Study – Difference between Muqarnas and Mocárabe

For today (or tonight, actually, since I am typing this in the night ) we will look into the difference between Muqarnas and Mocárabe, since it seems like these particular architectural  features are the most popular topics in this blog.

Introduction –

first let us see the definitions of these two architectural aesthetics that were extensively used in the Islamic world. In a general sense, both Muqarnas and Mocárabe refer to a type of corbel, a stonework (or any materials used to make them) jutting out of a wall or ceiling, used as decorative element in Islamic architecture. in essence, Muqarnas can be referred to both original term of Muqarnas or Mocárabe but Muqarnas cannot refer to as Mocárabe.

Muqarnas have the form of small pointed niches arranged in tiers, each level projecting forward than the level below. Meanwhile, Mocárabe is a design utilizing series of complex prism shapes that resembles stalactites. One of the main difference of these two designs the way it is arranged – Muqarnas does not necessarily resembles stalactites, meaning that Mocárabe is usually pointed downwards, while Muqarnas utilizes forms such as small niches – as I have noted before – as well as stars and other geometrical shapes.


The earliest example of Muqarnas can be found in Samarra, Iraq, meaning that this architectural form originates in Central Asia. This also meant that it was taken from Persian aesthetics, instead of original Islamic innovation. As Islam spreads from the 7th century onwards, the aesthetic ideals were passed on as well, making the Muqarnas spread throughout as far as Islam goes.

As I have noted before, Muqarnas are assembled from the forms of small niches, as well as stars and other shapes. These forms are arranged in tiers, one lever projecting forward than the one below the particular level. This continues on until it reaches a point, ultimately forming an arch. They are often applied in domes, pendentives, cornices, squinches and the undersides of arches and vaults, as to fill the void under them.

Muqarna (honeycomb-like Islamic architectural element). Painted plaster, 10th century, Nishapur. Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET 38.40.252).

This would be a piece of an arrangement of Muqarnas. Note the small niche, and the paint decorating it.

They are made in a wide variety of media – bricks, stone, stucco, plaster, wood or even paint, as a trompe l’oeil. They are also decorated in many ways such as covering them in tiles, or painting them, or left as it is.

Author - Matthias Rosenkranz

The details of the balcony of Qutub Minar in Delhi, India. Note the usage of niches, and note the arrangements.


Mocárabe are mainly used in the Andalusian Spain. Mocárabes are a series of design utilizing an array of prisms that resembles stalactites. It is usually made of plaster and wood, since using stone and other materials are impractical, though not uncommon. They are also usually painted.It is applied to friezes, vaults, windows, arches, and columns. The finest example would be in Alhambra, Spain, where it is used extensively all throughout the complex.

Author - Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealan

Details of  Mocárabe. Niches are still used, but with pointed ends.

It is said that Mocárabes are a symbolic representation of  the cave where prophet Muhammad received his revelation, hence the cavernous look these feature represent.



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