Later Masjid Architecture in the Turco-Iranian World and India

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Later Masjid Architecture in the Turco-Iranian World and India


Iranian Architecture . Even after the breakdown of the khilafah that started around 740 and the development of regional styles that began after 900, Iran, as one of the largest cultural regions under Islam, took the lead in establishing an important regional style, even though local dynasties frequently changed, and none ruled the whole of Iran. Eventually, the Iranian area of influence embraced most of the Turco-Iranian world, not only the modern country of Iran, but also Afghanistan and Central Asia to the east and Turkey to the west. Iranian themes also strongly influenced the Muslim architecture of India, which soon, however, took off in its own direction. Likewise, on the west in Anatolia, the rivalry between Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran after 1500 helped push the Turks more quickly along the road to their own influential regional tradition. The architecture of the Arabic-speaking country of Iraq, the seat of the khilafah until 1258, also followed the Iranian pattern. The most important Iranian contribution to Muslim architecture was perhaps the vaulted halls called iwans. Such high vaulting was an established feature of Iranian architecture even before the rise of Islam, as shown by the Sassanian palace at Salman-pak near Baghdad, Iraq. It took some time, however, before it was adopted by Muslims even in Iran, for the early masjids there were all of the arcaded type. The oldest example of an iwan-style masjid—with only one iwan—is the one built in Nayriz around 975. After this time, the design spread rapidly, developing into masjids with two and with four iwans during the Saljuk dynasty (1037–1194), especially in the period circa 1080–1160. The oldest surviving masjid originally designed and built according to a four-iwan plan is the Jami‘ Masjid of Zavara in Iran, constructed in 1135. Masjids of this style began to be built with regularity in Egypt from the thirteenth century onward, and the iwan design influenced Turkish architecture profoundly. The notable examples of Iranian architecture that have survived the test of time are mostly masjids, madrasahs, and tombs. The preferred building material was brick. Early buildings had intricate brick designs for decoration. Gradually some bricks were covered in colored tiles, and eventually entire walls were covered in tiles with patterned designs painted on them. Even the ribbed domes that crowned the buildings soon were covered with tiles—no doubt a time-consuming, labor-intensive, and hazardous feat. This trend led to the establishment of the signature style of Iranian decoration: glazed blue tiles covered in Arabic calligraphy, usually in white. The beauty of Iranian masjids and other public buildings owes much to the ingenious use of colored tiles as part of their decorative scheme. The best-known Iranian-style masjids are perhaps the large complexes of Isfahan and Mashad in Iran and Bukhara and Samarqand in Uzbekistan. Each of these was constructed and reconstructed over a period of some centuries. Representing the culmination of iwan-type architecture, these complexes are characterized by enormous courtyards capable of holding more than one hundred thousand worshipers; lofty, elongated, vaulted iwan halls frequently topped by domes; beautiful tilework, usually in blue and embellished with Qur’anic verses and other Arabic inscriptions; and large, high, round minarets that usually tapered to a narrower top. High iwan halls were also adapted for use as entrance portals, appearing as extremely lofty, pretentious gateways on the outside. This style was already being copied outside Iran under the last Abbasids, as, for example, in 1223 at al-Mustansiriyyah Madrasah in Baghdad. Construction of religious buildings according to this design has continued to the present.

Domes . The dome, which had already been a feature of Sassanian architecture, rose to greater and greater heights between 900 and 1500. It seems to have originated in the “kiosk-type” masjid, which consisted of a small, square chamber with doors on three sides and the qiblah wall on the fourth, topped by a dome nearly as large as the building. This structure provided a small but unobstructed worship space. An example of this type of masjid is the Jami‘ Masjid of Gulpayagan in Iran, built in 1104–1118. The dome then became wedded to the iwan structure, creating loftier interior spaces. In contrast, the traditional arcaded masjid design, with its relatively low ceiling and forest of columns may have seemed limiting, clumsy, and repetitious as the buildings grew in size. The domed tomb may also have derived from the kiosk masjid. According to the hadiths, tombs raised above the ground or otherwise permanently marked are not allowed in Islam, but—as with other restrictions on habits of conspicuous consumption by the wealthy—such prohibitions were often subverted or disobeyed by the rulers. Such violations of tradition frequently began in Iran and Iranian-influenced areas, with their heritage from ancient civilizations. The oldest partially extant domed tomb is Qubbat al-Sulaybiyyah at Samarra’ in Iraq, dating from the ninth century. This structure was followed by the earliest mausoleum ever built for a ruler, a no-longer-extant tomb for the mother of the Abbasid ruler al-Muqtadir (ruled 908–932) at al-Rusafah in Syria. Almost as old, the earliest surviving example of such a tomb is one built for a member of the Samanid dynasty in Bukhara, dating from before 943 and tastefully executed with brick decoration. After this time, domed tombs for the rulers spread everywhere in the Muslim world, despite frequent opposition from religious scholars. In Iranian architecture double-domed

structures were built quite often. Constructing two shells, one on top of the other, made the outer dome large enough to be viewed from a distance while the inner dome was proportionate to the interior of the building and low enough for the viewer to see its decoration.

South Asian Architecture . Muslim architecture in South Asia drew its inspiration from Iranian examples. The most splendid Muslim architecture of the region dates from after 1500, but impressive structures from the period 1200–1500 have survived. Some of them are still in use, while others survive only partially or in ruins. Most are religious buildings erected for royal patrons, particularly masjids and tombs. In India tombs have had the highest survival rate. The buildings are widely scattered geographically, but many are clustered around the capital city of Delhi and around the old provincial capitals, especially Ahmadabad in Gujarat, which has many masjids dating from before 1500, notably the exquisite Jami’ Masjid, built in 1423. After the first Muslim rulers of India migrated there from the Iranian world just before 1200, the Persian influences they brought with them were quickly subordinated to a new local style that was strongly affected by Indian traditions of ornate decoration. Most Indian masjids are built on raised platforms. The early masjids of South Asia follow the arcaded form of masjid architecture, which is quite similar to the local model of Hindu temples with their “thousand-pillared halls.” Several variations on this style exist. The Khirki Masjid at Delhi (circa 1375) and others are built on a

cruciform plan with four small arcaded courtyards arranged in a square pattern around the central cross, which is also arcaded. This style bears some affinity with the Anatolian masjid design of the same date. It did not become the dominant pattern in India, where masjids eventually came to consist of rather small halls with pillars supporting domes on one side of an enormous, open-air courtyard.


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