- Slides: 13
Monuments of Islamic Architecture Lectures delivered by Professors Gülru Necipoğlu and David Roxburgh at Harvard University Specially adapted for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Education Programme in collaboration with the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Harvard University
Lesson 2 Umayyad and Late Antique Architecture
The Great Mosque ✤ The term Great Mosque refers to the main congregational mosque of a town or city, which is the place of gathering for important celebrations, regular prayers and Friday prayers. ✤ The first mosque was also the residence of the Prophet in Medina, known as the Masjid al-Nabawi. ✤ What are the essential features of the mosque that distinguish it from other buildings, as well as the functional role of such elements?
Components of a Mosque in Early Islamic Architecture ✤ Qibla wall oriented towards Mecca – As this is the direction in which prayers are said, it has a significant impact upon the orientation and spatial organization of the mosque. The Qur'an states that prayer should be directed towards Mecca. Originally, prayer had been directed towards Jerusalem until the Prophet received a divine command to reorient prayer toward the Ka’ba in Mecca. ✤ Mihrab – While this was not an original requirement of mosques, it soon became a standard feature, as it is a niche form that marks the qibla wall. ✤ Hypostyle hall – This is not an essential element of the mosque, but is a standard feature of early mosques. A hypostyle (literally “under pillars”) hall is composed of an interior space whose roof rests on multiple pillars or columns. Not only did it have a prototype in the Prophet’s House, but it was an efficient layout capable of accommodating many people in a large and open interior space. ✤ Courtyard – Again, this feature is not essential to ritual, but became a standard feature in mosques and could house important other structures with a ritual function, such as an ablution pool, or a public treasury. It is often surrounded by porticos and has a prototype in the Prophet’s House. ✤ Minbar – This feature is a pulpit and was used by the Prophet Muhammad for giving sermons and administering justice during communal prayers. It developed from the pre-Islamic “judge’s seat, ” but has an obvious utilitarian function as well.
The Prophet’s Mosque Medina Mosque of the Prophet, Medina, 622 CE ✤ The original mosque was composed of wooden pillars and a flat roof without a dome. ✤ The Prophet was buried in the southeast area of the mosque, which was adjacent to his house. ✤ The first two Umayyad caliphs and the daughter of the Prophet (Fatima) is also buried at the site next to the Prophet’s burial site (later covered by a domed tomb). ✤ Columns are arranged horizontally, parallel to the qibla wall rather than perpendicular to it. ✤ Under the Umayyad caliph al-Walid, the mosque was rebuilt with minarets added in the outer corners. ✤ The beginning of the Islamic calendar corresponds to the exodus of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca where he faced an open resistance to the announcement of his revelation of the Qur’an. Therefore he and his family members and first companions followed him to predominantly Jewish city of Medina where they established the first Muslim community. The stories record that his house became a space of worship over time. This domestic structure gradually transformed into a space of worship. Umayyad rebuilding of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina c. 707 - 709 with domed central nave and mosaics under the caliph al-Walid (r. 705 -715), who built the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus (705 -715) also with a central nave crowned by a dome.
Al-Walid’s Renovations to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina ✤ The building included a perimeter wall with 4 minarets at the corners as in the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus, a qibla wall with a mihrab and a dome, as well as an enhanced treatment of the mihrab aisle (nave) expressed on the roof of the building in an elevated section. The rest of the roof was flat. The remainder of the building was arranged as a hypostyle hall around an open courtyard. Al-Walid was constrained by the historical precedence embedded in the structure of the mosque. ✤ Interior spaces within the former mosques before that of al-Walid’s refurbishment held historical associations. There were spaces in the buildings that were associated with the first generations of the Muslims, especially the Prophet Muhammad (the places he had stood, prayed, sermonized), as well as the residential quarters of his wives. Such historical markers were maintained.
The Umayyad Great Mosque of Damascus: Highlights ✤ The Great Mosque of Damascus, along with the Great Mosques of Medina and Jerusalem (al-Aqsa), was one of the three mosques built or renovated by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid (r. 705 -715). The Damascus mosque was commissioned in 706 and completed in 715. ✤ The monument employs grandiose and lavish materials, departing from the modesty of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. This responded to the need to compete with the spectacular architectural landscape of Christian-Byzantine Damascus, Syria, and Constantinople. ✤ The Damascus Mosque was built on the site of a Byzantine-Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist in the 4 th century. ✤ The gold mosaic decoration covering almost entirely the interior walls of the monument drew on iconography from Roman and Greek palaces and churches, adapting and creatively transforming these images to conform with the aniconic, non-figural requirements of Islamic religious spaces. ✤ With his domed mosques, al-Walid established a new royal/imperial typology. He even modified the mosque of the Prophet in Medina and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by inserting in each a royal domed space for the caliph (maqsura) in front of the mihrab. This new type was repeated in some later mosques, but others followed the model of the Prophet’s “domeless” hypostyle mosque, with humbler materials than the Umayyad use of colored marble columns and panels as well as luxurious gold mosaic decorations.
Like the Dome of the Rock, the Great Mosque of Damascus has a history of reuse and transformation. The site was a Roman pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter until 391, then the temple was converted into a cathedral church by the Christian emperor Theodosius I (r. 379 – 395). The shrine of St. John which existed in the Christian church was preserved within the prayer hall of the Umayyad Great Mosque, kept as a revered reminder of the Abrahamic monotheistic heritage of the religion of Islam, and the chain of prophets that Islam shared with Judaism and Christianity.
The Great Mosque of Damascus: Architectural Plan ✤ The original porticoed outer boundary of the Church was maintained in the Mosque courtyard. ✤ The prayer space is composed of columns and arcades with round arches in the Roman-Byzantine manner. ✤ The two story superimposed arcades are derived from palatial architecture. ✤ The marble columns are arranged parallel to the qibla wall. ✤ The shrine of St. John is incorporated into the hypostyle prayer space. ✤ Classical marble columns with Corinthian capitals (spolia) are reused. ✤ The nave (central corridor) is perpendicular to the central mihrab (as in the Umayyad al-Aqsa and Medina mosques). ✤ The dome covers the central aisle of the nave, which cuts across the three-aisles parallel to the qibla wall featuring three mihrabs.
✤The plan includes three mihrabs: the one aligned with the central aisle is reserved for the caliph and the two mihrabs on either side of the center are for the congregation. ✤The Umayyad caliphal palace was attached to qibla wall of the mosque, allowing direct passage to the caliph from his residence to the domed maqsura of the mosque, as in the Jerusalem al. Aqsa Mosque.
Mosaic Decoration The whole interior and courtyard of the mosque was once covered in elaborate gold mosaic tiles. Sources note that the Byzantine emperor sent mosaicists from Constantinople to create these gold and multi-colored mosaics. Like a vision of paradise, the mosaics depict riverfront palaces promised to the believers in garden landscape with abundant trees. Unlike the Dome of the Rock, the trees lack jewels and crowns; they depicted with a much greater emphasis on naturalism. The concept of paradise as an eternally verdant garden with palatial pavilions for the believers is expressed pictorially, without words, and can also be interpreted a potential incitement for conversion. Qur’anic inscriptions accompany these evocative depictions.
The theme of heavenly paradise is represented in the so-called “Barada Panel, ” a mosaic running along the inner arcade of the western courtyard wall. The river flowing below the fantastical pavilions, palaces, and orchards corresponds to the Muslim description of paradise which mentions palaces promised to believers with rivers running underneath them.
Anjar (Lebanon) Mosque-Palace Compound ✤ The Palace city of Anjar was founded by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I at the beginning of the 8 th century. ✤ Unlike Umayyad monuments built in Jerusalem and Damascus, Anjar was an entirely new royal city built on the model of a quadrangular Roman camp with two columned avenues intersecting in the middle, marked by four columns (tetrapylon). ✤ Roman models were also adopted for the Umayyad oyal palace and mosque adjacent to one another. ✤ The palace included double-tier round-arched arcades resting on marble columns, as in the Great Mosque of Damascus. Round Roman arches would be replaced with pointed arches in later Islamic architecture. ✤ The Umayyads who established themselves in Mediterranean Byzantine lands, moving the caliphal capital Medina in the Arabian Peninsula to Damascus in Syria, aimed to expand further into Byzantine territories. Hence, the Umayyads chose to adopt local architectural precedents, such as the Roman urban plan at Anjar, and luxurious building materials. Umayyad architectural innovations that departed from the humble building traditions of the Prophet’s time often received criticism from communities in Mecca, Medina, and Iraq that were opposed to Umayyad deviations from former norms. Such critiques would continue under the Abbasid caliphate, which ousted the Umayyads and aimed to delegitimize their legacy.