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Dictionary of Islamic Architecture pdf

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 Dictionary Of Islamic Architecture
  • Book Author:
Andrew Petersen
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Dictionary of Islamic Architecture by Andrew Petersen


The Partal Palace Alhambra, © J.W.Allan, Ashmolean Museum

Book’s Preface

Abu Abdallah Mahammad of Tangier, also known as Ibn Battuta, is the most famous of the Arab travellers. His journeys started with a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca and afterwards he always tried to travel within a Muslim context whether he was in Timbuktu or China.

 What is notable about these accounts is that they deal with Muslim communities which are remote from the western stereotype of Muslim society.

For example, most general works on Islamic architecture tend to confine themselves to the Middle East and North Africa, neglecting the centuries old Islamic heritage of South-East Asia, India, East and West Africa.

 It is an aim of this book to include as many as possible of these less well-known Muslim cultures whose populations now outnumber those of the central Islamic lands.

As a corollary to this approach there has been an attempt to include vernacular architecture rather than dealing exclusively with well-known monumental architecture.

As well as being important in its own right vernacular architecture provides an architectural context for the more famous monuments.

In order to aid the reader’s appreciation of this relationship, vernacular architecture has been included in regional summaries, which also discuss the geographical and cultural character of an area.

As a balance to the regional approach there are also historical accounts dealing with particular dynasties or historic styles.

The encyclopedic nature of this work has meant that there is little room for theoretical discussions of aesthetics or meaning. This is not because these are unimportant considerations but because these are issues best discussed in a different, more selective format.

The main purpose of this book is to provide basic information which includes definitions of architectural terms, descriptions of specific monuments and summaries of regional and historic groups.

Attached to each entry there is a short list of books for further reading which refers the user to the principal works on the subject.

It is hoped that the information provided will enable the reader to gain some appreciation of the diversity and genius of Muslim culture.


Dynasty which ruled most of the Islamic world between 750 and 945.

In 750 CE there was a revolution against Umayyad rule which began in eastern Iran and rapidly spread over the whole empire.

The Umayyads were totally destroyed except for one prince who fled to Spain and established the Umayyad dynasty there.

The newly established Abbasids decided to move the capital from Damascus to a city further east, first Raqqa was chosen and then in 762 Baghdad was founded by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur.

Baghdad grew to be one of the biggest and most populous cities in the world based around Mansur’s famous round city.

 In 836 the caliph al-Mu’tassim was unhappy about clashes between the local population and his troops so he established a new capital further north on the Tigris at Samarra. During this period the power of the caliphate began to decline and control over distant provinces was loosened.

Several local dynasties grew up including the Tulunids in Egypt, the Aghlabids in Ifriqiyya and the Samanids in Khurassan (eastern Iran).

 Internal troubles in Samarra caused the caliph al Mu’tamid to move back to Baghdad in 889; at this time Abbasid power outside Iraq was purely nominal.

 In 945 the Abbasids were replaced by the Shi’a Buwaihid amirs as rulers of Iraq and Iran. For the next two hundred years the Abbasids remained nominal caliphs with no real authority.

 In the mid-twelfth century the Abbasids were able to reassert some authority when the Seljuk ruler Sultan Muhamad abandoned his siege of Baghdad.

During the reign of Caliph al-Nasir (1179– 1225) the Abbasids were able to gain control over much of present-day Iraq. The Mongol invasions and sack of Baghdad in 1258 dealt a final blow to the political aspirations of the Abbasids.

Although Abbasid architecture covers a vast area from North Africa to western India, the majority of extant buildings are in the Abbasid homeland of Iraq.

Abbasid architecture was influenced by three architectural traditions—Sassanian, Central Asian (Soghdian) and later, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Seljuk.

Many early Abbasid structures such as the palace of Ukhaidhir bear a striking resemblance to Sassanian architecture, as they used the same techniques (vaults made without centring) and materials (mud brick, baked brick and roughly hewn stone laid in mortar), and built to similar designs (solid buttress towers).

Central Asian influence was already present in Sassanian architecture but it was reinforced by the Islamic conquest of Central Asia and the incorporation of a large number of Turkic troops into the army.

 Central Asian influence is seen most clearly at Samarra where the wall paintings and some of the stucco work resemble that of the Soghdian palaces at Panjikent.

The Abbasid architecture of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is essentially Seljuk architecture built with Iraqi materials.

In addition to the various influences upon it, early Abbasid architecture can be seen to have developed its own characteristics.

One of the most notable features of the Abbasid cities of Baghdad and Samarra is their vast scale.

This is most clearly demonstrated at Samarra with its extensive palaces and mosques stretched out for more than 40 km along the banks of the Tigris.

The scale of the site led to the development of new forms: thus the great spiral minarets of the Great Mosque and the Abu Dulaf Mosque were never repeated elsewhere (with the possible exception of the Ibn Tulun Mosque).

 Other developments had far- reaching consequences; for example, the three stucco types developed at Samarra rapidly spread throughout the Islamic world (e.g. the Abbasid mosque at Balkh in Afghanistan) and continued to be used centuries later.

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