History – Moorish Art and Architecture

One of my favourite style of Islamic art and architecture is the Moorish Style.It is derived from the name Moors – a name the Europeans gave the Arab-muslims who took over the Iberian Peninsula in the  early 8th Century.

The architecture style (and subsequently – the art) was influenced by Greco-Roman, Berber and Visigoth cultures and tradition and in turn influences the future Mediterranean culture.

La Mezquita – Cordoba, Spain

History of the Muslim government of the Iberian Peninsula.

Al-Andalus is the Arabic name given to the areas in the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania that was under the Muslims rule between the period of 711AD to 1492AD. It is said that the name Al-Andalus was taken from the name Vandal , the Germanic tribe who controlled parts of the Iberian Peninsula between 407AD to 429AD.  However, there is no historical basis to support this fact. It is also said the name derived from Arabic name for Atlantis, taking that the sounds of both of these names were almost similar. The etymology of the name is still a disputed topic.

In the year 711AD, the Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid gave orders to Tariq bin Ziyad to lead a small force towards Spain, through Gibraltar (in fact, the name Gibraltar is derived from the Arabic word Jabal Tariq, meaning the Hill of Tariq) and successfully lead it from campaigns to campaigns and conquered the whole of Spain under the name of Al-Andalus, Governed by the Islamic Caliphate of Ummayad.

The Al-Andalus period was agreed by many historians to be very successful. Advances in Philosophy, Sciences, Medicines and the Arts was developed extensively ; great muslim men of philosophy and sciences emerged like Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Bajjah ( Avempace) ,a considerable amount of medicines were discovered and utilized, many artistic revolutions were introduced. In short – the Muslim World back then contributed significantly to the relative fields and after the fall of the Muslim Empire in Spain in 1492 became the foundations of the European Renaissance.

The Art Form – The Uniqueness of The Moorish Art and Architecture

A collage of art relics from the Al-Andalus. From left to right – Pyxis of Al-Mughira, Louvre,  A fragment of an Amulet, Louvre, tin-glazed with lusterware decoration, Spain and a Quran manuscript page.

The art of the Moors are very highly advanced,as with the advances of other academical fields.  Many of modern musical instruments were based or even evolved from Arabic instruments, such as the lute (from the Arabian Oud), the guitar (Qitara), the castanet (Kasatan) and many more. The Flamenco, one of the hallmark of Spanish performing arts, were acknowledged to be heavily influenced by Arabian performing arts.

In this time period also the geometric and arabesque art, the characteristic art of the Islamic Empire, grew considerably. The art form of Geometric art are improvised with the advent of the new mathematical knowledge the Muslim scholars had acquired. In effect, more and more designs came up and utilized, and gets more and more complicated and intricate.

The Arabesques also enjoyed a significant transformation as with the Geometric art. Arabesques became more and more complex and elaborate, floral elements are more apparent and stylized, decorating everything to small daily items to buildings and palaces.

A variation of the Middle eastern and Central Asian space filling decoration called Mocárabe was founded and introduced – it is notable for it stalactite or honeycomb like form decorating the likes of La Mezquita and the Alhambra.

Many great fine works was done in this golden age from literature, to sciences to art .  Cities and palaces were constructed -The Caliphate City of Medinat Azzahra, The Great Mosque of Cordoba (La Mezquita) and the Palace of Generalife. And of course, one place that serves as the witness of this great period, and the place to see it all is the Alhambra.

Courtyard of the Lions. note the intricate Arabesques on the walls and the Mocárabe beneath the arches

Mosaic works and stone works in the Alhambra.

Hall of the Ambassadors, Alhambra. Almost all of the characteristic Islamic art decoration were present here – the Zillij Tileworks, the pierced screens, the arabesques, calligraphy…


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