Special Features
About the Film
Educational Resources
Site Index
Shop PBS
Return to Home
Return to Home


The art of building was popular in virtually all times and places in the Islamic lands, providing places of communal worship, social service, and stately residence. The most important type of religious building was the congregational mosque, which had to provide sufficient space for the Muslim community to gather for weekly worship on Friday at noon. Famous examples include, the Great Mosque in Damascus, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, and the Great Mosque (now the Cathedral) of Cordoba. Muslims also commissioned many other building types, ranging from small mosques to use for daily worship, such as the Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah in Isfahan, to madrasas, or religious schools, and commemorative structures, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Like rulers everywhere, Muslims also commissioned great palaces, such as the Alhambra in Granada or the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. These universal types of buildings were erected using local materials and forms that suited the climate and geography. For example, builders in the Mediterranean region initially favored post-and-beam structures built of stone and decorated with mosaic, whereas builders in Iran and the eastern lands built arched and vaulted structures of brick decorated with plaster. Over time, Islamic civilization brought about the easy movement of artisans and led to the interchange of artistic ideas and techniques. Muslim patrons everywhere appreciated exuberant and colorful decoration. The extravagant use of color, particularly tiles, is one of the hallmarks of Islamic architecture.