The architectural style of the Islamic Empire spread throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, Spain, and parts of Asia during the Middle Ages. Many of the elements were inspired by the Islamic religion.
A Mosque with Minarets and Domes Source: Wikimedia Commons. User: Noumenon
Arches - Arches were commonly used in Islamic architecture. One unique type of arch was the horseshoe arch which is named for its distinct horseshoe-like shape at the top of the arch. Another popular type of arch was the ogee arch. This arch had a pointed top which gave the arch strength and an interesting look.
Domes - Domes were commonly used in large mosques and palaces.
Iwan - An iwan is a vaulted rectangular portal that often opened into a courtyard.
Minaret - A tall and thin tower used to call Muslims to prayer.
Muquarnas - A type of decoration that created domes and arches by using smaller structures that looked like honeycombs.
An Ogee Arch with Calligraphy Decorations by Daderot. 2010
Mosques - The most important building in the Islamic Empire was the mosque. This is where Muslims go to worship and pray. Mosques varied in size and decoration, but had some similar characteristics including a minaret, a prayer room, a courtyard, and a niche in one wall to show the direction of Mecca. Some famous mosques include Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, Al Nabawi Mosque in Medina (Saudi Arabia), and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Palaces - The Islamic leaders, called caliphs, built large palaces. Often, these palaces served both as a home and as a fortress. Many palaces had towers and tall walls for protection. One of the most famous examples is the Alhambra in Spain. It was originally a small fortress built in 889 CE, but was later turned into a palace in 1300s.
Tombs - Another lasting example of Islamic architecture is the tomb. Tombs of great leaders were often built as part of a larger complex that included a mosque. Examples include the Green Dome (the tomb of Muhammad), the tomb of Tamerlane, and the tomb of Sultan Hassan. Perhaps the most famous Islamic tomb is the Taj Mahal in India. It was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in honor of his wife.
Alhambra Palace in Spain by Jebulon. 2014.
Gardens and Courtyards
Courtyards and gardens were an important part of early Islamic architecture. Many buildings had a courtyard or garden where people could relax. Fountains were common in these areas to help cool people down from the dry desert heat.
Most of the decorations in Islamic architecture involved intricate patterns. These patterns were often carved into the ceilings, walls, and doors of important buildings. Images of animals and people were avoided for religious reasons.
Arabesque - One type of decoration is called arabesque. Arabesque used intricate patterns that looked like plants, leaves, and flowers.
Geometric patterns - Another type of pattern used geometric shapes of different types to form colorful and interesting repeating designs.
Calligraphy - Arabic words written in calligraphy were another popular form of decoration. Often verses from the Quran or famous religious sayings were used.
Arabesque Example by Jebulon. 2012.
Interesting Facts about Architecture in the Early Islamic World
To keep buildings cool in the hot desert, wind towers were constructed to direct wind down into the interior of the building.
There is a mosque in Bangladesh known as the "Sixty Dome Mosque." Oddly enough, it actually has 77 domes.
One of the most famous Ancient Muslim buildings is the Dome of the Rock shrine located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Madrasas were schools of higher education in the Muslim world. The Al-Azhar madrasa in Cairo, Egypt was built in the late 900s and is still a major university today.