sábado, 19 de marzo de 2011

Typologies in Islamic Architecture (I): Mosques


For obvious reasons, mosque are central elements in Islamic architecture. They are a symbol of faith that they serves. This symbolic role was understood by Muslims in a very early stage, and played an important role in creating appropriate visible signs for these buildings: minaret, dome, mihrab and minbar. 


Differents types of mirhab

Mirhab in Mezquita de Córdoba

Mimbar in Mezquita de Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt (1474).


The first mosque in Islam was the Prophet's house courtyard in Medina, devoid of any architectural refinement. Written sources allow us to make an accurate reconstruction of this building, which consisted of a series of rooms opened onto a courtyard surrounded by a large wall that served to protect the camels during the night. When this building became a place of preaching and prayer, a shelter designed to provide shade was added on its north, looking to Jerusalem. It was supported on two rows of palm trunks that supported a roof of palm trees. From year 630, after he made the decision that faithful prostration should be made towards Mecca and not towards Jerusalem, a second porch had to be built on the south side of the courtyard, which was also covered with palms and supported by three rows of palm trunks.

Muhammad's house in Medina and evolution of the very first mosques from it. Grey: court; green: praying hall; blue: entrances; purple: reception rooms. 


Courtyard porticoes of house in Medina , antecedent of future of mosques, were characterized by a dimension in which width out clearly on the depth (only 2 or 3 palm trunks rows maintained its roof). That general aspect should be since then one of usual characteristics of Islamic prayer rooms, which differ clearly from enlarged naves in Christian churches . All great mosques with columns that will be built by Umayyads will respect the model offered by Prophet's house, becoming a monumentalization of that diagram from Medina.  


The first mosques built by Muslims as their empire expanded were very simple. Great Mosque or Friday Mosque (yama', aljama) was developed from those first buildings, whose essential elements have remained unchanged for nearly 1400 years. Its general plan is a large courtyard surrounded by arched galleries, whoith a higher number of arches in the side facing Mecca (qibla) than elsewhere. Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, whose plan is based on the Prophet's mosque, became the prototype for many mosques built in different parts of Islamic world. 
Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria (705-715). Exterior 

Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria (705-715). Architectural Scheme.

Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria (705-715). Aerial view. 

Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba (784-987). Plan of muslim mosque before later christian aditions. 

Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba (784-987). Ideal reconstruction during caliphate


Two other types of mosques were deveolped in Anatolia and later in Ottoman domains: basilical mosque and mosque with cupola. First type is a simple basilica or column hall inspired by late Syrian Roman and Byzantine traditions, with some modifications introduced in 11th century. Second type, developed during Ottoman period, has an interior organized under a single cupola. Ottoman architects created a new domed style in great imperial mosques, blending Islamic traditional mosque with dome construction in Anatolia. Main dome rests on a hexagonal structure, while side bays are covered by smaller domes. This emphasis on creating an interior space dominated by a single dome became the starting point of a style that would spread in 16th century. During this period, mosques were converted into multipurpose social groups formed by a zawiya, a madrasa, a public kitchen, baths, a caravanserai and a mausoleum dedicated to the founder. Most important monument of this type is Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, built in 1557 by architect Sinan. 









Minaret, from which top the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer, is the mosque most prominent sign. Traditional minaret in Syria is a stone square tower. Egyptian Mamluk minarets are divided into three parts: a square tower at the bottom, an octagonal middle section and a cylindrical top surmounted by a small dome. Its central body is richly decorated and the transition zone between different sections is coated with a decorative band of mocarabe. North African and Spanish minarets, which are square tower as Syrians, use ornamental panels arranged around double windows (sebka). During Ottoman period squared towers were replaced by cylindrical and octagonal minarets. They are usually sharped, tall and, although mosques have often only a single minaret, in major cities, they may have two, four or even six. 
Different Minaret types.

Giralda, Seville, Spain (1172-1181). Evolution from almohad minaret (left).

Giralda, Seville, Spain (1172-1181). Detail of sekba panels.

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