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Architecture - Arabian Saracenic

( Originally Published 1921 )



Arabia was the birthplace of the Mahometan religion, which there sprang up among a nomadic people who, as wanderers in the desert, had no permanent architecture. All that was required of the faithful was that they should pray at stated times, wherever they might find them-selves, whether on trek in the desert, minding their flocks, or resting on the house-top, and that when they prayed they should turn towards the holy shrine at Mecca, and for this simple ritual no temple made with hands was essential. The one sacred spot, the one world-sanctuary; the "Kaabah" at Mecca, was itself a stone tower of unpretentious appearance, cut off from the outside world by a " temenos " or sacred enclosure. Thus in Mecca and Medina, the two original pilgrimage-cities of the faithful, Mahometanism had no great buildings, for their need was not then recognised. It was quite different, however, when these nomadic tribes set out to conquer the world for their religion ; for when they found themselves among nations who were temple builders, they, too, adopted this material expression of their faith in competition with the religions they hoped to supplant.

The Great Mosque, Mecca, restored and enlarged by successive Egyptian Caliphs and by the Sultan of Turkey in the middle of the sixteenth century, consists of a rectangle, 570 ft. by 38o ft., surrounded by arcades of pointed arches and an outer enclosing wall, with numerous gateways and minarets. In the centre of the Court is the " Kaabah " or holy shrine to which the " kibleh " in the " mihrab " (niche) of all other mosques must point; so that the faithful may turn towards Mecca when they pray, in accordance with the instructions of the Koran.



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