Decoration in Islamic architecture

The wall shown here is the base of the Friday Mosque "Jam'aa" at Herat in Afghanistan. It is covered with areas of pattern, as a wall or floor would be covered with hangings or carpets. Each area has its own logic, and there is a larger logic that relates them all together. The same logic, the same principles, apply to any medium - textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, books - and on any scale. Without the figure of the man it would be hard to tell whether the subject of this photograph were very large or very small. Flexibility of scale is matched by the interchangeability of the designs, which can contract or expand to fit different areas. The wall shown here is divided into a number of panels, each with its own distinctive pattern. The effect of richness or complexity is heightened by the use of ceramic inlays, which introduce the dimension of color. The reflecting quality of the ceramic permits the play of light on the surface of the building, giving it a glossy effect, changing subtly as the sun moves. Despite the fact that this building surface is flat, not sculptured, its decoration, through contrasts of color and complexity of design, has three-dimensional implications.


This is an inner view of a dome of the Great Mosque at Damascus, built in the 8th century, reconstructed in the 19th century, the surface within the squinch is shaped into a small semi-dome, and is load-bearing. Above, an octagonal drum supports the dome.


The Khanaqah and mosque of Sultan Barquq in Cairo.


The "Arabesque" used as a decorative, architectural device above a portal of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain.


The ribbed dome over the bay in front of the mihrab in the 10th century mosque of Cordoba, is one of the many brilliant technical improvisations created by the Muslim builders in Spain. The lobed arches bridging the corners alternate with identical arches containing clerestory windows.


The richly fashioned ceiling of the music room in the 'Ali Qapug pavilion', Isfahan, confuses surface and structure, solid and void, line and color. The niches, normally associated with walls, where they house vases or pots, extend here into the ceiling in a virtuoso display of cellular organic decoration.