Muslim and Arab Influences on Spanish Architecture


Spain, the country where I currently reside, is often seen as Christian because most of the population is Catholic. However, from 711 to 1492, a span of seven hundred years, Spain was ruled by Muslims and called Al-Andalus. This time period was also a golden age for Spain, and this led to a flourish of beautiful architecture and rich culture.

The Muslim presence (from both the past and the present) has an impact on many aspects of Spanish culture and architecture. In this article, I will discuss Arab Muslim influence on the architecture in Spain.

Al-Andalus, which covered most of the Iberian Peninsula, was ruled by the Umayyad Caliphate, which was extremely wealthy and thrived during its 700 years of reign. During this time, architecture also thrived.

A prominent example is at the Museum with No Frontiers, where Islamic architecture can be seen with some important characteristics:

  • Minarets: towers established to announce the time to pray 5 times a day.

  • Domes (qubba in Arabic): the original dome is the "Dome of the Rock" in Jerusalem. It represents the "vault of heaven" in the mosque (Khan Academy).

  • Although not an actual building, geometric and infinite patterns are also common.

Wall panel with geometric interlace (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In the city I live in, Madrid, I found that despite its past, there is a surprisingly small amount of information available about its Islamic origins. Likewise, most people don't know about the Muslim history present in the city. It is ironic how the name of the city, Madrid, comes from an Arabic word, even though its residents know little about its Muslim history

Madrid was first founded by Umayyad emir Mohamed I. When Madrid was founded, it was called Mayrit, which comes from the Arabic word "Mayra" for the water channels underneath the earth of Madrid, built by Mohamed I. Later, as Al-Andalus collapsed, Christians took over Mayrit.

One neighborhood of Madrid, La Morería, is a neighborhood where Muslims once resided during the Christian conquest. Now, it is a busy neighborhood with cafes, bars, and more. However, despite La Morería and Madrid's transformations, the remaining Muslim influence on architecture can be seen in the city's oldest Mudejar buildings and in some parks, where there are some remains of the Muslim reign. Mudejar buildings derive their name from Muslims who stayed in the Iberian Peninsula after the Christians took over the land once again--mudéjars. "Spain is Culture" referred to Mudejar buildings as a "meeting point between Christianity and Islam," with Islamic tradition, Moorish influences, and decorations with European architecture.

Mudéjar art from Wikipedia

A mudejar arch in Plaza de la Villa (MEE/Kira Walker)

Today, the city's government and Spain's Islamic Culture Foundation (FUNCI) have been working together to raise awareness and save the city's Islamic heritage. They hope that more and more people will learn of the Muslim presence in Madrid.

To me, this almost hidden part of Madrid's infrastructure and history interests me immensely. Now, as I walk through the streets of Madrid, I can sometimes see a mudejar arch, and I am reminded of the importance of preserving culture and history.




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