Category Archives: History

A look into Islamic Art through the dynasties and caliphates

History – The Kufic Script

Alhamdullilah, I have a little bit of time to spare to write a small article for this blog, which I accidentally abandoned last month. Due to the recent popularity of the Kufic script, I would like to write an article about the history of this ancient Arabic script. I probably had written this a few times before, but I would like to explore a little more on this topic, plus take a look on some of the different versions of the script throughout the time.

The Kufi script is the oldest calligraphic type of the Arabic script, which derived from an old modified Nabatean script. The Kufic script was developed around the seventh century CE, where it was extensively and exclusively used to copy the Qur’an by the orders of one of the Rashidien Caliph, Uthman bin Affan, until the eleventh century, to be replaced with more cursive script such as Nasakh and Thultuh scripts. The Kufic script is believed to be developed in the town of Kufa in Iraq, hence the name.

In addition of being used as the script for Qur’an copying, it is also used for monuments and decoration of buildings, because of the rigidity of the script and its ease  for execution as carving on stones or using tiles or bricks. It can also be found in coins of the Seljuks and the Ottomans.

As noted before, the Kufic script generally is angular, comprising of solid lines to form the characters of the Arabic script. during the first few centuries in Islam, Arabic was written without any vowel marks or dots as how the Arabic script can be seen today. This is because there are no need for these helping markers ; the early Muslims were Arabs, and thus can read the Qur’an without any help. However this changed when Islam became a multinational and multiracial religion, the need of vowel marking and dots to denote different sounds and establish difference between similar looking characters were raised and they remain today in the Qur’an. The Kufic script dots are sometime done in red ink. It is believed that a scribe named Abdul Aswad were the one first using these markings in 1310 CE

There were no set rules of using the Kufic script ; the only common feature is the angular, linear shapes of the characters. Due to the lack of methods, the scripts in different regions and countries and even down to the individuals themselves have different ways to write in the script creatively, ranging from very square and rigid forms to flowery and decorative. The nibs of the pens  used to write may even be different, resulting in different forms, shapes and sizes.The Kufic script can form many different shapes from squares to circles to domes and minarets, according to the writer’s need and creativity.

The earliest form of the Kufic script can be found in the early copies of the Qur’an, in which the script was used. The script was done in a very straight penmanship with occasional small curves for some of the characters. A thick pointed pen was used, resulting in bold, thick script.

The Uthman Quran from Uzbekistan, also known as the Samarqand Quran. The above page from the book shows the thick Kufic script, devoid of any vowel markings or dots.

The Magribi (Moroccan or Western) Kufic script is a slight modification of the above Kufic script. The Maghribi Kufic script is still rigid, linear and thick, however it features a significant amount of curves and loops as opposed to the original Arabic Kufic script. loops for the characters such as the Waw and the Meem are pronounced and perhaps more exaggerated.

A page from an Abbasid Qur’an, from North Africa. Some characters are rounder, and the vowel marks and dots can be seen here in red ink

A thinner, cursive and decorative form of Kufic can be found as the Kufi Mashriqi Script. The nib of the pen used to write in this form of Kufi is thinner than the one mentioned above, and it is more cursive some of the characters were given long, cursive strokes. However, it is still within the angular vocabulary of the Kufic script.

A page from a Qur’an written in the Kufi Mashriqi script.

In Iran, in addition to the Kufi Mashriqi script (which was also referred to as the Piramouz script), there is also more forms of the script known as the Ghaznavid and Khourasan scripts. The scripts was mostly used for monument decoration and also for coinage, as well as daily items. The Khourasan script is as thick as the Original Arabic Kufic script, but added with a simple flair for each character.  The Ghaznavid Kufi has elongated vertical lines and rounded ends with decoration around the characters.

The exterior of the Minaret of Jam. The blue-green calligraphy is done in a Kufic script.

The Fatimi Kufi is prevalent in the North African region, particularly in Egypt. Since the script is very stylized and decorative, this form was mainly used in the decoration of buildings. a Fatimi Kufi script (or sometimes known as Eastern Kufi) can be seen with decoration among the characters such as the inclusion of the Endless Knot of vegetal motif both in the character itself and as a background motif. The characters are written in thick lines, very straight and angular with the exception of loops and short curves for the characters such as the Ra’ or the Waw.

A carving in Kufic script in the Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Heavy ornamentation decorate the bands above and belove the inscription as well as the background.

Decorative Kufic script is mainly used for the daily items such as plates, bowls, vases or ewers. Too often, the inscriptions  done in this script are barely readable, because of the heavy decorating. A letter may disappear in the extensive decorating that could include turning the letters into vegetal forms such as vines and leaves., or written very thinly with exaggerated vertical lines and curves. these compromises are often to fit the individual vessels these scripts decorate.

San Antonio Museum of Art. 4th floor Iranian collection. Bowls enscribed with Kufic script. Nishapur, Iran. 10th century.

The Square Kufi or the Murabba’ Kufi is very popular these days, because the simple lines are very fitting in the modern decoration. However, the Murabba’ Kufi is not a modern invention. The Kufi Murabba’ is absolutely straight with no decorative accents or curves shown. Due to this absolute rigidity, this type of script can be created using square tiles or bricks. It is popular in Iran and in Turkey, where in the latter, was popular as a decoration of buildings during the Ottoman empire.

Right part of a double-page frontispiece to a manuscript of religious texts, penned for Süleyman I. The two square calligraphy are made using the Murabba’ Kufi.

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History – The Development of The Two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina and its Impact

I was looking into some news websites and i saw these few articles about the expansion in the Muslim Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.I also saw a few artworks regarding the layout of the two Mosques of yesteryear as well as photographs of Mecca and the Kaabah during the early years of photography. While reading and examining them I thought I might do a little research on this topic, a little study on the development of the two cities, as well as Islamic cultural and artistic impact these recent growth caused.

A Brief History of Mecca, The First Holy City of Islam

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An Imagining of the development of Mecca from the early years to recent

Mecca, or more closely to the Arabic pronounciation, Makkah, and also known as Bakkah, is a city in the Hejaz region (The Arabian Peninsula) some eight kilommetres inland from the Red Sea, in the west. Historically, the place has always been a sacred place – A Greek Historian, Dodorus Siculus, noted that ‘a temple and been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians’. According to Islamic traditions, Ibrahim and his son Ismail (Abraham and Ishmael) built the structure which is now known as the Kaabah, where is it also said that the first man, Adam, built the same structure in the same place.

During the times of the Prophet Muhammad, Around 5th and 6th Centuries AD, Mecca was the temple for Arabian pagan tribes’ deities. It is said that there were more than 350 images or statues in that area alone, presumably one for each day of the year.

Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, went to live his life as one of the Hashimite (Hashimiyah) of the Quraisy Tribe, until he began recieving Divine Revelations from God brought down by the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) in 610. From there he and his companions and followers were in constant struggle with the pagan tribes until Muhammad were commanded to leave Mecca for Yathrib (later known as Medina) after 13 years of enduring persecution, in 622.

While Muhammad were based in Medina, the Meccan pagan tribes keep harrassing the Muslims with wars, although their efforts are in vain and unable to defeat Muhammad and his followers.

In 628, Muhammad re-entered Mecca and rededicated the Kaabah and the city to the the worship of Allah. Mecca since then became the Islamic pilgrimage site, and the most holiest city in the Islamic World.

After the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam expanded rapidly under the rule of his successors. However, Mecca were never made the capital of each of the Islamic empire or Caliphs, although it was always given special attention in terms of development of the city and its infrastructure.

An image of the Kaaba and the Meccan Surroundings in 1850s

The Ottoman ruled over the Holy City since 1517, and various improvements were made such as the building of the Great Mosque around the Kaaba, as well as general improvisation to the Kaaba itself. However the sovereignity over the city changed hands several times, particularly during the modern era. in 1803 the city was caputed by the first Saudi State and held it until 1813. It was in that year the Ottoman reclaimed the city and held it until the First World War, where it was seized by Syed Hussain bin Ali, the Shariff of Mecca as an Ottoman Governor. He revolted again the Ottomans, and suceeded in claiming the city in 1916 and announcing it as the Capital City of his new Kingdom, the Kingdom of Hejaz.

in 1924, during the Battle of  Mecca, the Sharif were overthrown by the Saud Family and the city incorporated into the new Saudi Arabia.It was since then, rapid changes and development were made and done up to this day.

The Short History of the Prophet’s City

Medina in the 1940s. You can see the  Prophet’s Mosque in the distance with the Green Dome.
Medina, or in Arabic Madinatun Nabawi (The Prophets City), or Madinatul Munawarah (The Enlightened City) or formerly known as Yathrib, is a city around 340km North of Mecca.

Medina became historically relevant to Islam ever since Prophet Muhammad made his Hijra from Mecca to Medina in 622. Medina became the site of the first mosque for the Muslims, called the Quba Mosque.

Medina also became the site of another important site of Islam – the Qiblatain Mosque. The name came from the duality form of the word Qiblat. This is the mosque where the direction of prayer (Qiblat) were changed from Jerusalem in Palestine to Mecca.

There were a number of battles significant to the rise of Islam ever since the Hijra of the Prophet. The greatest ones were the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Badr and the Battle of the Trench, battles that were fought to withhold Islam’s sovereignity and to safeguard the Muslims’ Survival.

The Prophet were buried here in the Masjid An-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) and his companions Abu Bakar and Umar were laid to rest next to him. The tomb sites was actually the site of one of the prophet’s wife, Aisyah’s home. The site itself were adjecent to the prophet’s home.

A View of Medina with the Prophet’s Mosque

As with Mecca, Medina were under the rule of the different caliphates and kingdoms that succeeded the Prophet Muhammad. Among the significant rulers were the Rashidien Caliphate, the Egyptian Mamluks
during the 13th Century, the Turkish Ottoman in 1517 and the Saudis, after the First World War, which, again similar to what happened in Mecca, Medina was subject to rapid growth and development.

The Impact of the Developments

I was rather disheartened when I learned what happened to these two Holy Cities of Islam under the rule of the Saudi Arabia. As I have noted before, both Mecca and Medina were subject of special attention from the different Caliphates and Kingdoms of which the cities were ruled under. Most noticably are the improvements made by the Caliphates ; Mamluks, Ottomans – structures were build such as gates and fortifications around these two cities, as well as improvisations on the holy sites around the Kaaba and the Prophet’s Mosques such as general building of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

However, under the Wahhabi Saudi, unfortunately and deeply saddening, we can never be able to admire and visit the sites. As much as 95% of the original structures in and around the cities were destroyed, including those which were built during the Mamluk and Ottoman Caliphate, and even those that were dated during the Prophet’s time! Graves were flattened, mausoleums were destructed and even mosques were demolished to make way for modern amenities for the approximately 4 million Hajj pilgrims who came to these sites every year.

In Mecca, the surroundings of the Grand Mosque of Mecca were completely flattened to make way for modern multinational, multi star hotel, shopping arcades retail an fast food chains and this gargantuan clock tower that overshadows the mosque and Kaaba itself. It is also said that one of the structures demolished was the home of the Prophet’s first and beloved wife Khadijah, to make way for a public toilet. The house in where the Prophet were born is now a public library although plans were made to demolish it.

In Medina, the same thing happened – the whole old city were razed to make way for modernity, losing the city cultural and historical heritage sites. It is said that many historical sites that were very significant in Islam such as the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque, the Jannatul Baqi cemetary and even the Prophet’s house himself were not spared under the bulldozers.There were apparently even plans of flattening the Prophet’s tomb!

Islam had lost many, many historical, cultural and artistic heritages around these two Holy Cities, and I hope that the rampant development, while it may bring comfort for the Hajj Pilgrims, will cease someday soon so that we may be able to study and be proud of our heritages.

People eating on a rock next to the Hilton Hotel in Mecca. Hilton Hotel. In Mecca. Unbelievable

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History – The Origin of Islamic Calligraphy

First of all, I would like to apologize, again, for the lack of posting. As I had mentioned, I have been very busy with work that I could not find time to dedicate myself with this blog, but still I will never abandon this blog, because I still have more to share with you!

The Origin of the Islamic Calligraphy –

The chief prophet of Islam, Muhammad once said in a Hadeeth (the prophet’s sayings or traditions) regarding how to write the Basmalah, the opening verse that means “in the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate” for each chapters of the Holy Qur’an, the Islamic holy book.

The Prophet Muhammad taught Muawiyah how to write the Basmalah properly, and he said – Darken your ink and ready your pens. Write the ‘Ba” in  a good way, lengthen the “Seen”, Do not make the “Meem” long. Perfect the Lafz Jalalah (God’s Name), and beautify “Ar-Rahman” and  “Ar-Raheem”….

From this Hadeeth, we can safely assume that the techniques of Islamic calligraphy are already starting to be developed by the prophet himself, by teaching Muawiyah how to write the Basmalah correctly and also how to write it in a better, stylized way.

The Basmalah, as described in the Hadeeth

Back then, the Arabic script is not very developed, and the script used at that time was derived from the Nabatean script called the Kufic script, ounded in Kufa, Iraq and is squarish and angular. Early examples of the Arabic script and the Nabatean scripts were compared by Historians and they believe and agreed that the Arabic script were derived from the Nabatean script (more on the History of the Kufic script on later post)

After the Hijrah (migration of the prophet from Mecca to Medina) the will to learn to write and master the Arabic script became widespread, and this is backed up and supported by the Prophet himself when he freed the captives of the Badar war in 24H/624M  after asking them to teach Muslim children to read and write.

Kufic script, from an early Quran manuscript showing Sura 7 (Ala’araf) verses 86 & 87, 7th century. National Library, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Islamic calligraphy is said to be in its Golden days in the Abbasid dynasty when the most important figure in Islamic Calligraphy, Ibnu Muqlah, lived. He is the Vizier of three of Abbasid Caliphs. He is also known to be very knowledgeable in Science and Geometry, and invented a method of Calligraphy that enables writers to produce systematic and symmetrical works of calligraphic art. He also invented a few Arabic cursive scripts, namely Nasakh and Thuluth, that replaces the old Kufic scripts previously used as the medium script for writing the Holy Qur’an.

The verses 1-4 of the second chapter of the Qur’an entitled al-Baqarah (The Cow). The text is written in the cursive script called naskh, and each verse is separated by an ayah marker consisting of a gold six-petalled rosette with blue and red dots on its perimeter. Both the script and the illumination are typical of Qur’ans produced in Mamluk Egypt during the 14th and 15th centuries. Recitation markers signaling where not to stop recitation (“la” or “no stopping”) are marked in red above the first two verse markers.

 

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History – Brief Look Into the Development of Islamic Art and Architecture in Egypt

Islam came into Egypt during the earlier conquests done by the Caliphates of Islam, around 639 AD, During the reign of the Rashidun Caliphates,specifically under the orders of Caliph Umar , taking over the reign of the Byzantine empire . During this time, little development, whether in infrastructure of in aesthetics, were made in Egypt, because developments are most rapid in the capitals of the respective caliphate during that time – at first, Medina and Kufah during the Rashidun Caliphate, and then in Damascus with the rule of the Umayyads.

The Tulunids, a vassal of the Abbasid Caliphate came to power in 868-905 C.E in Egypt, established by Ahmad Ibn Tulun. The Caliphate is an independent center that broke away from the current Abbasid Caliphate. It came to be when Ibn Tulun was sent to Egypt as a resident governor. He then took power and ruled Egypt independently from the Abbasid Caliphate.  During his reign he built the infrastructure in Egypt particularly in his own newly established city Al-Qatta’i, north of Fustat, the city before his rule.  however little remains are left from that period. The famous remains of that period must be the mosque with his namesake – The Mosque of Ibn Tulun. The mosque architecture follows closely to the plans utilized by the former caliphates (for example, the Umayyad mosque in Damascus) where the building is built around a large space or courtyard, with the main prayer hall and the dome is supported by multiple columns. This plan is to be used by many mosques afterwards, and serves as a model for later buildings particularly in North Africa.The whole building  is simple, and uses the local building materials, with carvings and decoration mainly influenced by the Ummayad and Abbasid empires, as well as Byzantine and Roman influences.

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The Mosque of Ibn Tulun, in Al-Qatta’i, modern day Cairo.

Under the Fatimid Dynasty, in 909-1171 AD, Egypt remained a cultural center for the Islamic empire. The Egyptian craftsmen and artisan still uses the old ancient Egyptian aesthetics and this shows in the buildings during the rules of the Islamic empires that made Egypt a part of their domain, and it goes on up to the Mamluke Period in 1250 -1517, where the Ancient Egyptian tradition is still continued, however, influences of Syrian and Iraqi styles slowly seeps through. Buildings that were made in the Mamluke dynasty are mostly he ones which still stands today in Old Cairo.

The buildings in these periods in Egypt are mostly made in stone or bricks, because the material are readily available locally. However, the decorations – intricate carvings on domes, painted ceilings, marble inlays are passed down for the ancients to the Islamic artisans with aesthetics taken from traditional Islamic art e.g geometrical stars or arabesques and calligraphies.

The Al-Azhar complex of Mosque and University. The Marble courtyard is built during the Fatimid dynasty, while the two minarets in the foreground is of Mamluke origin ; the double-finial minaret is attributed to Qansah Al-Ghuri, while the middle one is to Qaytbey.

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History – Islamic Art Under the Rule of the Abbasid Dynasty

After the fall of the Ummayad Caliphate in April of 750 AD after the Battle of the Zab,  the Muslim empire throne was taken up by the Abbasid dynasty. The first caliph of the new dynasty, Abu Abbas As-Saffah, brought the capital city of the Islamic empire from Damascus to Baghdad.  It is during this time, together with the rise of another dynasty the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain, that Islam experienced the Golden Age.

Driven by the Al-Quran and Hadith that states scholarly endeavor is more profitable than going to war (One example states that the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr, showing the value of knowledge) The Abbasid dynasty produced notable scholarly works in Science, Literature, Philosophy and Technology, in turn affected the Islamic art and architecture with the discovery of new methods and technologies.

Due to the central location of the new heart of the Islamic Empire that is Baghdad, (dubbed as the navel of the world by the 9th-century historian al-Ya’qubi)  multiple influences from other cultures are made available. As well as taking and adopting the technologies and knowledge of  other civilizations such as paper-making from China or scientific or philosophical texts from the Greeks and the Indians, the Muslim artisans also took aesthetic influences from the aforementioned cultures (except from the classical Greek and Byzantine, which falls out of favour to the newer influences)  as well as from the Eurasian steppes and Iranian or Persian cultures and traditions. With these newer sources of inspiration and influences means that the Muslim artisans are improving upon their own aesthetics and well on their way on creating a whole new art style that is definitely unique to the Islamic world.

Pyxis. Steatite, Iran, Abassid Period.

Both Islamic art and architecture enjoyed being given a fresh reincarnation. The emergence of newer techniques and discovery of better materials, as well as the adopting of foreign technologies means that the Muslim artisans now have more better options to express their creativity, as well as learn new skills and techniques. The invention of metallic luster-ware and faience shows influences and technologies taken from their Chinese counterparts, and in turn the Muslim artisans also took aesthetic influences.

Cup. Earthenware with metallic lustre and opaque glaze, overglaze painted, 9th century.

Muslim textiles are improved, where silks are manufactured by the government run tiraz bearing the names of the monarchy. This shows that the textile industry of the Abbasid Dynasty enjoyed advancements in the field.

As paper making technology imported into the Islamic empire from the Chinese, book binding especially the Islamic holy text the Al Quran are widespread and improved upon. Illuminated manuscripts were invented and caught up with the aesthetic trend of the Islamic world. Newer or improved calligraphy were used, and it is also utilized in pottery making and decorating starting from this time.

from Smithsonian :Folio from a Koran :9th-10th century :Abbasid dynasty :Ink and color on parchment :H: 22.5 W: 29.7 cm :Egypt :Purchase, F1929.71 The verses are from sura (chapter) 22, entitled al-Hadj (Pilgrimage) and include a discussion of the pilgrimage to Mecca

Architecture at this time were still heavily influenced by Sassanid architecture, as well as Byzantine. However, Indian architectural style also slowly seeps into the Muslim buildings, even though the impact is not that great to be noticeable. The arcaded prayer hall, also known as the Arab Plan, as noted in the past post, were still utilized. Domes were still in its primitive form, and not fully used for any buildings secular or religious. Muqarnas are used, and minarets vary from region to region, for example the Great Mosque of Samarra features a tall spiral ramped minaret which is not practical for Muezzins, while somewhere in Baghdad, the minaret is not as tall nor thick, and have two tiers which is decorated with early forms of Muqarnas. Also, mud-bricks were still the preferred materials of building structures even for palaces, which unfortunately gets destroyed easily, and results in the rarity of any Abbasid buildings to be still standing today except for reinforced ones such as the aforementioned Great Mosque of Samarra or the Great Mosque of Uqba.

1911, of Suq al-Ghazal (The Yarn Bazaar) Minaret in Baghdad-Mesopotamia. This is the oldest minaret in Baghdad. It belonged to the Caliph Mosque built by Caliph Muktafi 901-907 A.D. The mosque was destroyed by Hulagu in 1258 A.D. during the sack of the city of the Caliphs. The current minaret was built by Hulagu’s son Abagha [1264-1281 A.D.]

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History – The Islamic Domes ; The Early Prescence

Domes was not an Islamic invention – the Muslim architects only start to use the architectural feature in the 7th Century, taking influences from the Sassanid Empire in Iran and from the Byzantine Empire.

The first ever building that the Muslims built with a prominent dome is the famed Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Palestine, which is incidentally the oldest existing Islamic building without any alteration. Completed around 691-692,  the building, a hexagonal shaped shrine is built over a stone believed to be the stepping stone of Prophet Muhammad during his journey heavenwards to God. It  is also, as a notable feature, decorated with tiles that brought over from Turkey – Iznik tiles- all over its exterior walls. The shape of the whole building displays influences of Byzantium architecture, echoing the form of a Byzantine martyrium (which is traditionally used for keeping venerated saintly artifacts and relics). On top of the building built a dome made out of wood and covered with gold ; it is said that 100,000 gold dinars were melted for the covering of the dome, and when it was finished, it was reported at that time that “no eye can look straight to it”  due to its strong shine.

The Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome in the vicinity.

As noted before the Dome of the Rock’s plan and architecture is much influenced by Byzantium architecture, mostly by the surrounding churches. In addition to the similarity of the floorplan of the shrine to Byzantine martyrium, the dome also influenced by domes of the churches of the Byzantine empire.

In 532AD, The church Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya (Ἁγία Σοφία) in Greek was completed and is in its third and final form, after the destruction of the first and second churches. An entirely different structure compared to its predecessors, emperor Justinian I wanted a building much larger and more majestic than what was built on the same site nearly 200 years before. He appointed  Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles as architects, and these two created one of the most recognized work of Byzantium architecture, which features a grand and imposing dome in the middle of the church.  It is thought that they utilized the theories of Heron of Alexandria regarding of construction of large domes over large open spaces.

The Hagia Sophia, once a church, a mosque and now a museum.

Nearer to the Dome of the Rock, another influence of the dome is the Church of Holy Sepulchre. The dome of the church itself is very reminiscent of the dome that decorated the Muslim shrine, though lacking the golden entrapment. The Church itself was built in the 4th Century under the orders of Emperor Constantine I over the alleged tomb of Christ and also Mount Golgotha, the site where Christ were crucified. Perhaps, as an act of mockery against Christianity’s deification of Christ, the Muslim architects followed the model of the Churches dome for the Dome of the Rock, only larger and more impressive, as in using gold for covering the dome. This idea is supported with the fact that the Muslims used Quranic verses for decorating the exterior and interior of the shrine that stated Christ was not the Son of God, he was a mere human, and a prophet of God.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the front facade.

Using the theories of Heron of Alexandria that have been executed by the two architects of Justinian I, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, coupled with the apparent influence from the domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Muslims created an architectural feature that which in time will transform and metamorphose into a unique feature. At first they were influenced and followed the domes of other cultures, but as time went they created features that makes the domes more Islamic.

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History – Islamic Art under the Caliphate of Cordoba

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The Caliphate of Cordoba (Arabic: خلافة قرطبة) ruled the Iberian Peninsula (the al-Andalus) and the region of North Africa, that ruled from the city of Cordoba from 929AD to 1031AD.

Abd-ar-Rahman I became the Emir of Cordoba in 756AD  after fleeing for six years when the Umayyads fell from the throne of Islamic Caliphate in Damascus. After becoming the Emir, having the intention of returning to power, he defeated other Islamic rulers who defied the Umayyad Caliphate in the area, and united them into one Emirate.

The rulers of the new Emirate were content having the title of Emirs until the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III in the 10th Century when he was threatened by the emergence of the Fatimids, so he took the title of a Caliph to himself as such to gain prestige with his subjects.

Islamic art under the Caliphate of Cordoba –

The Caliphate of Cordoba was very prosperous, when the Caliphs of the Caliphate of Cordoba have diplomatic relations with its neighbouring empires and kingdoms. The economy of the Caliphate is ludicrous as well, coming from taxes and tributes paid from the conquered parties surrounding the Caliphate, as well as from Christian and Jewish subjects.Because of the relations with other kingdoms and empires such as The Christian Kings in the north that includes France, Germany and Constantinople, there are diverse effects on the formation of the Islamic art.

aside from the influences taken from the Byzantine and Sassanid empires discussed in the history of Islamic Art during the Umayyad Caliphate, Islamic art is by this period susceptible to other Eastern cultures, bringing in different patterns and art forms into the Islamic Aesthetics. Influence from rival empire the Fatimids are also apparent.

Pyxis of Al-Mughira, dated 968 from the Madinat al-Zahra.Regarded as one of the masterpieces of Andalusian ivory work.

Styles and influences taken by the Spanish Cordoba Caliphate includes the likes of Roman forums, apparent usage is for the pillars that decorate the main hall of La Mezquita where the pillars are used to support the famous two coloured arches.

The Drawing Room of Abd-ar-Rahman III in Medinat Al-Zahra, showing the roman columns used to support the arches.

The Caliphate also strive to be more unique and have more individual characteristics as opposed to its rivals of the Abbasids and Fatimids in their aesthetic value, however they still use the stylized flowery calligraphy that is developed by the Abbasids that came before them. For example, the Kufic calligraphy of the Arabic script, with its elongated stalks and leaf style decorations usually embellish monumental buildings of the Abbasid is used for decorative texts on smaller items such as caskets and boxes.

An ivory casket carved with silver engravings. From Madinat al-Zahra circa 966AD. Note the Kufic inscription just below the lid.

Byzantine influences came in the form of figurative art – boxes and caskets are decorated with human and animal representations in the Byzantine culture, however the religion symbolism or political representations of the Byzantine culture is not palatable to the Islamic aesthetics, and thus replaced with scenes in the courts ; princes at leisure, listening to music, sipping wine and enjoying company.

A lidless Pyxis from Madinat Al-Zahra circa 970AD, done in elephant ivory depicting human and animal figures.

It is during this period as well, and perhaps more famous for, the Islamic Architecture flourished. It is at this time, great works of architecture masterpieces are built, such as the Great Mosque of Cordoba or the La Mezquita, now converted into a church, and a ruined city called Medinat Az-Zahra. The Caliphs of Cordoba built many opulent palaces and mosques, and comissioned luxurious items such as gilt ivory boxes and statues.

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, now a Roman Catholic church, built in 780AD. Regarded as one of the most impressive architectural wonder of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

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