during a civil war, and it still remains for
archaeologists to learn from its ruins.
second most famous palace was built by the Nasrid rulers of
Granada during the 13th century or earlier. It
shows the influence of the North African dynasties that
ruled in Spain, and brought important ideas in architecture
with them. One of these ideas is the decorative
plaster stalactites that break up the solidity of domes and
arches, placed in geometric patterns and surrounded by
carved plaster, calligraphy and tilework. The Alhambra is
also a complex of indoor and outdoor spaces that flow into
one another, with pools and gardens. The Alhambra has been
celebrated by poets, travelers, and artists since it was
are many other architectural monuments in Spain that show
the skill and artistic splendor of Andalusian architecture.
Cities such as Toledo, Valencia, Almeria, Seville, and
others have mosques, bridges, public works, and homes in the
Andalusian style. This style also traveled to the New World
with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and spread to the
southwestern United States.
Jacobs and Francisco Fernandez.
York: Rizzoli, 2000.
Saoud, Salim al Hassani, and Ahmed Salem. “A Review on
Architecture in Islamic Spain and North Africa (756-1500
AD),” Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization,
Jan. 2002. Retrieved at
Bodner. “Constructing and Classifying Designs of Al-Andalus,”
Mathematics Department, Monmouth University. Retrieved at
“Giralda Towers in the United States,” retrieved at
Influence of Andalusian and other Muslim craft centers on
the development of stained glass retrieved at
of Córdoba, pillars retrieved at
of Madinat al-Zahra retrieved at
the Mosque of Córdoba at
tower, Seville, retrieved at
Alhambra, Court of the Lions and Muqarnas decoration
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