Islamic Architecture

Islam has expanded in Arabic peninsula where the inhabitants were living a nomadic life. The religion brought a new kind of sanctuary called ”mosque” which is mostly known today with domes however it was started as a columned hypostyle hall architecture in the beginning. Islamic cities at first did not have regular city plans however there was an obvious order in the orientations of mosques.

The city of Mecca had been the primary city for nomadic people of Arabia due to Kaaba, a cubic formed black house including statues and icons for pagan cults. Yet, after the spread of Islam in this region, Kaaba had purified from its pagan iconography and converted to the pole of Islamic prayer. In addition to Kaaba people were in the need of a common space to perform their daily worship and for this aim the house of Prophet Muhammed in Medina transformed to the first mosque of Islamic prayers- the hypostyle mosque. It was a square courtyard made of mud-brick walls and palm-trunk roof and surrounded with columns at entrance. Unlike other examples of mosques, prayer hall was facing Jerusalem (qibla=direction of prayers)

Earliest samples of mosques resembles the form of Roman basilicas. First mosques followed a modest pattern and consisted a fountain for religious needs and inside they were laterally organised halls to orient all the prayers toward the same direction, Mecca. There occurred three types of mosques in time, one with longitudinal aisles directing the qibla, one with lateral aisles again directing qibla and the hypostyle hall.
First examples of hypostyle hall mosques appeared in Kufah. The city had a grid plan with two crossing streets dividing the city in quadrants.At the centre the mosque and the palace were placed closely to each other. And the centre of each quadrants were used as maydan.

Dome of the Rock source:

During Ummayans period Islamic architecture highly inspired by Romans. Doubtlessly the most striking structure of this period is the Dome of the Rock namely Kubbet’us Sahra in the Temple Mount. It reminiscences about the late Roman and Byzantine baptisteries. The structure has two ambulatories around the centre in the form of a martyrium. It consists of pointed arch which later became an irreplaceable element for future mosques. Ummayans use different colors of marble and mosaic decoration instead of human representations.

The Great Mosque of Damascus source:

One another significant structure of Ummanyans is the Great Mosque of Damascus. It is a hypostyle type mosque with a courtyard.Different from previous ones it had a single minaret placed to be making an axis with the prayers hall (two other minarets added later). It has so many traces of Roman architecture since it was built on a former Byzantine site. Corinthian columns, pedimented entrance of the prayers hall. Ummayans’ other contribution to the Islamic architecture is ‘mihrab’ which is used to indicate the qibla. Another one is ‘maksura’ which means a ‘closed-off space’ used to keep the ruler in safe from assassins and it is placed next to mihrab.

In the period of Abbasids, they created a circular city plan in Baghdad. They constructed four city gates with similar distances from each other on the edges of the circle. They were deep arched gates called ‘iwan’. Similar to the city of Kufah, Baghdad had two crossing streets and enclosed with vaults.
A later capital of the Abbasids was Samarra. Here they built huge palaces and mosques such as the Caliph’s Palace. However the greatness and hugeness of the palace later created a ‘solemn distance’ between the caliph and people. Expectedly they built the greatest mosque in the world called The Great Mosque of Samarra which is very distinctive with its ziggurat like minaret.

Iraq - Samarra - A man climbs the minaret of the Al-Mutawakkil mosque
Minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra ,

The mosque has a very large courtyard surrounded by four columns deep arcades and the prayers hall was placed on the same axis with the minaret like seen in the Great Mosque of Damascus.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun built by a Turkish vizier of Abbasids in Cairo resembles those in Samarra. It has a square courtyard and a spiral minaret. Takşng references from precious ones with pointed vaults and arcades *largest one of these were on the side of qibla-.


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