Moorish Style (9th – 15th Century)

Moorish style spread in Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula during the Islamic period, which was between the end of the 9th and 15th centuries.

Great Mosque of Cordoba, interior stripped archways.
Medina Azahara, Cordoba, Spain (Great Mosque of Cordoba, interior, 8th – 10th centuries)

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ce95f626-6720-46d0-9ba2-3c1b9b8a17a0 by Prof. Mortel

Where can it be found

Moorish architecture spread in North Africa and in regions of Spain and Portugal, where the Moors once dominated. It is possible to visit surviving examples in Iberia, namely within Cordoba, Spain. When Prince Abd al-Rahman I established his control over the Iberian Peninsula, he tried to recreate Damascus here. He wanted new building programs and imported plants from his home. Orange trees still stand in the courtyard of the Mosque of Cordoba.

La Grande Mosquèe: a large sand-colored structure with rectangular columns that stick outward along the edge of the structure.
Great Mosque at Cordoba, Spain

Image source : https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/a49a126c-edea-4b2b-94e7-31d2431716ff by Nirgal Ksi

Columns and double stripped arches within the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain.
Columns and double arches, Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/4a50e0bc-91d1-41bb-9c6d-f12ab06529d0 by Shadowgate

Columns and double stripped arches Mosque-Cathedral Cordoba, shown from a differing angle; strong resemblance to a fun house.
Columns and double arches, Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/10a22514-5d35-43ad-9a5b-f18efcdf5b05 by Shadowgate

Another interesting example is the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The decoration of the Alhambra was mostly stucco. The extraordinary cupolas of muqarnas appear as huge multifaceted diadems. The decoration of the Alhambra became suddenly a paradox. Ceilings, for example, are sustained by frail columns or by walls with windows.

Much of the design and decoration of the Alhambra is symbolically oriented. For example on the walls, it is possible to read several inscriptions as “There is no victor but Allah.” These words are meant to protect the king honored in the different courtyards.

Gardens of the Partal Palace: a large sand-colored structure with 3 arches along the bottom can be seem. A body of water sits within the courtyard and a palm tree occupies the left of the photo.
Gardens of the Partal Palace and the Torre de las Damas the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/3f80db2c-62d1-4b59-bc42-cdc6ca8d8184 by Anna & Michal

Main Features of the Moorish Style

One of the most important features of Moorish style is a simple exterior with an ornate interior. The Moors used to live in tents, so they decorated the interiors with beautiful textiles. Further, the interior was often decorated with ornamental writings. Many elements of nature were important in the construction such as courtyards with gardens, fountains, reflecting pools.

Nasrid Palaces - The Alhambra - Granada - Comares Palace - Court of the Myrtles - Chamber of the Ambassadors
Nasrid Palaces – The Alhambra – Granada – Comares Palace – Court of the Myrtles – Chamber of the Ambassadors

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/5556b36b-7a83-4c1e-9f27-68810382fe60 by ell brown

The ornate, white stone ceiling of the Palace of the Lions, located in Granada Spain.
Nasrid Palaces – The Alhambra – Granada

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/4720a348-3598-42a9-92cb-6b25cccf3061 by ell brown

The climate influenced the materials employed and geometry important to the Moors. The Qur’an forbids natural forms, so they crafted stars and geometric shapes with different materials. The interior elements of these buildings are often described as “exquisite and unique.” On the external part, it is possible to see the use of horseshoe arches, which was a common feature of the Moorish architectural style.

A horseshoe arch in a tan, stone mosque. Although the stone is fading in color, the door is a vibrant yellow.
Example of a horseshoe arch in the Great Mosque of Cordoba- exterior detail, 8th – 10th centuries

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/d5d420a8-c54a-4c67-8dc1-18daad7e1d46 by Prof. Mortel

Great Mosque of Cordoba, ornate exterior detail. Leaf-like flourishes cover this structural addition.
Great Mosque of Cordoba, exterior detail, 8th – 10th centuries

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/3a72f7ea-958e-4b3d-b84d-c1994d5e5a2c by Prof. Mortel

Symbolism in Moorish Mosques

There are elements common to all the mosques. For example a calligraphic frieze or a cartouche with an inscription. In many cases, the calligraphic quotations come from the Qur’an. Light is also important for mosques since the first prayers need to be said without sunlight. Lamps with other furnishings like carpets are a key aspect of each mosque. Further, these buildings have wide interior and exterior spaces for anyone who wish to pray.

Great Mosque of Cordoba, exterior detail seen in the stone, tan-colored trimming on the wall.
An example of Inscription in a Mosque- Great Mosque of Cordoba, exterior detail, 8th – 10th centuries

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/d7f28add-f284-4aad-a798-83e91122484b by Prof. Mortel


Info source: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-islam/beginners-guide-islamic-world-art/beginners-guide-islamic-art/a/introduction-to-mosque-architecture

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