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A Study On Islamic Architecture History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Construction of the Great Mosque at Cordoba  marks the beginning of Islamic architecture in the Iberian Peninsula. Muslims as well as the Christians consider it a wonder of the medieval ages. At the site of a Christian Visigothic Church, the construction of The Great Mosque of Cordoba began between 784 and 786. Abd ar-Rahman, who bought the church and his descendants, modified it over two centuries to transform it into a mosque, starting in 784. The mosque itself was built in four phases and is observed as a trademark of sacred Islamic architecture. After taking over Cordoba in 1236, Ferdinand III king of Castile set apart the Great Mosque to be the city’s cathedral, Mezquita, and used it with negligible changes for the next three hundred years. [1] 

In 929, when Abd al-Rahman III declared himself caliph, the Spanish Umayyads had attained the peak of their supremacy. The caliph displayed his novel position by building, about 13 kilometres Northwest of Cordoba, the palace city of Madinah al-Zahra, with its focus to impress the world and exhibit its massive military. He made it his empire’s managerial and legislative headquarters. The construction in Medina al-Zahra proceeded swiftly, particularly since Abd al-Rahman III put in one third of the state revenues in its progression. Finally, he brought in the largest and most grand secular venture of his period, which stayed matchless irrespective of the numerous cities founded until its end.

As the caliphate fell in the 11th century, the city then was sacked and smoldered. The new Minister of Calipf Hisham II, Vizir-ul-Mansur shifted his attention towards the east of Cordoba and abandon the city during his reign. Later, the Berber troops destroyed this palace-city in 1010. [2] 


The Great Cordoba Mosque is most renowned for its giant arches, with 856 columns of onyx, marble and granite. These legendary arches were made from remains of the Roman temple which had occupied the spot previously as well as other ruined Roman buildings As most of these components were different sizes, their amalgamation into an articulate piece, was in itself a major architectural achievement. The double arches were a novel introduction to architecture and helped carry the tremendous weight of the high ceilings. However, the hypostyle architecture consists of a rectangular prayer hall with extraordinary manifestation of its interior and an enclosed courtyard. The prayer Hall had aisles upright to Qibla and a wall showing the direction of the Qibla. The mosque also has luxuriously gilded prayer niches for the elites with a centrally located dome has blue tiles ornamented with stars. The Mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural skill, with geometric and fluid floral designs.

The most opulent interior ornament is positioned in the maqsura, the prayer space reserved for the ruler, which was specially customized for the caliph, al-Hakam II. Screens created of highly structured intersecting cloisters separate the maqsura evidently from the rest of the prayer hall.

The main hall of the mosque came into use for a variety of purposes. It served as a central hall for teaching, and to manage law and order, during the tenet of Abd-Al-Rahman. The walls of the mosque were indulged in carved Quranic inscriptions. Some of the most prominent features were an open court (sahn) surrounded by screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics, and windows of coloured glass. [3]  

Medina al-Zahra employs its location on a terrace-like slope below the Sierra Morena, which is divided into three terraces. At the utmost spot stood the caliph’s palace, eminent from other buildings by its secluded setting. It stunningly signified the power of the caliph, from whose porch distant city and countryside was observable.

The middle terrace consisted of the government buildings, the reception halls and accommodation for important individuals. Amid the middle and lower terraces, on an artificially created mound, was the mosque, which linked the court area on the middle terrace with residences. There is also another composite of houses, with two identical courtyards, separated by a ramp. Because the courtyards are almost identical, this complex, lying about 8 meters lower than the caliph’s palace, is called the ‘twin esplanade’. Suites of rooms on three sides surround it. The western esplanade of this twin layout contained the complex’s grand living quarters, while the eastern esplanade was devoted to financial matters.

The two, now extensively renovated, great reception halls in the palace-city follow a model of space division similar to that adopted in the Medina al-Zahra Mosque. Both these reception halls date to the era of Caliph al-Hakam II, The middle terrace is a large, five-aisle hall with a porch, outside which there is an immense square courtyard, with an area of 2,500 square meters. This place lies in the eastern sector of Medina al-Zahra’s palace area, and up to now is called Dar al-Jund (‘House of the Army’). The Reception Hall served just as the Hall of The Great Mosque of Cordoba, from serving as a meeting place to coming into use for administrative purposes.

In Medina al-Zahra, it is said that there were two types of building. One has large inner courtyards with surrounding suites of rooms – a conventional pattern that has come along from the ancient times and is widespread. The other type has secular halls that fulfill a public function. The mosque and reception halls in Medina al-Zahra fall under the second category. [4] 

Expansion of the Mosque of Cordoba

The city in which The Great Mosque of Cordoba was built was a target to recurrent invasion, and each conquering wave added their own score to the architecture. Though the mosque was renovated and expanded by later rulers, the most noteworthy changes were dating from the reigns of ‘Abd al-Rahman II, al-Hakam II, and the vizier al-Mansur. The comparison is augmented by rows of trees planted in the courtyard, which create a visual continuation of the rows of columns within the prayer hall. One-hundred-fifty years following its creation, a staircase to the roof was added to the mosque, along with an extension of the mosque itself southwards, and a bridge linking the prayer hall with the Emir’s palace. The mosque was later expanded even further south, as was the courtyard, which surrounded the Great Mosque. The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd ar Rahman III ordered a new minaret, while Al-Hakam II, enlarged the building and enriched the mihrab. Al-Mansur carried out the last of the reforms. A raised pavement joined it with the Caliph’s palace, for mosques within the palaces have been the tradition for the Islamic rulers of all times. [5] 

Diminution of Madinah al Zahra

Despite of the great Palaces and buildings, Madinah al Zahra had been attacked by the Berber troops and was burned and buried. The site even lacks dimensions for the archeologists; this shows the volume by which it was affected. Following excavations at massive degree enabled the professionals to acquire fragments of the great city, which were infinite that they could not even be presented.

The Muslim architecture known to be the best since the old times has always created mark in the hearts and the eyes of people. The sacred monuments of the medieval times have always fascinated people and archeologists from all over the world. The domes and the minarets have always been the essence of Muslim architecture. At the same time the secular architecture has also been well-structured from the very beginning. Being Muslim in nature, they display a wide range of illustrations as per the affection of the rulers.

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