If to take a look at the phenomenon of Islamic civilization, mainly at the architecture, urban planning and poetry, the importance of art in the Islamic world becomes clear. Great masterpieces of Islamic civilization, Islamic architecture in the clearest way answer the question of what Islam is. These buildings have in their proportionality, harmony, tranquility and serenity the most important features of the Islamic message to people.
Of course, all kinds of Islamic art: architecture, fabric production, etc., borrowed many of the technologies and methods from different civilizations, in particular, from Ancient Iran and Byzantium. But all of them were reshaped in the light of the Koran, which gave a completely new forms and images that can be seen on every Islamic piece of art.
Despite the differences between arts in various regions of the Islamic world, all kinds of art schools in Islamic civilization have general principles. The main feature is the use of stylized patterns, known as “arabesque”, use of geometric patterns and calligraphy which shows the constant presence of the Word of Allah everywhere. All these elements can be found in Islamic art, in all countries and territories. Of course, each of Islamic groups has created the art that shows the concrete pattern of a specific people. Thus, there are Iranian, Turkish, Egyptian, Andalusian, Indian, Malaysian schools. But the unity of Islam appears in all these rich and diverse artistic traditions.
Great influence on the development of medieval art of peoples professing Islam was a religion. The spread of Islam meant assertion of monotheism – the belief in one god. Muslim understanding of the world as a whole was important in forming the abstract idea of the universe.
Sacred word of the Koran carved on the walls and portals of mosques, put as a pattern on carpets, fabrics, ceramics, written on the pages of manuscripts and bindings was accompanying a Muslim for all his life. Muslims believe that Islamic word illuminates the soul and enlightens the mind. This word contained in itself the whole world of spiritual experience of the Islam follower, gave him a genuine aesthetic satisfaction. Calligraphy and decoration – are decorative forms of showing the ideas about the endless variety and beauty of the world created by God – they became the basis of artistic creativity of the Muslims.
In the art of the Arab countries an iconoclastic tendency of Islam dominated. Islam denied the possibility of imaging the deity. It was prohibited to put images of people on the walls of religious buildings. Quran and other theological books were decorated only with an ornament. But initially there was no prohibition of depicting living creatures in the art. Only later, approximately in IX-X centuries, iconoclastic tendency of Islam was used for prohibiting certain categories of images. History showed, though, that these restrictions that had influenced the development of certain types of art, not always were followed. They were strictly performed only during periods of extreme religious reaction. In later times, the ban on painting and sculpture was not strictly observed.
One more thing that was general for all Islamic artistic forms was usability and practical purpose of any object of art created. Practical purpose of facilities constructed was of the greatest importance. With this objective, constructors of architectural objects did their best to use building materials that were present locally.
Architecture of the Islamic world as a historical and artistic phenomenon was born and formed in the period of the first Muslim state – the Arab Caliphate (632-1258). Land possessions of the caliphs during their greatest influence in the 8th century extended to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, to the Indus and the Syr Darya in the east, to the coasts of the Indian Ocean in the south and to the Caucasus Mountains in the north. With the collapse of the Caliphate in the lands once in possession of caliphs, for centuries new states and dynasties were rising and falling, but one thing remained unchanged – the ideology of Islam.
The following are architectural examples of excellence of Islamic art of which I admire the most and that are considered to among the greatest all over the world.
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is one of the most important holy places of Islam. It is located in the place that had great religious significance long before the rise of Islam. This mosque was built between 688 and 692 years. It is the world's oldest survived Muslim buildings, although it can be wrongfully named as a “non-Muslim” because of its shape that was influenced by the architecture of the early Christianity. The Dome of the Rock is not only the third holiest site of Islam, but it is also the most magnificent architectural monument of the Middle East. And indeed, a mosque, erected on a rock is like a dome covering a sacred place.
The Dome of the Rock has four doors, focused on four parts of the world. Inside the Dome of the Rock there are amazing mosaics with patterns, made under the obvious influence of Byzantine art. The design of the mosque is well-planned: “the celestial sphere of the dome joins the temporal shape of the octagon, which stands for the eight angels described in the Qur`an as bearing the Divine Throne” (Ali 26).
In the history of the art of the Muslim world, one of the brightest pages belongs to the art of Central Asia. Having become in the late XIV century a center of a vast empire of Timur, Central Asia experienced in the 14-15 centuries the golden age of art and architecture. In the capital, Samarkand, along with local craftsmen and artists worked also masters brought by Timur from the conquered countries: Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and India. Monumental buildings of Samarkand erected under Timur and his successors belong to the great monuments of world architecture of the Middle Ages. Among them, there is the complex of mausoleums of the clergy and nobility Shah-i-Zinda (XIV - first half of the XV). It is a small complex of mausoleums full of portals and domes, which look similar, but do not entirely copy one another. The ensemble creates a sublime poetic image. The combination of simple architectural forms with a sophisticated decorative fantasy gives to the ensemble of Shah-i-Zinda its unique charm.
The main architectural ensemble of Islamic art on the territory of Spain was the Alhambra Palace in Granada, most of which was constructed in XIV century. The palace is located on a high hill. It is surrounded by a fortified wall of red color (in Arabic “red” – “al- Hamra”). Palace impresses with its lavish interiors, designed both for the lush receptions of guests and for intimate life of the eastern ruler. Multicolored marble and stone, mosaics and pottery elements are used for decoration of the interior. Alhambra brings a man into the world of magic oriental fairy tale, conquers with its strict tranquility, inner harmony and a sense of proportion.
The most famous mosque of Istanbul – is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque that was built in 1609-1617 by architect Mehmed Aga on the site of the former palace of the Byzantine Emperor, right in front of the Hagia Sophia. Construction of the mosque began with the order of the Sultan, who was then 19 years old. The Mosque represented “the ultimate evolution of the imperial Ottoman mosque after two centuries of linear development” (Bloom, and Blair 326)
In the courtyard of the mosque one can see the outer colonnade of granite, on the roof of which there are 30 small domes. At the center of the large courtyard of the mosque there is a hexagonal fountain, surrounded by six columns with pointed arches. Such fountains can be often found in the mosques and are quite practical: a faithful ablution can be conducted there. In the mosque there is an entry through which the sultan, without getting off his horse, could get to his room.
Very interesting is the location of the mosque domes. The large central dome is surrounded with four semi-domes, and below them there are four more domes. The grace of this composition can be fully revealed only from inside the mosque. Four giant columns hold the whole dome structure.
Taj Mahal was built on the banks of the river Yamuna, two kilometers from the city of Agra, the former capital of the Mughal Empire. This monument is a mausoleum that tells us about a tender love of the ruler of the Mughal dynasty to his wife – Mumtaz Mahal. “The tomb is a richly polished synthesis that encapsulates the glories of Mughal architecture” (Bloom, and Blair 185).
The Construction of the mausoleum with 5 domes that excelled in size and luxury all the others at those times in India, lasted for more than twenty years (from about 1630 to 1652). The height of the Taj Mahal with a dome reaches 74 meters. At the base of the monument, there is a square platform with sides of more than 95 meters. In the corners of the mausoleum four minarets rise. The Taj Mahal walls are lined with polished marble and are accompanied with red sandstone in some places outside.
Ali, Wijdan. The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. Print.
“Arts of the Islamic World”. KHANAcademy. N.d.. Web. 06 Web. 2014. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-history/art-history-400-1300-medieval---byzantine-eras/islamic-art/a/arts-of-the-islamic-world
Bloom, M. Jonathan, and Blair, S. Sheila. The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Bosch, K. Gulnar. Islamic Art and Architecture. Scholastic. N.d.. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753881
“Islamic architecture” Islamic Art. N.d.. Web. 07 Mar. 2014. http://islamicart.com/main/architecture/decorate.html