Architecture under Umayyad Patronage (661-750)

Under the Umayyads, Islam spread to various lands, generating considerable prosperity and wealth. In that period, the mosque developed its main structural and functional elements such as Minaret, Mihrab, Maksurah and dome.

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Muslim Architecture under The Umayyad Patronage (661-750AD)
 by Rabah Saoud

 

The Umayyads established the first Islamic dynasty in Damascus, which is renown for a number of important accomplishments.

Under their leadership, Islam reached most parts of today's Muslim World and by mid eight century Muslim Caliphate ruled from Damascus to Tashkent in the East and to the Pyrenee mountains in the West. One fo their major achievement was the organisation of administration and trade and the introduction of coinage.

These events engendered greater architectural movements reflecting the Umayyad grandeur as portrayed in their master pieces; the Dome of the Rock and the Great Mosque of Damascus. The full article examines the main flagship construction projects of that period and explores its innovative architectural and artistic elements.

The arrival of Muawiya to the throne of Caliphate after the death of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the 4th Caliph, marked the beginning of the Umayyad dynasty. That period was renowned for its architectural achievement. The relative security and peace that followed the turbulent first few years after the war the Umayyads led against Ali's family, augmented by the newly acquired wealth generated by the annexation of Iraq, Iran and Syria to Islam contributed to the development of artistic and architectural activities. Signs of this change emerged in religious as well as secular buildings. The development of major architectural components of the mosque is attributed to the Umayyads.

Muawiya introduced the minaret in 673 while carrying some enlargement works for the mosque of Amr Ibn-Al-AAs (Egypt, 641-2).

He equipped it with four minarets for the call to prayer (Adhan). This innovation, according to Creswell (1958, p.14), was imitated from a Syrian Christian practice. According to this story, early Muslims in Damascus prayed initially at a neglected temple(endnote 1) which the Christians named as the Church of John the Baptist. It had four small projections at the four Corners on which people climbed to make the Adhan and thus inspiring the development of minarets (for example, Briggs, 1924 & Creswell, 1926) (endnote 2). Other theories suggest the influence of the Pharaohs light towers (Mitchell, et al., 1973).

In Damascus Mosque (706-715), the Umayyad innovation also included the use of stone arcades surrounding the court and consisting of horseshoe arches. This is the earliest recorded appearance of this type of arches, a fact which contradicts some claims which attribute its adoption by Muslims to the influence of Visigoth Spain(endnote 3) (Briggs, 1924 p.42).

Ummayad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

The first use and appearance of multifoil arches is also attributed to the Umayyad Mosque, in the minaret, then transmitted to the rest of the Muslim world before crossing over to Europe where it has been consistently used in church as well as civic buildings. The other main innovation was the introduction of the dome over the crossing, in the central nave in front of the Mihrab. This feature is known to have been used in Christian churches first appeared in the Umayyad Mosque and progressively became a central feature of most mosques. Moreover, according to Ibn Khaldoun (1967), Muawiya was also responsible for the introduction of the maqsura, a separate room near the Mihrab for his personal use, as a result of an attempt made on his life by the Kharijite.

When Al-Walid became Caliph, the Prophet's Mosque in Medina was becoming unfit to receive the large crowds of the faithful. He decided (in 707-709) to enlarge it. He erected four minarets and introduced the Mihrab in the centre of the Qibla wall. The origin of the Mihrab had many explanations which chiefly linked it to the form of the apse in Christian architecture. In Islam it became a symbol of a niche containing God's light placed in front of worshippers helping them to achieve sincerity and devotion during prayers. The other function of the Mihrab was a symbol indicating the direction of the Qibla, the Kaaba (see: Article on the Mosque).

Concluding Remarks

Under the Umayyads, Islam spread to various lands, generating considerable prosperity and wealth. This engendered growth of new architectural forms and buildings. In that period, the mosque developed its main structural and functional elements such as Minaret, Mihrab, Maksurah and dome. Decorative arts slowly established the foundations of what was to become the Muslim art through the use of calligraphy (Kufic), glass mosaics and vegetal and geometrical abstracts.

After their defeat by the Abbassids in 750, the Ummayyads pursued their constructive role in Andalusia (Spain) where they produced numerous marvels some of which we can still admire today.

Notes:

1: Muslims purchased this derelict building from Christians and converted into, the Great Umayyad Mosque (706-15).

2: He sees Saumaa to be derived from the church of John the Baptist, but Manara from the Pharaohs light tower.

3: Muslims did not reach Spain until 726, suggesting that they were the source of its Spanish adoption.

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