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Architecture - Spanish Saracenic

( Originally Published 1921 )



After the Moorish conquest of Spain in the eighth century and the establishment of the Western Caliphate at Cordova, many mosques were erected in the Peninsula, with the usual open court and rectangular prayer chamber of numerous arcades whose general features were largely determined by the use of Roman columns, capitals, and decorative carving found on the spot. These mosques were devoid of the dome, which in the East usually indicated the presence of a tomb chamber, but they displayed the same elaboration of geometrical design with bright colours in decoration which characterise the Saracenic or Mahometan style in all countries.

The Great Mosque, Cordova (A.D. 786) (p. 833 C), the glory alike of the Western Caliphate and of its founder, the Caliph Abd-el-Rahman, was the centre of Islam in the West. It was enlarged southwards and eastwards by successive rulers, until now it consists of a rectangle, 425 ft. by 570 ft., second only to the Kaabah at Mecca in size. The enclosed portion alone occupies a larger area than any Christian cathedral, consisting of nineteen aisles running north and south, with thirty-three bays to each aisle, supported on a labyrinth of 1,200 many-coloured columns, and approached from the open court by nineteen bronze doors. The colonnades are in two heights formed of columns of varying design, some from Roman and Byzantine buildings. Some of the upper and lower columns support arches, the lower of circular cinquefoil pattern and the upper of horseshoe form ; while alternate lower columns are made to appear connected by a subsidiary treatment of the lower arches (p. 833 C). This vast mosque, which is only 30 ft. in height, is remark - able for circular instead of pointed arches, due to the influence of Roman remains in Spain. The magnificent interior is ablaze with the jasper, porphyry, and coloured marbles of its columns, sometimes supporting three superimposed tiers of Saracenic arches, all lighted by innumerable hanging lamps, while artificers from Constantinople spread the floor with glowing mosaics and wrought a wonder of brilliant glass and gold into the mihrab roof.

S. Cristo de la Luz, Toledo, erected anterior to the eleventh century as a mosque and given to the Templars in A.D. 1186, and S. Maria la Bianca, Toledo, erected in the twelfth century as a synagogue, but in A. D. 1405 converted into a Christian church, are interesting for their Saracenic features and detail.

The Alcazar (el kasr = the castle), Seville, dating chiefly from A.D. 1350-69, is much dilapidated, but still possesses some interesting remains, such as the principal facade and " Patio de las Doncellas " surrounded by the Hall of the Ambassadors and other apartments.

The Giralda, Seville (A.D. 1159) (p. 839), so called from its turning figure or weather vane, is one of the most celebrated and beautiful towers in the world. It resembles others in Morocco and Tunis, and was probably erected as a symbol of power. It is 45 ft. square throughout its height of 185 ft., and is terminated by a belfry added in A.D. 1568 in the Renaissance style, surmounted by a revolving figure of Faith, which brings the total height to 275 ft. This upper addition is unworthy of the beauty of the Moorish tower below, which, from the scale of its proportions, the delicate geometric decoration of its panels, and the distribution of its graceful windows, is unrivalled, even by the Campanile at Venice (p. 506 A).

The Alhambra, Granada (A.D. 1309-54) (p. 834 E, F), is a portion of a royal palace and probably the most famous of all Saracenic structures. It was the gorgeous pleasure-palace, in the new Caliphate of the West, of the Caliph Abd-el-Walid, who built mosques at Jerusalem and Damascus, and who intended it to impress the imagination of the conquered country, as well as to minister to his enjoyment of the passing hour. Here a surfeit of surface decoration, easily carried out in plaster and colour, takes the place of a more monumental treatment, and suited the fatalist nature of people who were content to build for the present rather than for all time. The plan consists mainly of two oblong courts at right angles to each other (p. 834 E). The "Court of the Lions," 115 ft. by 66 ft., is the more elaborate ; the columns are alternately single and coupled, with stalactite capitals, which support arcading of wood, covered with richly stuccoed decoration (p. 833 D). A copy of this court, two-thirds the size, was erected (A.D. 1854) at the Crystal Palace by the late Mr. Owen Jones. The " Hall of Judgment " (p. 834 F) is at its eastern end, and on either side are the small halls of the " Two Sisters " and of the

Abencerrages," with roofs formed of stalactite vaults. The " Court of the Alberca " is 138 ft. by 74 ft. with its longer axis north and south. On the south is a two-storeyed arcade, and to the north, in the massive Tower of Comares, is the " Hall of the Ambassadors," 35 ft. square, crowned by a polygonal dome with arabesque decorations, and on three sides deeply recessed windows give views of the town beneath. The Alhambra is a series of courts, halls, and apartments with richly modelled geometric plaster decoration, brilliantly painted and gilded, all framed in a setting of arcades, fountains, and gardens, whose subtle effect it is difficult to analyse.



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