What is Islamic Architecture?

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Florine Tanner
On 4 min read

You can find Islamic architecture in the Arab States and Muslim-majority nations around the globe, as well in European countries with Arab and Islamic histories like Spain and Portugal.

Islamic architecture is an ancient category of architecture, rooted in Islam’s principles. Some of the most impressive and inspiring built structures on Earth are Islamic buildings. They feature striking sculptural forms, often with dazzling ornamental detail.

History of Islamic Architecture

Islamic architecture is a type of architecture that was designed to reflect the principles of Islam. It was developed by the Mohammedan (people who practice Islam) in the 7th Century. This tradition continues today. The mosque, which is a Muslim place of worship, is the building most often associated with Islamic architecture. Islamic architecture can be both secular or religious. It includes large-scale mosques and fortresses as well as palaces and tombs. Public buildings like schools and hospitals are also included. Smaller structures include fountains and public baths.

The influence of existing styles like Persian, Byzantine and Roman architectures was evident in early Islamic architecture. Mughal and Chinese architecture influenced Islamic architecture as it spread from the Middle East to other parts of the world. The Islamic-esque style of architecture found in Europe’s parts is a form of Islamic architecture. It was created by the North African Muslims, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula along with many other islands of the Western Mediterranean. This style has been cultivated over hundreds of years. Spain is home to many examples of this style. Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect, was a prominent example of this style. His work was heavily influenced by the Islamic style in Spain.

The Key Characteristics Of Islamic Architecture

Minarets

Minarets, towering spires with small windows and interior staircases, are beautiful to behold and serve an important function: they call Muslims to prayer five times daily.

Domes

Islamic architecture uses domes on pendentives, which allow for a round dome to be placed in a square or rectangular room. Many pendentives have mosaic tiles as their decoration.

Muqarnas Vaulting

Exquisite muqarnas vaulting, which resembles a honeycomb or stalagite pattern adds a textural touch to ceilings in intricately and colorfully tiled interiors.

Arches

Horseshoe (or Keyhole); pointed; scalloped multifoil and ogee style arches.

Ornamental Details

Multi-colored mosaic tiles are used in Islamic decoration. They often feature repeated patterns, non-figurative vegetal or geometric motifs, and patterns like the arabesque. You may also find passages from the Qur’an in Arabic calligraphy scripts. Another distinctive feature is the mashrabiya or wood lattice, which is used on windows to control climate and privacy. It can also be used in modern settings as a decorative element or alternative for dividing interior spaces. Wall paintings, stucco sculptures and wall panels are all decorative elements in Islamic design.

Outdoor Elements

Islamic architecture is often characterized by gardens, walled courtyards and open hypostyle halls supported up by columns.

Famous examples of Islamic Architecture

The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

This famous shrine, dating back to the 7th Century, is the oldest remaining Islamic monument. The Dome of the Rock is the first Islamic building to have a Byzantine-style dome. It was also one of the first examples of Islamic design. An octagonal foundation supports the gold-plated wooden dome. The structure itself is decorated with geometric and floral mosaics.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World is cited as the best example of Islamic architecture in the world. This sprawling mausoleum complex, which combines elements of Persian, Indian and Islamic architecture, has been a popular tourist attraction and a prized backdrop for selfies. Its central white marble tomb makes it instantly recognisable. You will find intricate details like precious inlaid stones, Arabic calligraphy, and more.

The Alhambra, Granada (Spanish)

The Alhambra, a 14th century palace and fortress built on a plateau overlooking Granada in Spain, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although some of the original structures have been lost over the past 700 years, the magnificent example of Islamic architectural ornament that remains is the Court of Lions, which features carved wood, stucco and colorful tiling as well as calligraphy and muqarnas.

Baku, Azerbaijan: Heydar Aliyev Center

Helene Binet / Zaha Hadid Architects

This award-winning cultural center, designed by Zaha Hadid (Iraqi-British architect), was a well-known example. It was built in 2013 and won the Islamic Style Award. This building interprets the traditional Islamic architectural flow, which is a strong symbol of Islamic tradition. It also looks modern and contemporary.

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