Ceremonial Gates of the Abbassids

Among the features of the Abbassids elaborate lifestyle that had a great impact on the architecture of this period was the ceremonial attitudes of the Abbassid Emirs which led to the spread of monumental gates and Iwans.

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Muslim Architecture under The Abbassid Patronage (750-892AD)
 by Rabah Saoud

Among the features of the new elaborate lifestyle that had a great impact on the architecture of this period was the ceremonial attitudes of the Abbassid Emirs which led to the spread of monumental gates and Iwans.

These displayed the power of the Caliph and were reminders of his achievement and authority which were hoped to gain the respect (and allegiance) of the subjects as well as maintain his legacy after his death.

In this respect, Baghdad had four large gates celebrating the achievement of the city and its founder Al-Mansur (754-775). The gates were about 25 meters high and comprised a bent entrance passage giving extra protection against attacks (Blair and Bloom, 2000, p.96). The top of these gates consisted of chambers crowned with golden domes and accessed through staircases or ramps. These rooms were used by the Caliph as audience halls to wait for approaching special dignitary guests as well as for their departure. Others suggested that these audience halls were also designed to accommodate a large garrison (Scerrato (1980, p.32).

Another example of these ceremonial gates was the Baghdad Gate at Raqqa (Syria), built by Al-Mansur(endnote 4) (754-775). This impressive structure was wholly built with baked brick and its entrance was covered with a pointed barrel vault framed by two large niches and decorated with ornamental brickwork (Creswell, 1959). The pointed arch here was struck from four centres and the higher section of the gate was decorated with niches of polylobed arches, a feature which became common in Samara and later became popular decorative themes in Muslim architecture.

Bab Alamma, Samara (836/37 AD)
with its three iwans

Bab Al-Amma of Samara built by Al-Mutawakkil between 836-837 is a third example exceeding the fame and grandiose of the above gates. This structure served as palace entrance (for Jusak Al-Khaqani) as well as public audience hall and in its central iwan the canopy of the throne was laid down (sidilla).

The stucco decoration showed the princial taste and displayed the Caliphal power. Its ornament as reconstructed by Herzfeld (1923) resembled those found in Meshatta and consisted of vine scrolls.

The dado stucco of the great iwan of the gate consisted of six lobed rosettes separated with triangles, also resembling those of Meshatta, while its frontal arch was decorated with a series of eight lobed rosettes contained within two borders of vine stalks loops. These rosettes greatly resembled the rose window of 13th century gothic churches of Europe, and western scholars admitted this influence (see Otto-von-Simson, 1956).

The other feature associated with the use of gates and porches was the introduction of a ceremonial tradition where the Emirs appeared before their subjects from a window (the window of appearances) above the main entrance of their palace (Kritzeck, 1959).

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