The Architecture of the Umayyad Dynasty in Spain (750-1031)
In a previous article I discussed the architecture of the Umayyad in Syria, which represented the first genuine step in formulating a unique architectural vocabulary and artistic features in Islamic architecture.In 711, the Umayyad army, along with Berbers of North Africa, was able to land on the Iberian Peninsula and establish the first Umayyad caliphate in Córdoba.The Arab conquest was carried out by Musa the commander of North Africa and his lieutenant Tariq Bin Ziad.The only area of Spain which the Arab could not conquer was the region of Asturias in the Cantabrian Mountains of the north-west. Until the 750s the province was ruled by governors sent by the Umayyad caliphs.
In 750, the Abbasids dynasty, which was established by Abbas ibnAbd al-Muttalib, a descendant of Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) youngest uncle, defeated Umayyad caliphate of Damascus, Syria. The Abbasids massacred all the Umayyad membersexceptcAbd al-Rahman I, who was able to escape to Spain and establish his dynasty in Cordoba. The Umayyad descendants of Abd al-Rahman I ruled Spain for more than 270 years. The most influential member of the Umayyad dynasty in Spain was Abd al-Rahman III who reigned between 912 and 961and his son al-Hakam II (r. 961–76). During their reign, Cordoba enjoyed unprecedented prosperous period of art and architecture and became one of the most important cultural centers in the Islamic world as well as the greatest intellectual center in Europe
The architecture of the Umayyad dynasty of Spain is characterized by the reinterpretation of the existing traditional architecture of the area as well the introduction of new architectural elements. One of the most important and representative structures of the Umayyad is the Great Mosque of Cordoba. It is considered as one of the wonders of the medieval world by both Muslims and Christians, as well as the greatest achievement of the Hispano-Islamic art and architecture. The mosque featured number of outstanding elements such as grand columns and capitals supporting arcades of horseshoe arches.
Image credit: The great mosque at Cordoba, the one-time capital of the Umayyads in Andalusia
Another distinctive example is Madinat al-Zahra (936 AD), built by Abd al-Rahman III, and was located a few miles west of Cordoba. The city exemplified the high standard of the artistic and architectural sensitivity in this period, as well as it marked the beginning of the luxurious palatial structures. The city consisted of three terraces and contained the caliph’s palace, villas, gardensandpools, mosque, market and governmental buildings as well as residential quarters.
Image credit: Madinat al-Zahra (936 AD)
This period also witnessed the construction of many different structures such as bridges. In 866 the Umayyad constructed the AlcantaraBridge, which was close to the ruins of a Roman bridge. In 1257, the bridge was demolished except for the piers and supports, and reconstructed by Alfonso X.
Image credit: Alcantara Bridge and Gate Restoration, Toledo, Spain, 9th century
The freestanding minaret is the only remnant of the now demolished mosque, which was built in 930 during the reign of the first Spanish Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Rahman III (912-961 C.E.). The minaret is now associated with the church of San Juan. It featured a square plan and constructed of brick and stone with double horseshoe-arched windows on each face.
Image credit: Minaret of San Juan, Córdoba, Spain, 10th century