600-800| The Spread of Islam

Islam is a religion that developed around the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and began in Arabian Desert. The religion was easy to grasp that’s why it gained wide approval. The cities built up around the religion Islam, include mosques which generally built as multicolumned prayer hall. Mosques also had minaret which are a slender tower for the muezzin or crier. Thanks to these minarets cities gained a vertical axis.

Mecca and Medina: The Cities of Muhammad and His Followers

The new religion of Muhammad settled in an oasis settlement which was Mecca and Medina. During the seventh century Islam spread rapidly. For a long time, Mecca was a significant cult site for the nomadic tribes of Arabia. Kaaba, which is a cubical granite house, included a mysterious black meteorite and containing many idols, has a religious meaning for pilgrims and they were coming through Kaaba. After many battles between Muhammad and the non-believer to him, Mecca finally conquered, and Muhammad stripped the Kaaba of its pagan iconography. After the half of the seventh century Kaaba was covered a black silk drape for protection. Kaaba is a representation of the faithfulness of the Muslims.kaaba-1024x681

Kaaba

Apart from the Kaaba in Mecca, Muhammad turned his own house as first congregational mosque. In 620s, Muhammad and his followers added a square courtyard to the west of the Prophet’s house. Muhammad supported religious attitudes in architecture and using vernacular methods for mud-brick walls and palm-trunk roof. The first prayer hall faced through Jerusalem and this direction called as qibla which means direction of prayers. After conquering the Mecca, the qibla changed it direction to Kaaba. The first Muslims preferred to base their cult buildings on secular structures they rejected the form of pagan temples like the early Christians. First mosques took the place of the forum-basilica from Roman cities. Also, the first mosques had a simple architecture without apses, side chapels, ambulatories, crypts, baptisteries or choirs. In theory, any kind of architecture would suffice basic requirements and transformed to mosques. There is three most common plans for mosques: the basilica with longitudinal aisles directed to the qibla, transverse basilica with lateral exposure to the qibla wall and the isotropic hypostyle hall.

The ideology of jihad causes the Arab domination of Sassanian Persia and the southern Mediterranean. The architect Abu al-Haiyaj, structured the new city -Kufah- on a grid with two broad cross streets. Each of the four quadrants of Kufah contained an open plaza or maydan surrounded by orthogonally arranged streets.

The Umayyad Period: Jerusalem and Damascus,

The Umayyads settled in the Greco-Roman city of Damascus, Syria. They sponsored a brilliant urban culture based on the example of the Byzantines in Constantinople. Arabs like the other nomadic people, had limited knowledge about masonry architecture.  They learned forms and techniques from Persian, Roman and Byzantine. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the first great Umayyad monument was built up by a Byzantine architect and mosaic artists from Constantinople. It was constructed on an elevated terrace toward the center of the Temple Mount. The central-plan structure resembled a Christian martyrium. The passage that was surrounding the rock had two other characteristics which became common in Islamic architecture: pointed arches and ablaq that alternating bands of different-colored masonry. The dome roses as a double-shell structure over a cylindrical drum. Also, the Dome of the Rock’s central plan differed from Christian churches with the use of two concentric ambulatories. In order to attract non-Muslims, the monument was built as the most visible monument in city.

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The Dome of the Rock

Abd al-Malik’s son al Walid I built three impressive mosques. The first entailed enlarging the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. He added mosaics and the first mihrab to indicate the qibla to Mecca. The second, the al-Aqsa Mosque, maintained a congregational hypostyle hall   on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Al-Walid I’s third project was the Great Mosque of Damascus. Like the Dome of the Rock, the new mosque in Damascus reutilized the principal Greco-Roman temenos. The Great Mosque of Damascus was like Hagia Sophia. It had the idea of palace and mosque. On the corners of the southern wall of the temenos, guard towers served as muezzin’s call. Lately, these towers served as the first minarets and they became the most monumental element of later mosques. Even though, nothing left from the Umayyad palaces in Damascus, the ruins create an evidence of great magnificence.

The Abbasid Succession: New Capitals Baghdad and Samarra

The Umayyad dynasty enlarged the empire of Islam to its further extent, from Indus valley in the east to Spain and Morocco in the west. Abbasid dynasty took power from Umayyad with the Battle of Zab near Kufah. The capital of the Islam was changed through those dynasty. In time of Umayyad the capital was Harran and the second Abbasid caliph settled the capital Baghdad. Several generations later capital was changed Baghdad to Samarra. Here, the caliphs constructed several grand imperial palaces.

Like Kufah, early Baghdad had two major cross-axial streets; instead of being lined with arcades, they were covered by vaults. The outer ring of round Baghdad’s blocks contained hoses for the caliph’s family and noble people inner ring for military barracks and administration.

In Samarra, in order to complete the city, they built the largest mosque in the world, the Great Mosque of Samarra, in scale of Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The inner sahn of the mosque had arcades four columns deep. The hypostyle prayer hall stretched nine columns deep. Also, there was a spiral minaret evoking the ancient ziggurat. It served more as an icon than as an acoustic device.

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The Great Mosque of Samarra

 In the first two centuries of Islamic design, they tried to design in a geometric order for cities, palaces and mosques but Arab Islamic cities developed through a dense snarl of covered markets and packed courtyard houses, sometimes interrupted by monumental religious complexes.

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