Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Mosque of Amr ibn al-Ashe: the first mosque built in Egypt

The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As (Arabic: جامع عمرو بن العاص‎), also called the Mosque of Amr, was originally built in 642 AD, as the center of the newly-founded capital of Egypt, Fustat. The original structure was the first mosque ever built in Egypt, and by extension, the first mosque on the continent of Africa.

The location for the mosque was the site of the tent of the commander of the conquering army, general Amr ibn al-As. One corner of the mosque contains the tomb of his son, Abdullah. Due to extensive reconstruction over the centuries, nothing of the original building remains, but the rebuilt Mosque is a prominent landmark, and can be seen in what today is known as "Old Cairo".

source: wikipedia

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The architecture of the Fatimids

The architecture of the Fatimids can be divided into two periods, the North African period from 909 to 969 and the Egyptian period from 969 to 1171. The North African period was a time of expansion and religious extremism which can be seen in the architecture of the mosques. Examples of early Fatimid mosques are at Ajdabiya in Libiya and Mahdiya in Tunisia. The first of these was the mosque of Mahdiya, which was built like a fortress with two square corner towers flanking a single projecting monumental entrance. The mosque at Ajdabiya had a similar plan but lacks the monumental entrance facade. For ideological reasons neither of these mosques had a minaret, a feature which remained absent until the last years of Fatimid rule in Egypt.

source: ArchNet



Mahdiya (al-Mahdiyah, Mahdia, Mehdia) Fatimid capital of North Africa located on the east coast of Tunisia.

The city of Mahdiya occupies a defensive position on the peninsula of Ras Mahdi. The city was established in 913 by the Fatimid Mahdi (leader) 'Ubaid Allah on the site of the destroyed Carthiginian port of Zella. The city functioned as a port from which the Fatimids were able to launch their campaign to conquer Egypt. 

Architecturally the most significant building in the town is the Great Mosque built in 916. This is the earliest surviving example of a Fatimid mosque. The design of the mosque differs considerably from earlier North African mosques as it had no minarets and only one monumental entrance giving it the appearance of a fortress rather than a mosque. 

source: ArchNet 

Great Mosque of Mahdiya

The Great Mosque of Mahdiya has gone through multiple incarnations. Originally built in 916 by Obayd Allah El-Medhi, who led a military campaign for Egypt, its qibla wall collapsed into the sea in the eleventh century and was reconstructed at a later date. The mosque was almost entirely destroyed in 1554, along with the ramparts on which it was built. Early in the eighteenth century Youssef Sahib ordered the mosque to be rebuilt with a new prayer hall, a free-standing minaret in the Moorish-Andalusian style (which never existed in the original mosque), and two courtyards flanking the main structure. A narrow courtyard was also added in front of the entrance elevation facing the city. In 1961-65, a major restoration project led by A. Lezine removed the eighteenth century additions and rebuilt the mosque according to excavations of the original Fatimid mosque. Only the parts of the elevation facing the city with the entrance portal belong to the original mosque.  

source: ArchNet

The Fatimid Islamic Caliphate

The Fatimid Islamic Caliphate or al-Fāṭimiyyūn  was a Berber Shia Muslim caliphate first centered in Tunisia and later in Egypt that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and Hijaz from 5 January 909 to 1171.

The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the Tunisian city of Mahdia and made it their capital city, before conquering Egypt and building the city of Cairo in 969, which thereafter became their capital. The 4th century AH /10th century CE has been called by Louis Massignon ‘the Ismaili century in the history of Islam’.

The term Fatimite is sometimes used to refer to the citizens of this caliphate. The ruling elite of the state belonged to the Ismaili branch of Shi'ism. The leaders of the dynasty were also Shia Ismaili Imams, hence, they had a religious significance to Ismaili Muslims. They are also part of the chain of holders of the office of Caliph, as recognized by some Muslims. Therefore, this constitutes a rare period in history in which the descendants of Ali (hence the name Fatimid, referring to Ali's wife Fatima) and the Caliphate were united to any degree, excepting the final period of the Rashidun Caliphate under Ali himself.

source: wikipedia

Fatimids - ArchNet

Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. 1989. Early Islamic Architecture in Cairo. In Islamic Architecture in Cairo: An Introduction. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.

Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo

The minaret of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo

The Ibn Tulun Mosque - ArchNet

 PLAN of the Ibn Tulun Mosque, 876-9
( from Henri Stierlin, Architecture de l'Islam, 1979) 

Nilometer: Technology, Economy and Power

The Nilometer in Cairo, on the southern tip of Roda Island

Although a Nilometer has existed in the Cairo area since the Pharaonic Period, the Umayyads (an early Arab dynasty) constructed a Nilometer on Roda Island in about 715 AD. This structure was restored in 815, but was destroyed by a flood in 850. 

The Nilometer existent on Roda Island today was designed by Abu'l 'Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farqhani, a native of Farghana, West Turkestan, who is known in the West as the astronomer Alfraganus. The structure was restored in the 870's and again in 1092. It remains mostly original, except for the wooden conical roof (domed on the inside) which is a modern restoration. The earlier dome was destroyed by an explosion during the French occupation in 1825. It was rebuilt using, as a reference, an 18th century drawing by a Danish traveler.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

First Islamic Mausoleum: Sulaybiya

Sulaybiya Mausoleum in Samarra

The Qubbat al-Sulaybiyya is a small octagonal building 18m. across, located on the top of a hill on the west side of the Tigris. As first discovered, the remains of an inner octagon were standing, without a roof,.  At the centre of the building is a square room. In the centre of each side is an arched doorway, on each side of which is an arched semi-circular niche.  And the central room was surrounded by an ambulatory.

Following restoration by the Iraq Directorate of Antiquities in the 1970s, further excavations revealed an open outer platform with four ramps. (source: Samarra Archeological Survey)

source: ArchNet

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Stucco Decoration Samarra Style

style  A  from the Islamic Museum in Cairo

 style B  View of the entrados of two arches in the mosque of Ibn Toulon

 style C from the Islamic Museum in Cairo

The largest corpus of stucco work from the early Islamic period has been found at the Abbasid capital of Samarra in Iraq. The stucco from this site has been divided into three groups or styles which may represent a chronological development.
Style 'A' consists of vine leaves and vegetal forms derived from the Byzantine architecture of Syria-Palestine;  

style 'B'
is a more abstract version of this; 

style 'C' is entirely abstract with no recognizable representational forms. 

The first two styles appear to be carved, but the third style was produced by wooden moulds. The Samarra styles are significant as they reappear later in buildings such as the Ibn Tulun Mosque where the soffits of the arches are decorated with style 'B' ornament. After the collapse of the Abbasid caliphate stucco continued to be one of the main forms of decoration and spread throughout the Islamic world to India, Anatolia and Spain.

source: ArchNet

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Abbasid architecture

The great changes of the Abbasid era can be characterized as at the same time political, geo-political and cultural. The new period starts with the destruction of the Umayyad ruling family and its substitution by the Abbasids; it shifts the location of central power to the Mesopotamian area, and results in a corresponding displacement of the influence of classical and Byzantine artistic and cultural standards in favor of Persian and local Mesopotamian models.

In architecture, the building types created in the Umayyad period are fused with Eastern traditions. The rectangular hypostile plan of the Umayyad mosque, for instance, is retained but the materials and methods of construction, as well as some structural forms and the massive scale of the new mosques and palaces are related to the Mesopotamian heritage.

Marcelo Guimaraes Lima

Abbasid Caliphate Map (Met Museum)

Under the cAbbasid caliphate (750–1258), which succeeded the Umayyads (661–750) in 750, the focal point of Islamic political and cultural life shifted eastward from Syria to Iraq, where, in 762, Baghdad, the circular City of Peace (madinat al-salam), was founded as the new capital. The cAbbasids later also established another city north of Baghdad, called Samarra’ (an abbreviation of the sentence "He who sees it rejoices"), which replaced the capital for a brief period (836–83). The first three centuries of cAbbasid rule were a golden age in which Baghdad and Samarra’ functioned as the cultural and commercial capitals of the Islamic world. During this period, a distinctive style emerged and new techniques were developed that spread throughout the Muslim realm and greatly influenced Islamic art and architecture.

source:   Met Museum

This map depicts the history of the Abbasid, Fatimid, and Umayyad caliphates and shows the boundaries of Muslim dynasties and empires from about 800 to 1200. The main trade routes and the extent of the Byzantine empire in about 1000 are also indicated.
In particular, the map shows:
  • the Abbasid Caliphate at its greatest extent during the rule of Haroun al-Rashid, 786-809
  • area under Abbasid central control, c. 900
  • areas recognizing Abbasid and Fatimid sovereignty
  • Samanid empire, c. 900
  • Buyid empire, 945-1055
  • Zaidi imams, independent from 945
  • other Muslim dynasties (Seljuqs, Hamdanids, Tulunids, Buyids, Qarakhanids, Saffarids, Ghaznavids) - From - Mapping Globalization (Princeton, U. of Washington)

    Genealogical tree of the Abbasid family. In green, the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. In yellow, the Abbasid caliphs of Cairo. Muhammad the Prophet is included (in caps) to show the kinship of the Abbasids with him. 

    source: Wikipedia

    An anachronistic map of the various de facto independent emirates after the Abbasids lost their military dominance (c. 950). 
    source: wikipedia

    Dar al-Salam

    Dar al-Salam (the Abode of Peace): The round city founded in 762 by al-Mansur (754-75), the second Abbasid caliph, to be his royal center on the western bank of the river Tigris.  Its plan and symbolism were the result of a synthesis of many previous traditions.  What started as the enclosed, round city of al-Mansur soon expanded on both banks of the river and its name reverted to that of the ancient name of the site, Baghdad. (N.Rabbat)

    The city of Baghdad between 150 and 300 AH (767 and 912 AD)
    source: wikipedia

    The Great Mosque at Dar al-Salam: built by al-Mansur in 762, demolished and rebuilt in 808-9, then enlarged in 873-75.


    The Great Mosque of Samarra with its spiral minaret (the Malwiyya). Measuring over 240 by 160 m this is one of the largest mosques in the world. It is built entirely of baked brick although marble columns on brick piles originally supported the roof. The outer wall of the mosque is supported by four corner towers and twenty semi-circular bastions resting on square bases. The Malwiyya, or spiral minaret, is 52 m high and may have been influenced by earlier Mesopotamian ziggurats. (ArchNet)

    A general view of the mosque of al-Mutawakkil showing the external wall with semi-circular towers




    The spiral minaret at Samarra. © Iraqi Ministry of Information 1977



    Abu Dulaf Mosque and Minaret 


    The Fortress of Al-Ukhaidir or Abbasid palace of Ukhaider is located roughly 50 km south of Karbala, Iraq. It is a large, rectangular fortress erected in 775 AD with a unique defensive style. Constructed by the Abbasid caliph's As-Saffah's nephew Isa ibn Musa, Ukhaidir represents architectural innovation in the structures of its courtyards, residences and mosque. Excavations at Ukhaidir were conducted in the late 19th century by Gertrude Bell. Ukhaider was an important stop on regional trade routes, similar to Atshan and Mujdah. The complex comprises a primary hall, a big Iwan, a reception hall and servants quarters. The fortress exemplifies Abbasid architecture in Iraq by demonstrating the "despotic and the pleasure-loving character of the dynasty" in its grand size but cramped living quarters.(Hillenbrand, 1999) Wikipedia 

     Ukhaydir Palace, Kufa, Iraq
    North side, Bay and tower directly east of north gate (at right)
    source: ArchNet

    Abbasid palace of Ukhaider near Karbala, Iraq
    source: wikipedia

     Ukhaydir Palace, interior courtyards

     Ukhaydir Palace gate

    Ukhaydir Palace, princely mosque

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Arab Civilization in Spain: The Alhambra

    The Alhambra (Arabic: الْحَمْرَاء‎, trans. al-Ḥamrā; literally "the red one"), the complete form of which was Calat Alhambra (Arabic: الْقَلْعَةُ ٱلْحَمْرَاءُ‎, trans. al-Qal‘at al-Ḥamrā’, "the red fortress"), is a palace and fortress complex located in the Province of Granada, Spain. It was constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in al-Andalus, occupying the top of the hill of the Assabica on the southeastern border of the city of Granada.

    The Alhambra's Moorish palaces were built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and its court, of the Nasrid dynasty. After the Reconquista (reconquest) by the Reyes Católicos ("Catholic Monarchs") in 1492, some portions were used by the Christian rulers. The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, was inserted in the Alhambra within the Nasrid fortifications. 

    source: Wikipedia

    Plan of the Palace quarter of the Alhambra
    ( from Henri Stierlin, "Architecture de l'Islam," 1979)

    Court of the Myrtles

     Patio of Myrtles, Comares tower and its arcades reflect on the water surfice

    The present entrance to the Palacio Árabe, or Casa Real (Moorish palace), is by a small door from which a corridor connects to the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles), also called the Patio de la Alberca (Court of the Blessing or Court of the Pond), from the Arabic birka, "pool". The birka helped to cool the palace and acted as a symbol of power. Because water was usually in short supply, the technology required to keep these pools full was expensive and difficult. This court is 42 m (140 ft) long by 22 m (74 ft) broad, and in the centre there is a large pond set in the marble pavement, full of goldfish, and with myrtles growing along its sides. There are galleries on the north and south sides; the southern gallery is 7 m (23 ft) high and supported by a marble colonnade. Underneath it, to the right, was the principal entrance, and over it are three windows with arches and miniature pillars. From this court, the walls of the Torre de Comares are seen rising over the roof to the north and reflected in the pond.

     Court of the Lions

    Patio of the Lions, Chahar Bagh or quartered courtyard

    In former times, this quadripartite garden enclosed with cloisters was a vast flowerbed filled with cheerful flowers of each season. The whole setting and arrangement like this is just a realization of the Heavenly Paradise on the earth, which is described in the "Qur'an" (Koran) and has been yearned by all Muslims.
    The Court of the Lions (Spanish: Patio de los Leones - Arabic: بهو السباع‎) is the main court of the Nasrid dynasty Palace of the Lions, in the heart of the Alhambra, the Moorish citadel formed by a complex of palaces, gardens and forts in Granada, Spain. It was commissioned by the Nasrid sultan Muhammed V of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus. Its construction started in the second period of his reign, between 1362 and 1391 AD.

    source: Wikipedia 


    Hall of the Abencerrajes

    Muqarnas (stalactite) ceiling of the Hall of Abencerrajes  

    image source: Wikipedia

    The Sala de los Abencerrajes (Hall of the Abencerrages) derives its name from a legend according to which the father of Boabdil, the last sultan of Granada, having invited the chiefs of that line to a banquet, massacred them here. This room is a perfect square, with a lofty dome and trellised windows at its base. The roof is decorated in blue, brown, red and gold, and the columns supporting it spring out into the arch form in a remarkably beautiful manner. Opposite to this hall is the Sala de las dos Hermanas (Hall of the two Sisters), so-called from two white marble slabs laid as part of the pavement. These slabs measure 50 by 22 cm (15 by 7½ in). There is a fountain in the middle of this hall, and the roof —a dome honeycombed with tiny cells, all different, and said to number 5000— is an example of the "stalactite vaulting" of the Moors.
    source: Wikipedia

    Arab Civilization in Spain: The Great Mosque of Cordoba

    Foto de J. Entrenas - ©2005  InfoCordoba

    The Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Córdoba, in ecclesiastical terms the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (English: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), and known by the inhabitants of Córdoba as the Mezquita-Catedral (English: Mosque–Cathedral), is today a World Heritage Site and the cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba. The site was originally a pagan temple, then a Visigothic Christian church, before the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba at first converted the building into a mosque and then built a new mosque on the site.

    It is located in the Andalusian city of Córdoba, Spain. The Mezquita is regarded as perhaps the most accomplished monument of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. After the Spanish Reconquista, it once again became a Roman Catholic church, with a plateresque cathedral later inserted into the centre of the large Moorish building.   
    source: Wikipedia

    images:  Wikipedia

    “Let us point out, writes T. Burckhardt, that the structure of this mosque depends, in sum, on forms that can be delineated without perspective; it is, in a way, composed of arabesques.” (Burckhardt, 2009. P. 136)

    Following Burckhardt’s observation we can point out that such a basic two-dimensional structural concept lead to a unique set of spatial effects; the initial or original planographic concept resulted in a specific three-dimensional structure and unique spatial experience. 

    The proliferation of basic forms, discrete or composed of clearly delimitated and articulated elements, results in a paradoxical effect of unity and completeness, in one hand, and of expansion, on the other: an expansive form rhythmically regulated, which produces a self-contained and yet “unlimited” total form and effect. 

    As if the horror vacui that we identify in Islamic art in the multiplication of decorative elements on architectural (and other kinds of) surfaces was able to transfigure itself into an organizational concept in which the architectural structure is realized not simply as a container of space, but as a form able to generate space from within itself, as much as it appear as a product of space as a living force.

    Contrasting with the vertical trust and forceful mass of the Plateresque Cathedral implanted on its central part, the Islamic building balances vertical and horizontal visual rhythms and proportions to produce a kind of space, and related spatial experience, that is calmly invigorated and dynamic, both visual and corporeal, that is: contemplative and immersive, involving the mind and the body in unity.

    Marcelo Guimaraes Lima

    images: ArchNet


     Phases of development: plans (source: ArchNet)