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Mohammedan Architecture

mosque, arches, style, prayer, byzantine, pillars, stone, maqsfira and erected

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MOHAMMEDAN ARCHITECTURE. When in a vic torious advance the Arab followers of Mohammed subdued the old civilized nations of Asia and Africa, Persians, Turks, Byzan tines, Syrians and Copts, their own civilization was not yet much developed and in many respects dependent on those of the neigh bouring countries; but the greater was their faith in the one God, inimical to every kind of idolatry. The architecture of the Mo hammedan world, therefore, was created by members of those overthrown peoples who were clients of the Arabs or had them selves turned Muslim, and the characteristic Mohammedan style of architecture originated in the fact that in the unitary civiliza tion of Islam the earlier styles, till then kept separate by national antipathies, were fused into a new oneness.

In the Mohammedan world ecclesiastical and aristocratic build ings, such as mosques, monasteries, mausoleums, palaces and castles, greatly predominate. Middle-class architecture is known only from a few excavations. The mosque (masjid) is the most original creation of the Mohammedan genius, and the most com monly encountered ; consequently it offers the best means of studying the development of architectural style. Both the non Christian places of worship and the Christian churches, with their concentration on a holy-of-holies, altar or the like, were too reminiscent of image-worship or idolatry. Mohammed therefore took a simple assembly-room (musalla), with a flat roof supported on pillars, as the place for the public Friday prayer ; a niche resembling a door (mihrdb) showed the direction (towards Mecca) in which the congregation had to prostrate themselves when pray ing, while a pulpit (minbar) was used by the preacher and leader in prayer, and a superstructure on the roof (minaret) by the sum moner to prayer. The first mosques in the great camps in Mesopo tamia, Syria and Egypt, such as Kufa and Old Cairo, were also on this plan, but on an immense scale, and in many cases the nave was drawn parallel to the mihrdb-wall, so that the faithful could come to prayer in the same ranked formation in which they went forth to battle against the unbelievers.

cOmayyad Style.—When the Beduin victors embraced a sed entary life in the conquered lands of civilization, the Spartan communism that had prevailed gave way to private economy and luxury, and the wooden mosques of the earlier period were re placed by magnificent structures of stone. It is true that in Damascus, the capital, the church of St. John erected by the Byzantine emperor Justinian was simply taken over and used as the chief mosque, while in Jerusalem the church of St. Mary became the Aqsa mosque, and so in other instances ; but over the rock at Jerusalem from which the angel Gabriel was said to have carried the prophet through the heavens in a dream, an octagonal domed building mostly in the Byzantine style (see Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture), the Dome of the Rock, was erected, with the smaller Qubbat-as-Silsila beside it. Except in such in

stances, however, existing clay walls were replaced by stone, and wooden pillars by stone columns; examples may still be seen in the `Amr mosque (erected in 642, rebuilt in 827 and 1329) and the al-Azhar in Old Cairo. The columns were taken from the ruins of Roman temples and Christian churches, but later the Mohamme dans themselves imitated their acanthus capitals and joined them with round arches; the walls were ornamented with marble tablets, and with inscriptions and foliate work in Byzantine glass-mosaic.

Moorish Style in Spain and North the fall of the (Omayyads (A.D. 75o), this style disappeared from the East, but in the West, where in 756 the cOmayyad (Abd-ar-Rahman founded a kingdom of his own, it soon began to develop on sepa rate lines, and is still a living force. The earliest examples are the Sidi Oqba mosque at Qairuan, begun in 67o and rebuilt in the 9th century, and the az-Zitana mosque at Tunis. In this period the hall of the mosque is prefaced, as also in the East, by a court yard surrounded by a colonnade ; it contains water-basins in which the faithful could perform their ablutions in preparation for prayer, and a lofty quadrangular tower, receding in the last third of its height, serves as minaret. Farther on the first nave rises above the others, and that part of it which lies opposite the mihrdb, with the chieftain's lodge (maqsfira), is crowned with a cupola ; from that point another longitudinal nave, also higher than the rest, runs to the front of the courtyard, where a second domed space forms a kind of portal. The immense mosque of COrdoba (8th to Loth century) illustrates this type in its per fection. Horseshoe arches of alternate brick-red and white key stones rested on slender pillars, and above them rose a second storey of round arches of the same composition, supporting the original cedarwood ceiling. In the maqsfira, richly-decorated lobar arches, intercalated between the horseshoe arches, ran above the mihrab so as to form a blind arcade, and ultimately continued the wall-square of the maqsfira up into the octagon, where the dome sprang from two intersecting quadrangles of arches. The mihrob itself was still adorned with Byzantine glass-mosaic, but else where this form of decoration was superseded by the stucco arabesque—borrowed, like the rich carvings on the minbar and the faience tiling on the mihreib at Qairuan, from the 'Abbasid art of the East. This plan, with its slender stone pillars, horse shoe and lobar arches, tiling and stucco arabesques, in later cen turies was carried on into a graceful style, a kind of Maghrebine rococo and remains the distinctive characteristic of all Moorish and Mudejar art in Spain till the 16th century, in Morocco and— with an admixture of Ottoman elements—in Algiers and Tunis down to the present day.

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