The Umayyad Caliphate (Banu Ummayah, arabic – بنو أمية ) is the second caliphate to rule the Islamic civilization after the Rashidun Caliphate, ruling after the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Named after the great grandfather of first Ummayad caliphate, Umayyah Ibn Abd Shams, the caliphate ruled the Muslim lands from 661-750, extending from Iran up to the modern day Spain.
Development of Islamic Art and Architecture under the Umayyad Caliphate –
During the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, Islamic art and architecture, whether religious or secular, were developed and improved. New ideas and concepts were put into use. During this period, the ‘Arab Plan’ of architecture were utilized, that is, the building plan of a hypostyled (pillared) prayer hall. The finest example of this plan being put into use is the La Mezquita in Spain and The Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, completed in 715 by Caliph Al-Walid I.
The interior of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. The Main Prayer Hall is pillared – a Hypostyle Hall. This is what referred to the Arab Plan, and was emulated by many mosques.
During this time as well, one of the most sacred building in the Islamic world – The Dome of the Rock – in which sits a block of stone believed by the Muslims to be the rock where the Prophet Muhammad stood before ascending the Heaven to meet God, were built. The building, completed in 618, was built in the shape of an octagonal, and features a golden dome.
Most innovations and ideas produced during this time were mainly architectural in nature ; great buildings were planned, imagined and realized during this time, although the decorations for embellishing these buildings were inspired by other foreign cultures, meaning the Islamic art is still in its infancy, still in the process of assimilating various cultures and traditions it stumbles upon to make a unique representation of their artistic aesthetics.
Early in the Ummayad caliphate, the Islamic empire began to grow from the Hijaz mainland of Mecca and Medina – southwards to the lands of Yemen, The east towards the modern day Iraq and Iran, To the north reaching the Turkish lands and its surroundings and westwards to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and the Spanish Andalusia. While the Umayyads were expanding their territories, for sure they came across many cultures and subsequently the arts, for example the Byzantines in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), The Sassanids in Iran and Iraq, The Copts of Egypt (and the Ancient Egypts who influenced the Coptics), The Berbers of the North African region and the Mediterranean cultures of Rome, Greek and Cyprus.
The Byzantine decorative method of utilizing gold coloured mosaics were adopted by the Umayyad artisans, one fine example of this usage is at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, though the figurative representations were replaced by scenes of gardens, palm trees and cities and buildings, as so to comply with the Hadith (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad who discouraged, or more likely forbade the representations of human and animal figure, for the fear that the early Muslims would commit to idolatry this way. This Byzantium influences of mosaic is also used in the famed Dome of the Rock. In addition of flowery and vegetal motifs used for the mosaics, it was also used to create epigraphical frieze under the dome of the building, just above the rock inside it.
Comparison of Byzantine and Umayyad mosaic art.Note the use of gold coloured mosaics.On the left – Apostles (detail), Arian Baptistry, Ravenna, Italy, 5th Century. the right – The Dome of the Tresury, Umayyad Mosque, 8th Century.
Influences of Sassanids were also notable by the representations of stylized vegetal and flowery motifs, soon to be known as Arabesques. This art style were used in Architecture as decorative elements of the mosques and other secular buildings, as well as daily items and specialties such as ceramics (which are still unglazed by that time) and Quranic manuscripts, which is still written in Kufic scripture. Figurative represntations were also taken from the Sassanid culture, even though to a smaller scale. Animal and human figures were depicted in items such as vessels and vases, along with various articles of artwork, but never used in religious items, as to comply with the Hadith aforementioned.
Comparison of Sassanid and Umayyad Art. On the left : Candlestick with lion protomes. Cast bronze with engraved and openwork decoration. Khurasan, Iran, 11th–12th century. On the right : Sassanid Ceramic Candleholder, National Museum of Iran. Date not enclosed. Photo of the Sassanid art courtesy of Fabien Dany – www.fabiendany.com
With the expansion of the Islamic empire comes the influences of other cultures and civilizations that will assimilate into the Muslim culture, and the amalgamation, therefore, paved the way for the unique style of Islamic art afterward.