The East has always been rich in architectural monuments and some of the greatest monuments built during ancient times were found in the East. The Pyramids of Egypf the Great Wall of China and the Hanging Garden of Babylon included in the Seven Wonders of theWorld were located in the East. The Pyramids of Egypt still remind people of the greatness of their builders, whose engineering skill enabled them to raise such massive pieces of stones to such great heights about 5,000 years ago when mechanical and engineering faculties were not as developed as today.
The Arabs who inherited the civilization and culture of the Greeks and Romans also brought about a great development in the architectural sphere. The mosque is the typical and principal Arab building, varying to some extent in form with different localities, but always retaining its main features. Mosques, the most original creation of Muslim genius which are found everywhere offer the best means of studying the architectural development of a country. In middle eastern countries religious and aristocratic buildings, such as mosques, shrines, tombs, palaces and castles predominate. The countries which abound in the finest architectural monuments of the Arabs, Persians and Mughals are Spain, Egypt, Iraq, Persia and the Indo-Pak Sub-continent.
Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid was a city of palaces made not of stucco and mortar, but of marble. The buildings are not different in structure or style from those in Damascus and show Persian influence. The palaces were lavishly gilded and decorated. The imperial palaces of Khuld had a golden gate and a hall surmounted by a green dome 80 cubits high, which was the crown of Baghdad. The palace named Dar-us-Shajar had a tree made of gold with birds perched on its branches made also of gold and studded with gems. Another palace, the Hall of Paradise (Aiwan-al-Firdaus) with its magnificent chandeliers, its inlaid jewels on the walls, its paintings and ornamentations was a fairy sight.
Egypt did not lag behind in erecting architectural monuments during mediaeval times and the mosque of Ibn Tululi provides the most splendid sight in Cairo. Other magnificent palaces of the Fatimids and the Ayyubids are in ruins.
The Indo-Pakistan Sub-continent possesses some of the finest architectural monuments in the East.
The Mughal period is particularly noted for its fine architecture and Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid of Delhi, the Red Fort and the marble palaces of agra and Delhi is known as one of the greatest builders in history. Jehangir was fond of paintings while Shah Jahan was fond of buildings-hence what Jahangir achieved on paper, Shah Jahan achieved in brick and mortar. The Taj Mahal, built of white marble, employing 20 thousand men for 22 years and costing 30 crores of rupees is undoubtedly the finest building in the world. It is 'Love or Lyric in Marble', and is unique in its evasive loveliness, which is so difficult to define in architectural terms but most expressive of the builder's intentions. Bernier says, "This monument deserves much more to be remembered among the wonders of the world than the Pyramids of Egypt". "It is an astonishing work", says Tavernier, Fergusson observes, "It is a combination of so many beauties, and the perfect manner in which one is subordinate to the other makes up a whole which the world cannot match". Harvel calls it, "A living thing with all the aesthetic attributes of perfect womanhood, more subtle, romantic and tender in its beauty than any other building of its kind' '
The Pearl Mosque of the Delhi Fort is a sanctuary in which 'mysterious soul throbs between bliss and ecstacy'. Its charm lies in its simplicity and its chief attraction is the purity of its marble. It is a pearl without a flaw. "If fine ornamentation, floral designs artistic writings and intricate trellis work contribute to the charm of the Taj, the very absence of these add to the beauty of the Pearl Mosque.
The Red Fort, started in 1639 and completed after 9 years, contains a number of beautiful marble courts and palaces including Rang Mahal, Musamman Burj, Diwan-i-Aarn(Hall of public audience), Diwani-Khas (Hall of private audience) Sawan and Bhadon. The Diwan-i-Khas which housed the famous Peacock Throne is decorated most profusely with all sorts of ornamentations and a marble water channel called Nahar-i-Bihishli runs through the centre of the Hall and gives it an appearance of paradise--with the words inscribed on it, walls "If there be a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this!"
Jahangir is known for building some of the finest gardens in the East including the Shalimar Bagh of Kashmir which contained cyp'esses, marble channels of water, fountains and cascades.
Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted capital of the Mughal emperor Akbar contained some fine architectural monuments. Its Hall of Private audience has an exquisite carved pillar in the centre of the Hall. The Badshahi Mosque built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Lahore is one of the biggest and finest mosques in the world.
Of all the splendid architectural monuments built by Muslims in different parts of the world, Spain possesses some of the grandest. If India can boast of her Taj, Persia of the great Mosque of Isfahan, Baghdad of its majestic palaces, Cairo of its mosque Ibn Tulun, Moorish Spain may claim an outstanding place for her Alhambra and the grand mosque of Cordova which are considered the marvels of architecture.
In Spain too, the mosques, which are found everywhere, offer the best means of studying the architectural development of the country. After the fall ofthe Omayyad (750 A.D.), when Abdur Rahman founded a kingdom of his own in Spain he developed the old Syrian architecture on individual lines. The earliest example of this style are represented by the Sidi Oqba mosque at Qairuan and the Az-Zituna Mosque at Tunis. The hall for a mosque was introduced in this period and in the East there used to be a courtyard surrounded by a colonnade `which contained a water basin for ablutions. A lofty quadrangular tower served as minaret, while opposite the Mahrab was situated the Maqsura (the chieftain's lodge) crowned with a dome. The great Mosque of Cordova had been built on the above plan. Horse-shoe arches of alternate red brick and white key stones rested on slender pillars and above them rose a second storey of round arches of the same type as supported the original cedarwood-ceiling. It is a large congregational mosque with a deep sane tuary containing eleven galleries separated by arcades, each with twenty columns. The Maqsura contained richly decorated lobar arches and horse-shoe arches where the dome sprang from two intersecting quadrangles of arches. The Mahrab was decorated with Byzantine glass mosaic. In other parts of the building plastered floral forms predominate in the decorations. The Minbar is richly carved and the Mahrab is covered with glazed tiles. "This plan, with its slender stone pillars" says a celebrated European writer, "horse-shoe and lobar arches, tiling and stucco (glazed) arabesques, in later centuries was carried on into graceful style, a kind of Magrebine rococo and remains the distinctive characteristic of all Moorish and Mudejar art in Spain till the 16th century".
The glory of Cordova is Mezquita or Mosque which was converted into a cathedral by the Christian conquerors. It was begun by Abdur Rahman II (756-788 A.D.) continued by Al-Hakim II and completed by the Vazier of Hisham II (976-1009 A.D.). The mosque is rectangular measuring 590 feet by 425 feet, 113 sq. feet of which is occupied by the famous 'court - of oranges' and cloisters surrounded it on three sides. On the south of the courtyard, lies a labyrinth of pillars made of many coloured marble. The 850 pillars divide the building into 19 North to South and 29 East to West aisles (galleries). Each row supports a row of open Moorish arches of the same height (12 feet) with a third and similar row superimposed upon the second. The wooden ceiling richly carved and polished is still intact. The mahrab of the mosque where the Imam stood presents the best type of workmanship, in which a small octangonal recess (corner) is roofed with a single block of white marble carved in the form of a shell. ' Its walls are decorated with Byzantine mosaics. "But the most original contribution of Cordova to architecture" says J. B. Trend, "was the system of vaulting based on intersecting arches and visible intersecting ribs, a system which attacks the main problem of architecture--that of covering space with a roof in much the same way as the system of Gothic vaulting which developed two centuries later".
The palace of Az-Zahra built by an-Nasir, situated at a distance of four miles from Cordova was one of the best palaces of the world. It is built of many coloured marble--white, rosy, onyx and green. The eastern hall contained fountains jetting out of the mouths of different animals made of gold and set with precious stones. The Diwan-i-kam was a remarkable piece of workmanship made of marble and gold set with jewels. According to the old writers, "it was impossible to give in words a proper description of the boldness of the design, the beauty of the proportions, the elegance of the or naments and decorations, whether of carved marble or of molten gold, of the columns that seemed from their symmetry as if cast in moulds, of the paintings that equalled the choicest bowers themselves, the vast but firmly constructed lake, and the fountains with the exquisite images".
Alhambra, the finest of all Moorish monuments and universally acknowledged as one of the wonders of the world is situated in Granada. It has not been fully established by historical records as to who was its original builder, but it has been proved by latest research that the fortress of Alhambra existed long before the advent of Al-Ahmar, the rulers of Granada. The first mention of this fortress found in historical records is during'the reign-of Amir Abdulla, the sixth Omayyad monarch of Spain, when in 890 A. D., Sa'wwar, the Muslim general, was obliged to take refuge in this fortress due to the rebellion of the neighbouring tribesmen. Again in 1161A.D, when Ibn Abdul Momin had shut himself within the four walls of the impregnable fortress of Alhambra, Moratabin laid siege to it which lasted for a pretty long time. The monarchs of the Al-Ahmar dynasty, who established themselves as the rulers of Granada in 1232 A. D., are distinguished for having a fine taste in architecture and are responsible for building one of the finest palaces in the world, known as Alhambra. The fortress and its four walls, as already explained existed long before the construction of the inner palaces. Abu Abdulla Muhammad Salis (1302--9 A.D), Abul Hajjaj Yusuf 1(1330-54 A.D.) and Muhammad Khamis Al-Ghani Billah (1354--·59 A.D,), the rulers of Granada were mainly responsible for the construction, enlargement and the architectural decorations of the palaces of Alhambra. These palaces which have witnessed the pomp and pageantry, trials and tribulations of the successive Al-Ahmar monarchs ultimately fell into the hands of Christians in 1492 A. D. The splendid decorations of the interior is ascribed to Yusuf I who died in 1354 A.D,
This unique piece of architectural art was disfigured and in places demolished by the Christian conquerors and rulers.. Charles V changed the lesser mosque adjoining the Court of Myrtles into a chapel and disfigured the old royal abode by demolishing the southern wing, which probably contained the main porch. He was not contented with this and did even worse when he replaced it with a building of renaissance style, with a showy facade which was an ugly contrast to the simple outer walls of the old palace. The great mosque of Muhammad III was razed to the ground and was replaced by the church of Santa Maria in 1581 A.D. According to a western historian, "In subsequent centuries the carelessness of the Spanish authorities (Christian Monarchs) permitted this master piece of Moorish art to be still defaced". It was damaged by French invaders in 1812 A.D. and further by earthquake in 1821 A.D.
Alhambra is situated on a hilly terrace in the midst of rare natural surroundings. The plateau, river and the beautiful gardens and forests have all added to its natural charm. · This fortress is surrounded on three sides bythe river Douro, and has an entrance on the south-eastern side. Its outer walls are constructed of superfine red bricks, henceit is called Alhambra, meaning 'red' in Arabic. Like many Christian castles, it has a three-fold arrange ment--a castle, a palace and a residential annexe for subordinates. The Alcazaba or castle is the oldest part, built on the dangerous foreland; and only its massive outer walls., towers and ramparts are still intact. A short distance from Alcazaba is the Al hambra proper, the palace of the Moorish Rings and adjacent to it is Alhambra Alta originally built as the residence of the officials.
Alhambra is a villa surrounded by extensive gardens and parks. One enters the Alhambra park through the gate of pomegranates which is a grand arch built in the 15th century A.D. A steep ascent leads to the main entrance of the palace, which is known as the "gate of judgment" and is a massive horseshoe archway, surrounded by a square tower, which served as an informal "Court of Justice". A small door leads to the "Arab Palace", from which a corridor leads to the "Court of Blessing" or "Court of Pond". This is 140 feet by 74 feet and in its centre is located a large pond set in marble pavement, full of gold fish and. with myrtles growing along its sides. It has galleries on the north and the south. The 27 feet high principal entrance supported by marble pillars is on the south. The "Hall of Ambassadors" is the largest hall in the palace of Alhambra. It is a square room whose sides are 37 feet in length and its central dome is 75 feet high. This was the grand reception room and the throne of the Sultan was placed opposite the entrance.
The celebrated "Court of Lions" is an oblong court measuring116 feet by 66 feet supported by a low gallery resting on 124 white marble columns. A pavilion projects into the Court at each corner with ornamented walls and a light domed-roof elaborately decorated. The lattice work of the walls is extremely fine. The floor is covered with many coloured tiles and slender pillars made of white marbles. The walls up to a height of 5 feet are inlaid with blue and yellow tiles whose borders are polished with blue and gold. The famous fountains of lions are in the centre of the courtyard where a magnificent alabaster basin is supported by 12 lions made of white marble.
The "Hall of Abencerrages" is a room which is a perfect square crowned with a high dome containing latticed windows in its lowest part. The roof is painted with bright blue, brown and gold and the columns supporting it spring out into the arch form in an exquisite manner. Opposite to it is the hall of "Two Sisters", which contains a fountain in the centre. A dome honey-combed with about 5,000 tiny cells, a magnificent example of the "Stalactite Vaulting of the Moors", forms the roof of the Hall.
The famous vase of Alhambra which is a remarkable specimen of Moorish art represents the invaluable original furniture of the Palace, which was made in 1320 A.D.
Alhambra is undoubtedly a marvel of the architectural ingenuity of man. Writing in his celebrated work A Short History of the Saracens, Ameer Ali, the famous Muslim writer, says, "The towers, citadels and palaces, with their light and elegant architecture, the graceful porticos and colonndes, the domes and ceilings still glowing with tints which have lost none of their original brilliancy; the airy halls, constructed to admit the perfume of the surrounding gardens; the numberless fountains over which the owners had such perfect control, that the water could be made high or low, visible or invisible at pleasure, sometimes allowed to spout in the air, and at other times to spread out in large oblong sheets, in which were reflected buildings, fountains and serene azure sky; the lovely arabesques, paintings and mosaics finished with such care and accuracy as to make even the smallest apartment fascinating, and illuminated in various shades of gold, pink, light blue and dusky purple'; the lovely dados of porcelain, mosaic of various figures and colours; the beautiful Hall of Lions with its cloister of 128 slender and graceful columns, its blue and white pavement, its harmony of scarlet, azure and gold; the arabesques glowing with colour like the pattern on a cashmere shawl, its lovely marble filigree filling in the arches, its beautiful cupolas, its famous alabaster cup in the centre; the enchanting Hall of Music ... the beautiful seraglio with its delicate and graceful brass lattice work and exquisite Ceilings; the lovely colouring of the stalactites in the large halls and of the conical linings in the smaller chambers--all these require a master's pen to describe".
The inscriptions found in the palace relate to its decorations and not to its erection. The major part of construction and decoration were done by Yusuf I. The decorations around the Court of Lions and further eastward were made in the reign of Muhammad V.
The palaces of Alhambra built in the 13th century A.D., mark the transition from the Saljuq art in Asia Minor to the style of the Persian monuments, The grandeur ofAlhambra may only be realised, when it is compared with contemporary buildings--e.g,, with the great Mosque of Sultan Hassan built in 1356--59 A.D, which serves as a striking contrast to Alhambra. "Alhambra is unique", says a European writer, "No other example of the Islamic palace of so early a date and in such relatively good condition has yet been found" The two adjoining courts in the "Hali of Ambassadors" resemble the ancient houses of Pompeii. "The well-known Courts in the style of the Cosmatic in Rome", says Says a well-known westerner, "with their exotic and fairy like ornament can only be accounted for as imitations of these Moorish palace Courts" The plan of dividing the Palace into a system of courts and pavilions in the midst of gardens as is visible in the Safavid Palaces of Isfahan and the old Sarai of Istanbul was probably imported by Moors.
Copied from 'THE ISLAMIC SCHOLAR'