Architectural Studies

Moorish Architecture

In the year 711 CE an Islamic army of Arabs and Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to invade the Iberian Peninsula. Within just a decade these Muslim forces from North Africa, collectively termed Moors, held sway over most of modern-day Spain and Portugal. Taking power both through violent conquest and by persuading local Visigothic chieftains to swear fealty to them, the Moors established a European stronghold. Though its northern border shifted over the course of the following eight centuries, this distinct region of Islamic Iberia–cut off from Africa by the Mediterranean Sea and separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenee mountains–was called al-Andalus in Arabic, perhaps translating as “the land of the Vandals,” though this is uncertain.

The effort by Christian forces in Spain to recapture al-Andalus is known as “The Reconquista.” Though Christian rulers sought to expel the Moors from Iberia from the time they first arrived in the eighth century, an organized program only took shape in the fifteenth century. The last Muslim kingdom, at Granada, was conquered by Catholic armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, and this year is treated as the end of Islamic rule in Iberia.

The term mudejar is used to describe the continuing Moorish culture in the Iberian peninsula after 1492.

Cordoba & The UMAYYADS

The first Islamic dynasty in al-Andalus (as the Muslims called the former Roman province of Hispania), was the Umayyad court in exile. The lone Umayyad surviver of the Umayyad dynasty by the Abbasids at a royal banquet of Damascus, Abd al-Rahman I

“Early Capitals of Islamic Culture” (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2014, 4 mins.):

Though Cordoba was not formally proclaimed the capital of the revived Umayyad caliphate until the early 10th century, in the mid-8th century the city became the center of a reconstituted Umayyad court in exile from its former homeland in Damascus, in present-day Syria. Thus, to the extent that it has a structural prototype, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, begun in 784, harkens back to the Great Mosque of Damascus.


“When the Moors Ruled in Europe” (BBC, 2005, excerpt, 7 mins.):

Cordoba has been celebrated as a bastion of tolerance, at least for the “people of the Book”–meaning Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama” (PBS, 2013, 3 mins.):



The last Muslim dynasty to survive on the Iberian peninsula, the Nasrids, with their emirate headquartered in Granada, persisted until 1492 in large part through careful diplomacy. The Nasrid palace of the Alhambra is the most famous and iconic of the Moorish secular structures to survive.

“The Alhambra Palace and Nasrid Art” (Victoria & Albert Museum, 2016, 15 mins.), view English subtitles:

“The Complex Geometry of Islamic Design” (TED-Ed, 5 mins.):

“When the Moors Ruled in Europe” (BBC, 2005, excerpt, 8 mins.):

The Alhambra (Architectures, ARTE France, 2005, 26 mins.):

Moorish Architecture Quiz


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