What Inspired the Splendour of Islamic Architecture?

Art Contributor
Taj Mahal Architecture

When Ustad Ahmad Lahori, the chief architect of Taj Mahal carried out the orders of Shah Jahan in 1632 to build a monument in the loving memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, he along with his army of twenty two thousand artisans erected not just an ivory white-memorial. What stands majestically in the city of Agra is the magnificent representation of Mughal and Persian architectural traditions, flourished over a long period of time. What is broadly categorized and recognized as Islamic or Muslim architecture, as seen in the designs of mosques, mausoleums, Mughal palaces, gardens and forts is essentially an architectural pattern predominantly characterized by minarets, domes, arches and open courtyards.


Islamic style of building traces its origination to two chief sources-Greco-Roman traditions which refer to the Byzantine Empire- it is said to have taken a cue from the Roman architecture and trained its indigenous artisans who later worked for the Islamic rulers. Some of the distinguishing elements like the horse shoe arch also called as Moorish arch (as seen in the great mosque of Cordoba) is attributed to Byzantine architecture, which also is accredited with building of domes.

The second source is Eastern traditions, which reflect aesthetics of Sasanian architecture that links up to the Persian architectural traditions.

It is believed that the early Muslim conquerors widely borrowed and assimilated remarkable craftsmanship of the lands conquered in the seventh and eighth centuries and subsequently these borrowings became a part of Islamic culture. It is observed that Muslim Architectural innovations also owe much to the annual pilgrimage of Haj as in olden days craftsmen and architects from various countries broadened their aesthetic sensibilities while passing from country to country. Certain ideas found a permanent place in the overall scheme of design and thus formed the distinct Muslim architecture.


Many iconic Islamic architectural marvels across the world present certain similarity or standardization of design, proving allegiance to the well-marked tradition of building pattern. Domes, onion shaped or pointed ones, stand out as the most noticeable feature and it is said they were added in Islamic architecture from 691 AD, inspired by the Byzantine architecture. Minerats or towers, predominantly found in Mosques can be cylindrical or polygonal and are mainly built to facilitate the Muezzin to give the call to prayers. Gardens and open courtyards often with a pond called Howz to enable people to perform ablutions, often is used for large gatherings. Ornamentation with precious and semi-precious stones usually in geometrical or floral motifs is done using inlay or relief work; Islamic Calligraphy of Quranic verses is primarily incorporated in decoration and animal and human figures are strictly avoided.


Some of the famous public places that stand as a tribute to the rich traditions of Muslim architecture are…The Alhambra, a palace in Spain rebuilt in mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada-The Dome of the Rock located on the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem, built at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik and Sultan Ahmed Mosque, famously known as the Blue Mosque, located in Istanbul, built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed 1, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.


 (Written by: Shazman Shariff, freelance writer based in Bangalore, available at [email protected].)

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