The earliest architectural monument of Islam that retains most of its original form is the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah) in Jerusalem, constructed in 691–92 on the site of the Jewish Second Temple. Muslims believe it to be the spot from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. It has mosaics depicting scrolling vines and flowers, jewels, and crowns in greens, blues, and gold. Similar in some aspects is the later Great Mosque of Damascus (built c.705–14) which was built by Al Walid over what was originally a Roman temple. The interior walls have stone mosaics that depict crowns, fantastic plants, realistic trees, and even empty towns. This is thought to represent Paradise for the faithful Muslim. Both the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the great Mosque of Damascus used the Syrian cut-stone technique of building and popularized the use of the dome (see mosque).
The 8th-century desert palace Khirbat al-Mafjar (in present-day Jordan) reveals a wealth of carved and molded stucco decoration, sculptured stone reliefs, and figural fresco paintings. In 750 the Abbasid dynasty moved the capital east to Baghdad, and from 836 to 892 the Abbasid rulers resided at Samarra. The Great Mosque of Samarra is an important example of the Iraqi hypostyle, noted for its massive size and spectacular minaret. In Iran few Islamic buildings erected before the 10th cent. are still standing. Sassanid building techniques, such as the squinch, were combined with the mosque form (see Persian art and architecture). Sassanid influence is also strong in many Umayyad dynasty residential palaces, built mostly in Syria. The most famous is the 8th-century palace of Mshatta; much of its delicately carved stone facade is now in Berlin.
In the middle of the 8th cent. the last of the Umayyads escaped to Spain and refounded his dynasty there. The great Mosque of Córdoba was begun in 785 and is famous for its rows of double-tiered arches. The mosque was extended three times. The culture of Islamic Spain reached its apogee in Moorish art and architecture. Faïence and lacy pierced-stone screens are the hallmarks of its decoration. The same style prevails in N Africa and is seen at its best in Fès, Morocco, where much elaborately carved wood is used. The Mudé jarstyle of Spain, employed throughout the 18th cent. and influential until much later, is based on this architecture.
Late in the 9th cent. the governor of Egypt, Ibn Tulun, initiated the high period of Egypto-Islamic art with the building of his famous mosque in Cairo. In the 10th cent. the Fatimids introduced into Egypt the decorative stalactite ceiling from Iran and placed emphasis on decorative flat moldings. The most important Fatimid buildings are the Cairo mosques of al-Azhar and al-Aqmar. The cruciform Mosque of Hasanin Cairo, built by a Mamluk sultan in 1536, still reflects Persian influence.
In India a distinct style, preserved mainly in architecture, developed after the Delhi Sultanate was established (1192). This art made extensive use of stone and reflected Indian adaptation to Islam rule, until Mughal art replaced it in the 17th cent. (see Mughal art and architecture). The square Char Minar of Hyderabad (1591) with large arches, arcades, and minarets is typical.
In Turkey the mosque form was also derived from Persia, as was most Turkish art. The great Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia, adapted for use as a mosque, greatly influenced Turkish architects. The most famous among these is Sinan, chief architect in the Ottoman court from 1539 until his death in 1588. He constructed or designed most of Sulayman I's buildings, the most noted of which is his mosque (c.1557) in İstanbul, where he is buried. It has four minarets and stained-glass windows flanking the mihrab. The mosque (1614) of Sultan Ahmed I is similarly distinguished by its dome lit by numerous windows, and wall surfaces covered with green and blue tiles. Fine ornate buildings were erected in Turkey until the middle of the 17th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.