Moorish Style (9th – 15th Century)

Moorish style spread in Maghreb and the Iberian peninsula during the Islamic period, between the end of the 9th century and the end of the 15th.

Medina Azahara, Cordoba, Spain
Medina Azahara, Cordoba, Spain

Image source: https://www.turismodecordoba.org/medina-azahara

Where can it be found

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


Great Mosque at Cordoba, Spain

Image source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosque%E2%80%93Cathedral_of_C%C3%B3rdoba

Columns and double arches, Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain.
Columns and double arches, Mosque-Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorish_architecture

Another interesting example is the Alhambra in Granada. 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 and a tour de force at the same time. 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 honoured in the different courtyards.

Gardens of the Partal Palace and the Torre de las Damas
Gardens of the Partal Palace and the Torre de las Damas the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Image source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Alhambra-fortress-Granada-Spain

Main Features of the Moorish Style

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

 Palacio de Generalife in Granada
Palacio de Generalife in Granada

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalife

The climate influenced the materials employed and geometry in decor was important to the Moors. The Koran forbids the natural forms so they crafted stars and geometric shapes with different materials. The interior elements of these buildings are exquisite and unique. On the external part is possible to see the importance of horshoe arches, considered a signature of the Moorish style in architecture.

Example of a horseshoe arch in the Great Mosque of Cordoba

Image source: https://notesplusultra.com/2011/04/27/great-mosque-of-cordoba/

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 that is considered in the Muslim tradition as a house. It had wide interior and exterior spaces to be able to host anyone who wanted to pray.

An example of Inscription in a Mosque
An example of Inscription in a Mosque

Image source: https://www.molon.de/galleries/Iran/Isfahan/Jame_mosque/img.php?pic=6

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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