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A Report on Islamic Art: Architecture

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Architecture is not just a building, street, or a space. Architecture forms a specific theme for a place and gives it its own personality. These details become part of that space and grow with the people who use it. Architecture is considered one of the main factors that affect history by the different shapes, patterns, styles, and the way it is constructed. Each period of time has its own style, as people design their cities with standards that change constantly. Religion played an important role in shaping architecture and a way to represent a culture or different groups of people over the years.

Islamic architecture is a great example when it comes to history of architecture. It is considered a big movement in architecture and had a long-term impact on our cities especially in the Middle East and most of the Islamic countries. As a Muslim coming from the Middle East, I studied architecture engineering and learned about the history of Islamic architecture, also how it influenced the future of architecture. In this essay, I will talk about how the Islamic architecture was involved in many building’s designs in Europe and especially in Spain. “Muslims have derived their architecture style from the Byzantines, the Copts, Romans, and the Sassanids. The types of Islamic architecture are the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace, and the Fort. Islamic architectural style developed soon after the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Example may be known with the completion of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It featured interior vaulted spaces, a circular dome, and the use of decorative pattern. The art of building was popular.”

“The Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century shrine in Jerusalem, is the first Islamic building to feature this architectural element. Inspired by Byzantine plans, the octagonal edifice is topped with a wooden dome, which was plated in gold during the 16th century. Unlike most Islamic domes — which rest on pendentives — the dome sits on a drum supported by 16 piers and columns.”

“Pendentives are tapered structures that allow a circular base for a round or elliptical dome to be placed on a square or rectangular room. In Islamic architecture, pendentives are often decorated with tiles or muqarnas, a type of sculptural decoration.”

“Islamic architecture forbids any use of symbolic art such as statues, paintings, or other representations of living things. That’s why you won’t see family portraits or painting of people in Muslims homes. The second restriction is the use of high cost materials. So Islamic’s artists work with mainly brass, clay, and wood. They learned to decorate objects made with these less expensive materials. One of their design characteristics is an arabesque.”

Islamic architecture is known for its own arches, domes, curves, courtyards and patterns. Spain was affected by these elements as Muslims and Arabs lived there for years. Until this day, some of these buildings affected by the Islamic architecture still exist and have the historic value. The Patio (Spanish courtyard) is considered one of the old spaces that shows elements related to the Islamic architecture. It is known for the relationship that is created between the interior and the exterior spaces as the courtyard connects both with the use of Islamic arches and patterns, “the patio is free of its exact form and familial context, as its elements are expanded to create public spaces in an urban context”.

“The Muslim empire in Andalusia occurred between the years 750 and 1031AD, with the city of Cordoba as its political and intellectual center. The exiled heir of the caliphate in Damascus, Abd al-Rahman, a half-Arab prince born of a Berber mother, whose family was murdered while he himself barely escaped, established his capital here by uniting the various feuding Islamic tribes that had arrived a few decades earlier. Cordoba was thriving, and the welcoming of foreigners and funding of places of culture allowed the arts to flourish. Architecture was abundant in the form of gardens, universities, public baths, massive libraries and mosques. The mosque typology in Muslim culture is immensely important, and central to its architecture was the presence of ornament.”

“The mosque of Cordoba is one of the most important remnants of this period. Built upon Roman and Visigothic ruins, the mosque has continued to add more layers, receiving additions and amendments from subsequent owners. The mosque was built with a non-hierarchical plan, as a civic institution for the people of Cordoba. It is a hypostyle structure; a flat ceiling supported by columns — in this case, a vast grid of columns, creating the impression of an endless space. The public portion of the mosque is left unadorned and here there is no privileged portion, no “center” to the building. The space is not processional, as one is not meant to follow a certain prescribed path or narrative, but rather to wander. As stated in the philosophy of Islam, wherever the worshipper is standing, that, for him, is the center of the mosque, of the structure, and of the world.”

Elaborate ornament adds beauty to the space above the area for public prayer. Stone horseshoe arches fly overhead, supporting the roof, arch on top of arch. They are alternating red brick and white stone, a kind of vaudeville act for the senses occurring above you. The Roman aqueducts of Mérida provide some precedent for these structures. The horseshoe arch is an element of indigenous church building tradition both before and after Muslim rule in Spain. Some of the columns are recycled from ruined churches and Roman civic buildings. In a common practice of Andalusian architecture, these architectural remnants were assimilated into the structure, creating a dialogue between the revived indigenous cultures and the newly thriving one.

“Alhambra at Granada, Spain, built in the 1300’s, is the best known. Its many rooms are built around three open courts. The Court of the Myrtles features a long rectangular pool flanked by hedges. In the center of the inner Court of the Lions stands a fountain supported by twelve lions. The lower part of the palace walls is decorated with colored tiles set in geometric patterns. Painted and gilded plaster designs cover the upper part of the walls.”

“In all the history of the world, there has been architecture and artwork that has resonated with the human mind, soul, and spirit, but the structures and buildings of Al-Andalus have set the bar high, and by extension impacted architecture even today. The Great Mosque of Cordoba still stands today as an example of Islamic Spain’s architecture; at the castle Alhambra one can also observe the architectural style of this civilization, and one can even see Al-Andalus art in the Cathedral of Seville which was formerly a mosque. In conclusion, these great achievements show the advanced artwork and skill of Muslim Spain, and still amaze millions around the world today.”

“There are so many defining elements of Islamic Architecture. The use of the frame created organization and design. Calligraphy was found in the decoration of almost every Islamic building. Geometry become a major art form by using the circle as a basis and generating patterns from repetition, symmetry and changing scale to create unusual effects. Reflected light was developed and multiplied with the Muqarnas cells beneath domes, and they reflected and refracted light. Ceramic tiles and mirrors to increase the amount of light. Foliation including the classical vine and scroll motifs gave rise to the abstract art of the arabesque. Lastly, water was an essential element. Islamic architecture influenced the widespread use of the niche form for Mihrab, tombstone, door, window or decorative feature, lamps, domes, mosaics, geometric shapes, patterns, intertwining leaf motifs and designs, fountains, gardens, and courtyards.”

“Islamic art took from the civilizations surrounding it and also impacted them. The Chinese were influenced in their vases and carpets. Medieval Europe were influenced in their arts and showed it from their adoption of arches to their illuminations of Latin and Hebrew manuscripts. For instance, gothic architecture was influenced by Islamic architecture. Specifically, Islamic architecture influenced gothic architecture with the architectural feature, the pointed arch. The pointed arch was introduced to Europe after the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily in 1090, the Crusades which began in 1096, and the Islamic presence in Spain, which all brought about a knowledge of this significant structural device. It is probable also that decorative carved stone screens and window openings filled with pierced stone also influenced Gothic tracery. In Spain, in particular, individual decorative motifs occur which are common to both Islamic and Christian architectural moldings and sculpture. Of course, the elements of Islamic art can be seen in the greatest Islamic masterpieces such as the grand mosques of Cordova in Spain, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Blue mosque in Turkey. The works of these Muslim artists have become prototypes and models on which other artists and craftsmen patterned their own works, or from which they derived the inspiration for related work.”

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