Category Archives: ARCH221 – History of Architecture I

“rectangular boundaries, defined by two intersecting orthogonal axes”

I wrote a short essay about rectangular boundaries which are defined by two intersecting orthogonal axes in the history of architecture.

The primitive sacred expression of the four elements which combined with a central element can be found in all religions and mythologies of the world. The Cosmic Cross and the Axis Mundi (the cosmic center) are the most known representations which relate to the four cardinal points. Since the origin of the sacred expression of the four is related to the spatial orientation of man in the world, it acquired spatial and strictly geometrical representations. Therefore, that representations were adopted in the construction of quadripartite cities (e.g. urbs dei), palaces, temples (e.g. Buddhist stupas, Hindu temples, Christian cruciform churches and martyria, Islamic four-iwan mosques and madrasas, and Sufi domed four-iwan khanaqahs, etc.), tombs and Persian gardens (e.g. chahar baghs). Thusly, rectangular boundaries, defined by two intersecting orthogonal axes marking the four corners of the world can be seen in all these architectural and landscape sites clearly.[i]

The most momentous work that survives in Iran is Masjid-i Jami at Isfahan was initially built by the early Muslims who arrived in the first century after the Hijra (AH). The mosque was enlarged by Buyids (between 908-32 CE), following the restructuring of the mosque to a typical hypostyle plan by Abbasids in 840-41 CE. After Seljuks made Isfahan their capital, the mosque reached a remarkable position. The vizier of the Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah, Nizam al-Mulk supported much of the rebuilding of the mosque and he introduced many features including a large brick dome in front of the mihrab in imitation of the Umayyad mosques  (between 1086/87 CE). Later, a political rival of Nizam al-Mulk, Taj al-Mulk added a seldom equaled sister dome (between 1088/89 CE) at the opposite end on the northern axis of Nizam al-Mulk’s dome. During 1120-1121, an occurred fire consumed much of the original Masjid-i Jami except Taj al-Mulk’s dome. Moreover, the transformation from the hypostyle plan of mosque into a four-iwan scheme, which arranged around a large courtyard, was during these times as well. Plus, the alignment of the walls’ decorated panels, the squinches, and windows above them expressed an impressive verticality and achieved a structural harmony. The mosque is a masterpiece of brick architecture, besides it has presented new elements, structural ingenuity and complexity. Furthermore, traces of Seljuk architecture are seen in the applications: the amalgam of decoration compositions which is produced by the variety of brick patterns, the detailed work in carved stucco, colored panels of floral, geometric and epigraphic motifs. Continue reading

Islamic Realms in Central Asia

Beginning in the 15th century, descendants of Turkic and Mongolian cavalries distinguished themselves as patrons of grand domes and exquisite gardens. Relying on the architectural traditions established several centuries earlier in Persia, they created new monumental settings in the thinly populated regions ranging from western Iran to Uzbekistan and northern India.

First the Timurid dynasty in Uzbekistan, followed by the Safavids in Iran, and then the Mughals in India sponsored shining cities with bulbous domes and towering minarets.

Unlike Europe or china, where printed treatises aided the transmission of architectural type and styles, this Persian renaissance relied on itinerant professionals to design the magnificent new mosques, madrasa, and tombs. Continue reading

Early Ottoman Architecture

Constantinople Becomes Istanbul: The Ottomans captured the Constantinople with the purpose of creating an Islamic Roman Empire under the leadership of Mehmet II, known as the Conqueror Fatih in 1453. A new name, Istanbul, took hold in the vernacular which come from the Greek phrase “to the city”.

  • In the city, in order to stimulate merchant activity, Fatih built the markets of Kapali Çarşi which had square bays capped with rounded, lead-covered domes. The bedestan, a fortified compound for luxury goods, was built taller in the middle of 3000 shops.
  • Fatih absorbed the cultural and technical innovations of Italy. His fortifications both before and after the siege of the capital showed the influence of Italian engineering.
  • He considered the majestic Hagia Sophia as his great prize and quickly converted the venerable Palatine church into a royal mosque, by adding a minaret. He, also, inserted a mihrab into its eastern apse.
  • He inspired by the great Byzantine church and he built a new mosque, the Fatih Cami, and an extensive imaret. It had three smaller rounded domes. Its two slender minarets stood at the front corners of the mosque and its small cupolas topped each bay of the court’s arcades, and ancient granite columns supported pointed arches. It occupied the center of a vast, perfectly square plaza. The barrel vaults of earlier Byzantine cisterns serves as the foundation for the terraced complex. Sets of eight madrasas, in perfect bilateral symmetry, served for the study of canonical law, or sharia.
  • In 1459, Fatih decided to move from his palace in the center of the city to a new one at the extreme tip of the peninsula, where the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium once stood. The Topkapi Saray complex offered a more secluded residence, with fortified walls surrounding a hilly, wooded park. The sultan’s private realm appeared the antithesis of European palaces: willfully asymmetrical and more like a garden than a building. It was closer to a Chinese scholars’ garden than to the geometrically coordinated Italian palazzo. The most important political space in Topkapi was the Divan, or Council Hall. Behind the Divan lay the Harem.

Continue reading

1350-1500: Architecture in Renaissance Italy & Early Ottoman Architecture

Architecture in Renaissance Italy

The idea of “Renaissance”, at the same time, the movement to revive ancient Greco-Roman culture, grew naturally in 14th and 15th century Florence, Italy. Leaders of the Italian merchant republics educated their young as humanists, so that humanism spread to the arts and architecture by emulating the all’antica, ancient details from Greco-Roman culture. In Florence, beside the artists and architects copied antiquity, they were also impatient to discover the underlying principles of design to apply their models. There, architects discovered harmonious proportions which are linked the classical orders. Together with influences of humanism, new built palaces and churches changed the character of Italian cities and gave them a more uniform scale and geometric basis. Meantime, painters guided the perspective vision, a scientific mode of seeing that put all the parts in relation to whole. The emergence of perspective vision accompanied the development of the principal public space of Italian city.

During the 14th century, the wealthiest merchant families spent their collective resources for the construction of great civic projects, including the public palace (now called Palazzo Vecchio), the new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), the public grain marker of Or San Michele (later turned into a church), the city walls, and the bridges.

Most public works in late 14th century Florence, used rounded arches, symmetrical places bays, and harmonious proportions. Plus, the Florentines added a new way of seeing, treating buildings as freestanding objects in proportional scale.

Florence’s greatest civic project, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, constructed in 1296. It has a simple Gothic style with its quadripartite ribbed vaults spanning the nave and two side aisles. A few years later, its length of the nave was extended and its area was outlined for a huge octagonal dome over the crossing. The dome intended to surpass the domes of the rival cities of Pisa and Siena. In 1376, the commune wanted the dimensions of the cupola to be as wide as the Pantheon in Rome and nearly twice its height. The architect, Filippo Brunelleschi took charge of the project. He built the new dome without falsework (temporary framework structures used to support a building during its construction), and by contriving a structure that supported itself during the process of construction. Filippo Brunelleschi conserved the dome’s pointed arches and ribs from the Gothic program of a few generations earlier, he added several all’antica motifs to exterior. There were rounded tribunes placed between the octagonal apses. Each of these had five shell-capped niches were flanked by pairs of Corinthian half columns and they were demonstrating Brunelleschi’s familiarity with ancient monuments. So, the cupola were containing innovation from Gothic structure while also displaying new elements of the revival of ancient Roman style. Continue reading

1200-1350 in Architecture


Italian Maritime Republics initiated fluid trade relations across the Mediterranean with Byzantines and Islamic ports. Thus, the contact across the Mediterranean affected the development of European taste. The decoration of imported silks, porcelains, and jewelry stimulated the architectural imagination. The arch windows of Byzantine Constantinople reappeared on the facades along the Grand Canal in Venice. On mosques and madrasas, the Ablaq (the alternating bands of contrasting colored masonry) used.

Pisa city’s fortunes soared when it played a key role in the transport and supply so that the constructions of the new cathedral, baptistery, and campanile were financed. Pisa’s Duomo (in Italian cathedral) complex was standing in open space planted with grass and remained outside of the old city limits. The Pisan’s aim was to create it as similar to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Later, they made some additions and the dome was completed as similar to contemporary domes in the eastern Mediterranean area. The Pisan Baptishery had clear reference to the Anastasis in Jerusalem. The Campanile, or Leaning Tower of Pisa were revealing the structural problems of the marshy soil of Pisa. The last significant expression of Pisan patronage came with the tiny chapel of Santa Maria della Spina, located on the banks of the river.

Florence’s major church was the Baptishery of San Giovanni. It had inspirations from the Panteon in Rome with its walls, rose as a thick, hollowed out base to support a double-shelled dome. Later, Florence constructed its second public palace; Palazzo Vecchio at the end of the 13th century. It appeared like a fortress with its heavy, rusticated masonry and high windows.

During the 13th century Mamluk Cairo became a city of domes. Cairo’s first dome, which is built for Shagar al-Durr (woman patron of Cairo) in the 1250s, crowned the funerary monument to her first husband. The monument inspired a series of domed mausoleums. The sultan Qalawun, began his toms as the culminating element of a madrasa complex in 1284. At this time, while the inspirations usuallt taken from the East to the West, it changed and the Windows of Qalawun’s mausoleum appeared like those of Europen cathedrals. Furthermore, the Mamluk emirs of Cairo spent their fortunes on great and showy tombs and religious structures as memorials. The Mamluks had no particular style of their own, and thus they synthesized local craft traditions with ideas taken from conquered or admired peoples. Also, the Mamluks placed domes over the great houses of Cairo. The grandest Mamluk monument; the Madrasa of al-Nasir Hasan. The dome and the sheer elevations of the madrasa of this complex were the most prominents of the age. Continue reading

Early Islamic Architecture

Mecca and Medina were the regions where the new religion of Muhammed took root. Mecca had been attracting religious pilgrims to the Kaaba (a cubical granite house containing many idols, including a mysterious black meteorite). Kaaba was the focus of Muslim prayers since Prophet Muhammed favored the qibla (direction of prayers) to the Kaaba, Mecca. So, there were the sense of order in the radial orientation of mosques, tombs, and prayers toward qibla. Medina had the prototypical mosques as well and the basic idea of courtyard continued in here. In Medina, the Mosque of the Prophet resembled a small traders’ caravansary.

In the period of Islam religion, the earliest mosques took the place of the forum-basilica core of Roman cities. The first mosques provided simple architectural settings without apses, side chapels, ambulatories, crypts, baptisteries, or choirs. The first two generations of Islam demanded diverse structures to be transformed into mosques. The three most common plans to accomplish the idea, were the basilica with longitudinal aisles directed to the qibla, the transverse basilica with lateral exposure to the qibla wall, and the isotropic hypostyle hall.

The Umayyads settled in the Greco-Roman city of Damascus, Syria. They sponsored a brilliant urban culture here and those were partly based on the example of Byzantines in Constantinople. The Umayyad leadership constructed the exceptional central plan structure of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to attract attention from other faiths. Dome of the Rock is like reminiscence of Late Roman and Byzantine tombs and baptisteries. The Dome of the Rock differed from most central-plan Christian churches in its use of two concentric ambulatories.

Mecca fell to the Umayyads a year after the completion of the dome of rock, and the realm of islam regained a sense of unity. Al-Walid I built three impressive mosques to celebrate the consolidation of empire. The first, he added mosaics and the first mihrab (a decorated niche indicating the qibla to Mecca) to enlarge the Mosque of Prophet in Medina. In ancient mosques, there was extendibility. The second, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It has a hypostyle hall and it lined up with the southern portal of the Dome of the Rock. In the Mosques origins, it had a basilica plan. Al-Walid I’s third project, the Great Mosque of Damascus. It had a large lateral courtyard articulated with arcades on two levels. The structure had no windows and rose on eight Corinthian columns which are like spoils from the Roman temple. The structure, which had depictions of the Byzantine-style mosaics, also had a dome called maksura (literally closed space).

Both the Baghdad and Samarra appeared as the Abbasid capital at different times. Early Bagdad had two major cross-axial streets but instead of being lined with arcades, they were covered by vaults. The outer ring of round Baghdad’s blocks contained houses while the inner ring hosted military barracks and administrative buildings and the vast central void was for the palace and mosque. After Baghdad, Samarra became the new capital for Abbasid Empire. Samarra had the largest mosque in the world called the Great Mosque of Samarra built by Al Mutawakkil. It was covered roughly the same area as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It had hypostyle prayer hall, a minaret which reminds the ancient ziggurats of the region.

Reference: World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History by Richar Ingersoll.

Gupta India: Rock-Cut Architecture and the Art of Substraction

India were believing that the pure stone has a spiritual value so that by using substraction as a design method, Indian temple builders, carved into stone cliffs or they carved out of pilled rocks to make an art of subtraction. Therefore, it can be said that the structure of rock-cut temples based on nature’s supply. The caves at Bhaja, which is carved during the mid 1st century bce, were the earliest Indian rock-cut temples.

Religious beliefs in India, Hinduismi Buddhism and Jainism, came into prominence and the earliest architectural prototypes, which are reworked for Hindu and Jain buildings, were produced through Buddhism. Also, buddhists sponsored projects for Chaitya halls and Viharas (monasteries) which is magnificent rock-cut temples carved from a single masses of stone . The largest and most ornate of the early rock-cut chaitya halls was built around 120 ce near Bjaha.

The tradition of rock-cut works reached its climax during the Gupta period in the 4th and 5th centuries. They inspired the great cave Viharas (monasteries). Gupta dynasty used same carving techniques, which India had before, to produce freestanding temples. They designed the temple 17 which is a small square temple with a colonnaded porch. It is almost as if a rock-cut temple and again created by extraction from the cliff and then it was transported to the site. The Gupta also left caves which has similarities with temple 17.

In the age of the Gupta, the first important masonry temples were built and they were like pyramids over small sanctuaries. At Mahabalipuram (town in India), the shore temples were built around 720. They were the first structural temples built in durable materails in the Gupta region. Most of the Mahabalipuram temples were carved from single Stones but looked like they had been built from pieces, so, they were like pyramids.

Reference: World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History by Richar Ingersoll.