Shade of the Prophet, thou whose fanes,
The Christian fanes among,
Reared to the faith of Islam
In fancies light and strong,
Reared from the shores of Bosphorus
To Cairo and Tooloom,
Or where "the Pearl of Agra" shines
Beneath the southern moon,
Tell us the secret of thine art,
Thy minaret and dome,
Lost as the classic art is lost
Of Hellas or of Rome,
No mystic forms thy creed permits,
In marble, bronze, or gold:
But sculptured on thy monuments
What mystic tale is told?
Let us consider for a moment, before describing the architecture and art of Islam, the origin and influence of its faith, which, hand in hand with conquest, spread far more rapidly throughout the world than did the dominion of the Caesars or the doctrines of as the crucified Nazarene. Whether considered as the subjugation of a mighty empire, as the development and growth of a new religion, or both, the events which followed the hegira form one of the most remarkable chapters in the annals of the human race. The great conquests which history records, from the days of Cyrus to those of Napoleon, have with whom have vanished all been accomplished by powerful nations under able leaders, traces of their transient splendor; nor did even Rome, while imposing her laws on subject races, attempt to impose on them her faith. But here was an obscure and simple community, few in number, and though warlike, unskilled in the arts of war, which in less time than Rome would require for the acquisition of a single province, not only subdued the kingdoms of three continents, but welded them together into one great people, eager to promote with heart and hand the mission which Islam had undertaken.
While the Arabians traced their descent from the father of Israel, and of old worshiped only the God of Israel, they had lapsed into idolatry long before Mohammed appears on the scene. Though the religion of the Hebrews never became entirely extinct, and was later mingled with Christian elements, the Sabaean worship of the stars, which obtained in Persia and Babylonia, was common also in Yemen. Leading a nomad life amid the pathless desert, above which, in a cloudless sky, glittered the constellations of either hemisphere, and with none of the varied forms of scenery on which the eye could rest, it was but natural that the imagination of the Arab should revel in infinity, passing rapidly from one faith to another, and never finding the repose which belongs to settled and established creeds.
When gathered into cities, their religion became a trade as even today it is, the forms of worship, handed down by their forefathers, being of less importance than the fairs and feasts set forth in holy places, "the fairs of heathenism," as they were termed. Their gods were many, three hundred idols clustering around the black stone in the shrine of Kaba, presented, as was believed, to Abraham by the archangel Gabriel. Yet they cared but little for their gods, not even for Allah himself, who was supreme above all, by whom they swore their most sacred oaths and sealed their most sacred covenants. Arab deities were merely guardian spirits, revered, not for the attributes ascribed to them, but as representing the interests of certain tribes or promoting the welfare of their votaries. Hence Allah was lowest in the scale of worship, for while imposing duties on all, he granted no special favors to any. Such was the religion of Arabia before the days of Islam, a corrupt and idolatrous religion, but one that sufficed for the people and the age.
Before his marriage with the widow of a wealthy merchant, by whom he had been employed as traveling agent, Mohammed made journeys through Syria and Palestine, where probably he first received the impressions which took such deep root in his soul. Through a cousin of his wife, the prophet that was to be was brought into contact with the hanifs, a word which Sprenger interprets in his Leben und Lehre as "men who seek to purge themselves of sin." While neither a sect nor a secret society, and least of all with any thought of propagandism, they adopted monotheism in the person of Allah, rejecting idolatry less on intellectual grounds than as tending to impurity of life.
After a season of pious meditation and solitary ascetic exercises, Mohammed became subject to fits or swoons, in which, without loss of inner consciousness, he saw the visions which played so important a part in founding the faith of Islam. It was during one of these fits, or as some have it in his natural sleep, that he received from Gabriel, as tradition relates, the divine commission bestowed upon him on Mount Hira, the archangel presenting to him a silken scroll, and bidding him repeat what was inscribed thereon: "Read in the name of thy Lord, who created man from a drop. Read, for thy Lord is the Most High, who hath taught by the pen, hath taught to men what they knew not. Nay truly man walketh in delusion, when he deems that he sufficeth for himself." Here was the first of the many inspired passages of the Koran, claimed as the source of revelations denied even to Moses and the prophets. But we need not follow further the origin of this religion of the sword which contrasted so strongly with the Christian religion of peace, remarking only that after it was firmly established, the subordinate deities were not abolished, but stripped of their divinity, reduced, that is to the rank of inferior spirits resembling somewhat the daemons of the Greeks.
To the corruption of the eastern empire both, religious and political, more than to the inherent strength of the cause or the ability of its leaders, must be attributed the dazzling conquests of the caliphs. Yet, had they been merely conquests, they must have been barren of result; for Yemen warriors, however valiant, were not numerous enough for successive campaigns or for the maintenance of a mighty empire. But the subjugated nations of Asia and Africa, each in turn, sent forth their hosts of converts fired with the fanaticism of a new and sensuous faith, until the sword and creed of Islam made themselves felt throughout the world. Within less than a century after the hegira, the domain of the Saracens extended throughout Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Persia, India southward to the Ganges , Egypt and the entire Mediterranean coast Sicily and all of Spain, except for the mountainous regions of the north.
But in none of these countries was there any such depopulation, or transplanting of races, as attended the progress of Roman domination. They retained their old inhabitants, their ancient habits and customs, with less of outward change than is commonly supposed, while as to religion the Mohammedan conquerors were far more tolerant than the Christians, often worshiping in Christian temples but reserving a portion of their space, so that prayer to Allah would mingle with the praises of Jehovah.
For a proper understanding of Saracenic architecture, it should be borne in mind that the Arabs had neither art nor culture of their own in any form, except for the poetry which from time immemorial celebrated at public gatherings the deeds and glories of their race. In the Koran art is barely mentioned, and there is not a single passage which points to the existence of definite forms of architecture, the minaret, whence later came the call to prayer, being as yet entirely unknown. Whether in the desert or on the housetop prayer was everywhere acceptable, so long as the face be turned toward Mecca at the proper time, and with due regard to forms and attitudes. It was not until the close of the seventh century that the Saracens began to build for themselves, and not until the close of the ninth that they built in original designs; for there were plenty of Christian basilicas and churches which with slight alterations by Byzantine artificers would serve for their own forms of worship. Even after the capture of Constantinople, they did not care to introduce the styles with which they had become familiar on the other side of the Bosphorus, erecting their mosques after the ecclesiastical types of which the church of Saint Sofia was the leading example. Thus the art of Islam was but a combination of heterogeneous elements fused, after many centuries, into homogeneity of style, a style which, notwithstanding countless ramifications, never entirely lost its individuality.
As with early Christian and Byzantine architecture, so with that of the Arabians, both were mainly in connection with religious requirements, while some of the finest specimens of the latter are of Byzantine workmanship. In the earlier stages of the Mohammedan dispensation there were no sacred buildings, except the sanctuary of Kaba, their only temple as Allah was their only God. It was merely a rough stone edifice, built on the site of an older temple said to have been destroyed by fire, and though famous for its sanctity, without pretension to structural design. Nevertheless, after being more than once rebuilt, its exterior form, except in certain details, is still preserved in the "Ancient House,” as it is styled, of the great mosque at Mecca. After destroying the idols of this sanctuary, Islam consecrated many spots in honor of the patriarchs whose faith, as they believed, was reproduced in their own. Between the door and the sacred stone on which Abraham stood while building the enclosure, was the place for offering prayer with outstretched hands, another, named the Hijr, marble lined and paved with mosaics, surrounding the slabs which marked the graves of Ishmael and Hagar. But neither tradition nor rudeness of external aspect interfered with later decorations, the caliphs covering the sides with figured brocades, and the sultans sending with each pilgrim caravan a kiswa, or veil, richly embroidered with inscriptions from the Koran. The roof was concealed by silken drapery; the silver plating of the walls was finished in gold; the floors were of colored marble, and between pillars of teak were suspended lamps of silver.
The mansions of the wealthy were thickly clustered around the Kaba, and with the constantly increasing hosts of pilgrims which betokened the spread of Islam, their dwellings were gradually cleared away to make room for the great mosque and its enclosing walls, nearly a furlong in length, almost as much in width, and pierced by a score of arched gateways. Though the work of many hands, the temple in its present form was founded by the caliph El Mahdi, of the house of Abbas, the Mohammedan Messiah, whose advent, long expected, was to fill the world with righteousness. Enormous were the sums expended by this caliph in importing from Egypt and Syria their costly Roman columns, of which but a few remain, the hundreds of pillars that have taken their place being of many designs and dates. As an architectural composition, the building is in no way remarkable, though of special interest as the goal of pilgrimage and the most sacred of Moslem fanes.
A more graceful and imposing edifice is the mosque of the Prophet at Medina, originally a low brick building roofed with branches of palm, adjoining which were the homes of Mohammed and his women. Early in the eighth century, after previous enlargements, it was entirely reconstructed in the most elaborate style of Byzantine architecture, the plan including the burial place of Mohammed and the pulpit from which he preached. As extended by El Mahdi and later described in the chronicles of Ibn Jubair, the interior was richly decorated with mosaic arabesques and the outer walls with parquetry, gilded capitals crowning the marble pillars of the porticos. After two partial destructions by fire, it was restored, near the close of the fifteenth century, almost as now it stands, with stately minarets and ponderous dome above the prophet’s tomb. Though surrounded with a spacious court, crowded dwellings obstruct the view except from the principal gate, inlaid with marbles and adorned with inscriptions lettered in gold. Thence, along the southern wall, a colonnade with many rows of pillars leads to the doorless but curtained chamber where are the sacred graves of Mohammed, Abubekr, his father-in-law, and the caliph Omar, whom Islam reveres as a saint. A smaller chamber represents the mausoleum of Fatima, both being surrounded with an iron railing, in front of which is a portico paved in marble and mosaics, the effect of which is marred by tawdry depictions in imitation of the garden of Paradise.
The mosque of the Prophet is of Egyptian design, but inferior in style to the monuments reared by Islam in the land of the Pharaohs, where in solid freestone structures with massive columniation, Muslim architecture attained its highest development. Here also appears for the first time the pointed arch, introduced into Europe after the earlier crusades, though appearing in some rude forms in ancient Gothic cathedrals. In the mosque of Amru, erected about the middle of the seventh century, there is no attempt at originality; but in that of Ibn Tulun, or Tooloon as it is commonly termed, completed in 879, is one of the oldest specimens of a purely Saracenic edifice, yet designed, as were many others, by Christian architects. Of magnificent proportions is the arcaded court with its battlemented walls and stately colonnades, the minaret pointing skyward in telescopic form and near it a heavy cumbersome dome. The arches of the mosque are pointed and rest on substantial piers, no pillars being used except as corner shafts, the general outlines suggesting the Norman style, and with a certain dignity of expression, notwithstanding occasional clumsiness.
More elegant in detail is the mosque Al Azhar, or "the splendid," built near the close of the tenth century and now the seat of a Mohammedan university. In that which one of the sultans reared in 1149, outside the walls of Cairo, is a distinct transition in style, a feature being the sepulchral chambers which formed a part of the edifice, in imitation of ancient Egyptian tomb-builders.
But the most remarkable of Moslem fanes, and in some respects differing from all the rest, is the cruciform mosque of Sultan Hassan, finished in 1356 at a cost of $3,000,000. In aspect it is remarkably impressive, rising in nine stories to a height of more than 100 feet, solid as a fortress and with massive and boldly projecting cornice. In place of colonnades, the interior court has on each of its faces a large vaulted niche, the one looking toward Mecca 70 feet in width and 90 in depth and height. Behind it is the mausoleum of the founder, surmounted by a dome with richly carved pendentives and flanked with lofty minarets, one of which is said to be the tallest in the world. The mosques of El Moyed and Kaid Bey, both belonging to the fifteenth century, are graceful examples of Arabian architecture; but in those of later periods there is little worthy of note, except for the waste of costly materials on florid and incongruous designs.
In the older mosques of Cairo and its splendid mausolea, their lofty, gilded domes and fanciful tracery in arabesque, is one of the two distinctive now rapidly falling into decay, forms into which Muslim architecture was finally developed, the other being the Moorish in Spain. The Arabian style is extremely simple and almost uniform in plan, consisting of the arcaded court already described, with a prayer niche facing toward Mecca, near it a pulpit, in the center a fountain, and at one or more of the corners a minaret, the only important variations being in the size of the structure and the richness of the columnar decoration. Rising from a square base, the minaret gradually assumed an octagonal or circular shape, with corbelled galleries, and profusely adorned in arabesque or floral designs, the domes having similar decorations and in other respects differing widely from those of western design. As a protection against heat, windows and other openings were small, except the principal doorway, which was deeply recessed, but in such elaborate workmanship that the entrance itself was no larger than its purpose required.
In Persia, which about the middle of the seventh century yielded to the arms of Omar, the surviving monuments of Islam belong to later eras and are modified with Persian forms. Of the ancient glories of Baghdad, where the caliphs held court in the climax of oriental magnificence, the only remains are a few architectural fragments, the tomb of Zobeide, wife of Haroun al Raschid, being the one best preserved, though this is of doubtful origin, resembling closely the Jaina temples of Hindostan. Of fifteenth century workmanship is the mosque of Tabriz, in whose ruins may still be partially traced its elaborate decorative scheme. It was a domical structure surrounded with vaulted courts, adorned with floral designs in white and green on a ground of blue, interwoven with arabesques and inscriptions in letters of gold. Ghazan Khan was its artificer, his successor. Mohammed Khodabendar, founding the city of Sultanich and erecting there the splendid mausoleum which was its principal ornament. Especially beautiful is its dome, worked into graceful curves from the main octagonal structure by a series of brackets, the entire composition forming one of the most elegant specimens of Moslem architecture.
As related in a former chapter, Shah Abbas made of Ispahan, his capital, one of the finest cities of the orient. Chief among his works was the great mosque named Mesjid-i-Shah, entered from the Maidan or bazaar a rectangular area nearly half a mile in length, surrounded with vaulted and two-storied arcades with pointed arches, and in the center of each face a lofty portal flanked by slender minarets.
The central portion of the mosque is surmounted by a double dome, 165 feet in height, corresponding to that of the minarets. On three sides are courtyards containing fountains and basins for the ablutions of intending worshipers, and richly ornamented in the polychromic treatment of the Persians. In design the temple is inferior to others of its type, but in mass and in wealth of decorations it stands almost unrivaled, even in its premature decay, as an example of the gorgeous, if somewhat barbaric splendor of the age.
To Muslim temples and palaces in India reference has been made in connection with the architecture of Hindustan, where Hindu, Saracenic, and modern styles are often combined in edifices which do not properly belong to any of these forms. Passing to Syria and Palestine may first be mentioned the great mosque at Damascus, reared on the site of the Syrian temple which Theodosius converted into a church about the close of the fourth century. After the Arabian conquest, the church was long used in common by Christians and the former worshiping on the west side of the partition which divided it, and the latter on the east. By the caliph Walid it was converted to its later use, though the several portions which belong to heathen, Christian, and Saracenic forms have never been clearly ascertained. With the additions made during its twelve or thirteen centuries of existence, the outer dimensions are 510 by 320 feet; but except for size, it is not remarkable as an architectural composition. The workmanship was of the poorest, so poor that the pillars of the court have only been preserved by supporting piers of masonry, while coats of plaster and whitewash cover the walls and decorations. Yet this is one of the most sacred of Muslim sanctuaries and one of the foremost in historic interest.
By the treaty which gave to him possession of Jerusalem in the fifteenth year of the hegira, that is to say in 637 AD, the caliph Omar guaranteed to the Christians protection for person and property, with the free exercise of all religious rights, subject to the condition that Mohammedans be admitted into their sanctuaries. It was also stipulated that a convenient site be granted him on which to rear a monument to Islam, and for the purpose was selected that of the ancient Hebrew temple, held by the Christian accursed and by the Mussulman sacred; for here it was that Mohammed landed after his miraculous nocturnal flight. On this spot Omar erected a small and simple mosque, little more than a plain, vaulted cell; for, though a caliph, he was vowed to poverty and averse to all ostentation.
About half a century later, Abd el Malek, caliph of Damascus, attempted to make of Jerusalem the goal of pilgrimage in place of Mecca, thus carrying out what at one time had been the intention of the prophet. Hence the building of the great mosque of El Aksah, in which was probably included a part of Omar’s shrine. Originally it was a rude wooden edifice, and though with the features of various schools from the Byzantine downward, its later magnificence is mainly ascribed to the caliph.
In some respects, and especially in its seven aisles, it resembles a basilica, though the porch, which is a subsequent addition, is without the atrium common both to the Moslem and Christian forms at this period. By a monk who saw it soon after its completion, it is described as a square building with accommodation for 3,000 worshippers, the Arab historian Meje-ed-Deen making mention of 45 columns, most of them of marble and connected by horizontal beams, as is still their peculiarity. But in this edifice, occupied during the crusades by the knights who thence took the name of Templars, are many architectural problems which cannot here be solved.
It was probably from northern Africa that Saracenic or Moorish architecture was first introduced into Spain, though in forms so distinct and individual that their origin cannot be clearly traced. Of the monuments of the former country little is known, religious bigotry and the indifference of travelers and explorers leaving them still as works to be deciphered by future ages. Even of the mosque at Kairwan, long the capital of the African provinces, it can only be said that it was built during the first century of the hegira, chiefly from Roman remains, and that in external forms it resembles somewhat those of Cairo and the earlier mosques of Tunis. To the thirteenth century of our era belongs the many domed and cloistered mosque in the center of Tunis, as also the one reared by its Hafsite prince Abu Zakariya; but these, as all others, are open only to Mohammedans. Of later date is a stately minaret, considered one of the finest of its class, but less for symmetry of proportion than as showing that Arabic architects knew how to find expression in grandeur as well as in beauty of design.
From the opening decades of the eighth century until near the close of the fifteenth, Spain was more or less under Moslem domination. During all this period the Moors, while engaged in conquests, found time to extend their own form of art, almost to the exclusion of the Gothic with which it was concurrent in style. Even in districts where their rule was brief, and in those which were beyond their domain, are still found in Gothic buildings traces of Saracenic architecture, in combinations existing nowhere else in Europe. While this was a brilliant period, it is not to the monuments of the Spanish peninsula, not even to the Alhambra and Alcazar, with all their wealth of decoration, that we must look for the highest and purest form of the arts which Islam inspired.
Late in the eighth century Cordoba became the capital of Moorish Spain, and here, on the site of a Roman temple. Abdurrahman I founded the mosque which, completed by his son, though with many later additions and alterations, was the earliest of Saracenic monuments. As it stood in the reign of El Mansoor, about the year 1000, the exterior was in the shape of a parallelogram, enclosing an area of 158,000 square feet, or larger than that of any Christian temple with the single exception of St. Peter's. It was, however, deficient in elevation, the distance from roof to ceiling being less than 30 feet, and in other respects the design was faulty. The facades, flanked with buttress towers, were plain even to baldness; the aisles were all of the same width, and the low antique columns superimposed with stone pillars and with double arches, to increase the height. But in many respects the decorative scheme was in the richest style of Arabic art. The columns were 1,200 in number, and of these more than half still remain in the magnificent cathedral into which the mosque was converted, one of the finest specimens of Moorish architecture adopted to Christian uses.
In common with the splendid mosaics of marble, porphyry, and jasper combined in matchless forms, they were the spoils of many cities, of Nismes, of Seville, Menda, Byzantium.,while some it is said, came from the ruins of ancient Carthage. The cathedral, with its chapels, has of course destroyed the original effect, and grand though it be, the aspect is less imposing than when, through a score of bronze gateways, a multitude of worshippers thronged into this labyrinth of aisles and colonnades, over which thousands of lamps filled with perfumed oil shed a soft and fragrant light. "You have built here," said Charles V to the church authorities, "what could have been built as well anywhere else, and you have destroyed what was unique in the world."
In Seville was reared, toward the end of the twelfth century, one of the most stately of Moorish mosques, still partially preserved in the cathedral, its minaret, the Giralda as it is called, ranking as the finest specimen of its class. In contrast with the slender polygonal shape usually adopted in the East, it rose in a square mass to a height of 185 feet, a belfry of sixteenth century workmanship taking the place of the original superstructure, reproduced in a later restoration but not in its present form. The walls of the tower are relieved with panels ornamented with textured patterns rising from pilasters and covering most of the surface. Between the panels are windows in keeping with the plan, and in sufficient number, without interfering with the solidity of the structural design.
But the Alcazar was the glory of Seville, and indeed of Spain, a monument probably as splendid as the Alhambra itself, though altered in parts from its original form almost beyond recognition. Begun near the close and thus coeval with the Giralda, it was surrounded with castellated walls of which the of the twelfth century, Torre del Oro is the principal remnant. While additions and alterations by Pedro the Cruel, by Charles V and others partially effaced its Moorish characteristics, later restorations show much of its former aspect, especially in the hall of ambassadors, the chapel of Isabella, and the Patio de las Munecas. Yet as these are only restorations, they are of little historic value, especially as their style is largely repeated in the structures of the Alhambra.
On a precipitous rock overlooking Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, were reared in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the mighty citadel and palace of the Alhambra. as the fortress and residence of Moorish sovereigns. While partially destroyed after the Spanish conquest, sufficient has been preserved from which to reproduce this architectural dream, modern restorations replacing many of the features which Christian vandalism had effaced. Enclosing an area of 35 acres was the massive wall with many towers which long resisted the arms of Spain, the principal buildings bordering on spacious and pillared courts with broadly projecting roofs, where wooded lawns and sweet-scented gardens, sparkling fountains and waterfalls afforded a cool and shaded retreat.
Entering through the gate of Pomegranates, and passing thence by a steep ascent to the sculptured archway named the gate of justice,—formerly an outwork as well as an open-air court—the visitor enters through a narrow corridor, the Plaza de los Algibes, or place of the Cisterns, so-called from the reservoirs beneath.
On one side are the ruins of the ancient fortress of the Moors, and near them the watchtower where first the Christian flag was hoisted after their expulsion. The view from this point is of surpassing loveliness. Beneath, “like a pearl set round with emerald,” is the city of a hundred churches, above which tasteful villas cluster amid the verdant foliage of overhanging heights, lo the right is the palace, severely plain in external aspect, as was the custom in Arabic architecture, with a view to give further accentuation to the splendors of the interior. Everywhere in these spacious halls and courts is betokened the delicate taste of this famous period in Moorish art, colonnades of richly colored marbles, ceilings, and partitions fretted, gilded, and colored in light and graceful designs, filigree work transparent as gossamer, and mosaics and arabesques of finished workmanship, all contributing to an effect which surpassed even the dreams of oriental dreamers, or the fabled stories of the Arabian Nights.
Opposite the entrance of the reception-room, known as the hall of Ambassadors, stood the throne of the sultan of Granada, the domed ceiling of this chamber showing beautiful inlaid work in polychromic treatment and in forms while the walls were adorned with delicate stuccoes resembling the vault of the sky, surrounding Moorish escutcheons. Adjoining it is the court of Albirca, otherwise named that of the Myrtles, from the trees which border its sides, or of the Pond, from the pool, filled with gold fish, which stands in the center of the marble pavement. On two sides are arcades with galleries above, the one on the southern face supported by marble columns, and with windows beautifully arched in slender and graceful forms. To the hall of the Abencerrages, as the legend reads, Boabdil invited the members of that family whom he feasted and massacred. The roof, with its arched supporting columns and is handsomely decorated, at the foot of its spacious dome are trellised windows. An elegant apartment is the hall of the Two Sisters, which takes its name from a pair of slabs of pure white marble, forming a part of the pavement. The walls are adorned with geometric and other figures pleasing in effect; but in questionable taste is the pattern of the roof, fashioned of thousands of pieces in imitation of natural stalactites.
But the gem of the entire composition, and one of the most perfect specimens of Moorish architecture, is the court of the Lions, so called from the somewhat tame looking animals in marble which support a handsome fountain and basin of alabaster. The court is oblong in shape, 115 feet in length and 65 in width, pavilions surmounted with cupolas rising from either end, and a low encircling gallery resting on six-score marble columns of stainless white. The columnar decoration is remarkable chiefly for the gracefully molded capitals, adorned with filigree work and with frondal and floral designs, the grouping and alignment being also skillfully treated, though in the shafts themselves there is nothing to commend, for they resemble rather such as are used for engineering than for artistic purposes. Finally it may be said that, except for a few minor defects, it would seem impossible to plan a group of structures better adapted to the luxurious habits and tastes of a people who made of luxury an art as well as a source of enjoyment.
In most of the larger cities and towns that passed under Moslem domination are traces of Moorish art, and so it is not only in Spain but in all the lands whither the followers of Mohammed carried the Koran and the sword. As their monuments were numbered by thousands, it is impossible to describe them within the compass of a single chapter; nor is further description necessary, for in those which have already been mentioned are included the leading forms of Saracenic architecture. It remains only to refer briefly to the temples of Islam in the present capital of the Ottoman Empire, in whose civic and domestic architecture there is nothing that need detain us; since among the mansions of the wealthy are few but wooden structures, and even the palace of the sultan, for many centuries the abode of Byzantine or Turkish sovereigns, is remarkable only for its historic associations. Moreover, Constantinople is frequently swept by flames, which visit impartially every quarter of the city; hence in relating what exists today we may relate that which will not exist tomorrow.
It was doubtless a misfortune for Spain and for Europe that the Moors were driven from the land which they had so long adorned with their sciences and arts of all the races that acknowledged the prophet, they were the most enlightened and the least bigoted, far surpassing in these respects the Christians who were first their servants and then their masters and oppressors. This we may read even in their architectural designs, so graceful in outline, so free from the austerity of other Saracenic forms, the most ornate, if the most ephemeral, of the many styles that came before or after.
Before the conquest of Granada, another and more serious misfortune had befallen the Christian world, in the subjugation of its fairest city by one of the most barbarous of the barbaric tribes which spread as the scourge of the human race from the plateaus of Central Asia. Two centuries or more were required for the Turks to force their way westward as far as Constantinople, whose capture, with the events that followed, caused the fate of Europe to tremble in the balance. Here as elsewhere in the domains of Islam, the victors adopted with certain modifications the architectural forms of the vanquished, never attempting to enforce on their subjects the models peculiar to themselves. In this at least they showed more wisdom than the Aryan nations, which insisted on the use of materials and designs ill suited to the climatic and other requirements of those whom they held in subjection.
The earlier mosques of Constantinople, as we have seen, were merely Christian churches or basilicas adapted to Muslim worship, chief among them being that of Saint Sofia, whose splendors have been related in connection with Byzantine architecture. In the various styles adopted by the Turks, even unto the present day, the most remarkable feature is the repeated imitation of this gem of Christian art, plain in exterior forms, but with a beauty and richness of internal decoration that has never been surpassed in the temples of all the ages. By the Christians themselves it was little appreciated, and from their hands, so far as is known, there is not a single reproduction; but the Turks were not slow to observe its merits, and adopting the forms which it suggested, preserved their designs from the feebleness which prevailed in western Europe. Of more than a hundred mosques erected since the Ottoman pitched his camp on the northern shore of the Bosphorus, all are more or less modeled after Saint Sofia; but while there were many modifications and some improvements, none have approached it in wealth and beauty of embellishment. If the fanes of Cairo excel in dignity, it is here that we find the poetry of art.
By Mohammed II, to whom the last of the Constantines yielded his city and his life, at least seven Christian churches were appropriated for Muslim worship, and as many mosques were erected some of imposing dimensions. Chief among the latter was the one that, still bearing his name, crowns the loftiest of the seven hills on which the metropolis is built, the magnificent funeral chapel of the emperors, already in part destroyed by earthquakes, furnishing materials and site for what was intended to be the most splendid temple in the empire. How far this intention was carried into effect can never be determined; for the repairs made necessary by the great seismic disturbance of 1763 were almost equivalent to a reconstruction, and in its present outlines there are few indications of the original form. It may, however, be stated that in common with others, it was largely a reproduction of the church of Saint Sofia. A more sacred edifice was the mosque of Eyoub, the standard-bearer of the prophet; but of this even less is known, while that which Selim I completed, early in the sixteenth century, is remarkable only for the huge proportions of its dome.
The most stately temple on the shore of the Bosphorus, and one of the grandest in the Mohammedan world, is the mosque completed by Suliman the Magnificent in 1555. It is still but little impaired, and except for a few slight alterations in detail stands as for centuries it has stood, the highest type of its class, every portion revealing the purpose for which it was intended.
Almost in the form of a square with a side of more than 200 feet, the building has in front the usual arcaded court and fountains, the mausoleum of its founder in marbles of various hue standing in the gardens adjacent. The dome is well proportioned; about 160 feet in height and half as much in diameter the windows, beneath its arches set between pillars of porphyry imported from Egypt. Though in proportion and disposition of parts surpassing its model, the church of Saint Sofia, the interior effect is far inferior; for here are none of the gorgeous mosaics which filled the church with reflected light; nor is the poverty of medieval decoration compensated by the presence of modern vulgarity, all too common in Mussulman places of worship.
Another imperial mosque, but one in whose design there is little to commend, is that which the sultan Ahmed reared in the opening years of the seventeenth century. Somewhat larger than the temple of Suliman, in artistic effect it is comparatively feeble, the geometrical precision of outline and the lack of architectural emphasis imparting a severely mechanical and prosaic aspect. Each wall is the same, and the same is the number and spacing of the windows, all glazed in identical patterns, while the free use of whitewash above the marble wainscoting adds the subordinate to the barn-like appearance of the interior. The domical treatment is the most pleasing feature, domes and semi-domes, arranged in pyramidal shape and flanked with soaring minarets, relieving somewhat the monotony of plan. For another century at least the Turks adhered to the forms above described, and even as late as 1755 Osman III erected a mosque which, except in a few of its details, might belong to the age of Suliman. But we need go no further; for the nearer we approach to recent architecture the more feeble it becomes in style, the workmanship of the present age, in slavish imitation of European neighbors, having nothing more to do with Saracenic art than had the Romanesque with the Roman or the Hellenistic with the classic art of Greece.
To Islam, as we have seen, graven or painted images were forbidden, and hence her art was confined almost entirely to architecture, though in mosaic work, in carvings in ivory and wood, and in many other forms of handicraft, they had few superiors either in ancient or modern times. Of their paintings the best of the few remaining specimens were on the vaulted roof of the court of Justice in the Alhambra, representing the figures of sovereigns and scenes from the age of chivalry; but while Moorish in theme, these were probably by Italian artists, resembling somewhat the compositions of the earlier Florentine school.
The term arabesque is of wide application, and frequently but improperly used in reference to the cinque-cento ornamentation developed, not from the Arabic, but from Greek and Latin designs, as in Roman palaces or in the ancient mansions of Pompeii. Grotesque it should rather be called, and so was named when first brought to light in the subterranean chambers or grottos of the imperial city, to be later reproduced by the disciples of Raphael, whose workmanship may still be seen in the loggia of the Vatican. By Byzantine Greeks, under Muslim patronage, were produced during the earlier period of Mohammedan domination the rich forms of decorative art which pertain to Saracenic architecture. Since figures, brute or human, were forbidden, as were other natural forms, the artist was closely restricted in choice of subjects, though contriving to work into his patterns the hidden emblems of his faith. If the cross was not there, neither was the crescent, for this was a Byzantine symbol, and only after the capture of Constantinople became a Mohammedan device, the crescent and cross never appearing in antagonism until the fifteenth Century. In Moorish carvings, traceries, and plastic ornaments, especially those in the Alhambra, are some of the finest examples of purely Saracenic workmanship; for the Moors were the most skilful of craftsmen, and in Spain there was less restriction as to themes.
Especially beautiful were their floral designs and their foliation disguised in stucco inter facings and in reliefs richly colored and gilded. In Hindustan are noble specimens of the later Mohammedan style, as in the mosque at Delhi, the pearl mosques at Agra, and the Taj-Mahal, through whose domed arcades, perforated with trellis-work, the tempered sunlight falls on flower mosaics fashioned in precious stones.
The words Saracens and Saracenic, commonly used in reference to the Arabs and their architecture were applied in Greek and Roman forms to the nomad tribes of the desert, and later adopted by Islam, whose followers traced their origin to Sarah, the wife of Abraham. A common derivation is from sharki, or eastern, but a more probable one, as suggested by Sprenger, is shoraka, that is to say, allies.
As to the Kaba, where is now the "Ancient House" in the great mosque at Mecca, there is a Mohammedan legend that, in its original form, it was built by Abraham and Ishmael for a temple of monotheism, on plans prescribed by divine revelation. Though long devoted to idol worship, after the suppression of idolatry it was declared by Mohammed the most sacred of Islam's sanctuaries. Its famous black stone, already referred to, was considered as the palladium of the holy city, and when carried away by the Carmathians during the pilgrimage season of 930, an enormous sum was paid for its ransom. The stone, which was supposed to have come from on high, is probably of meteoric origin and only a few inches in length, the pieces into which it was broken by fire in the siege of 683 being joined together by silver bands. Among the many fetiches which stood in the enclosure of Kaba, this was the one most venerated, no pilgrim being content to set his face homeward without having touched it with his lips.
Attached to the enclosing wall of the mosque at Medina was a casket supposed to lie opposite the head of Mohammed, a silver nail showing the point to which his body faced. The tradition of a coffin suspended by magnets is a European invention and entirely unknown to the Muslim world.
The pointed arch, as to the origin of which there is much difference of opinion, probably appeared for the first time in the wall-niches of a small structure known as the Kilometer, erected early in the eighth century on an island near the old city of Cairo. The invention has been claimed by many European nations, though this is disproved by its almost simultaneous appearance in the more civilized countries of Europe after the earlier crusades. If found in rude shapes, as I have said, before this date, in ancient Gothic architecture, it was not in the form of the lancet arch, which was the prototype of the style. Nevertheless there is something nearly approaching to it in the domed chambers of ancient oriental nations.
Though for several centuries the Saracens were masters of Sicily, there are few remains of that period, chief among them being the Zisa, a country mansion near Palermo, which, notwithstanding modern restorations, is distinctly Arabic in plan. Especially does this appear in the handsome panelings of the walls, the frieze with its elaborate mosaics, and the marble columns of the portico, calling to mind the mosque of Tooloon at Cairo.
Many of the mosques in the eastern quarter of Cairo are falling into ruins, and serve only as the haunts of beggars. The splendid mausolea, commonly supposed to be the tombs of the caliphs were in fact erected by one of the Mameluke tribes extirpated by Mehemet Ali.
The famous "vase of the Alhambra", probably fashioned about the year 1320, is a beautiful specimen of Moorish art. It is somewhat over four feet, the enameling being chiefly in blue and gold on a ground of white.
Beyond a ravine which separates it from the Alhambra is the so-called garden of the Architect, at first probably an outwork of the fortress and later the summer residence of the sultans of Granada. Of the many reproductions of the Alhambra, one of the best is in the court of that name in the Crystal palace at Sydenham, a few miles from London.