In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Architecture (622–1500)

  • Introduction
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

Medieval Studies Islamic Architecture (622–1500)
D. Fairchild Ruggles
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0306


The premodern Islamic world was vast. Originating in Mecca and Medina in the Arabian peninsula in 622, it grew to extend from Central Asia into the Indian subcontinent and across northern Africa to Morocco and Iberia. This bibliography covers Islamic architecture up to the year 1500, starting in the formative period in the Middle East where Islam began and then progressing from region to region, beginning in the west and moving eastward. It concludes with a bibliography organized by building types and elements. The earliest architecture emerged from a heavily Roman Mediterranean context under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), whose political center was Damascus. But eastern elements were introduced after the Abbasids toppled the Umayyads and shifted power to Baghdad. The empire expanded quickly, and because of Islamic expansionism and the general tolerance extended to non-Muslims living under Muslim rule, the culture included not only diverse regions but also diversity within those regions. Thus the empire included Christian and Jewish peoples (together known as dhimmis) as well as different ethnic and linguistic groups such as Arabs, Berbers, and Persians. While sectarian differences yielded distinct places of worship—mosques, churches, and synagogues—the architectural form and ornament of the various buildings shared many structural and ornamental features. This was facilitated by the common use of spolia in early Islamic architecture, and by the largely non-figural content of Islamic art, stemming from hadith traditions that rejected figural art for its possible link to idolatry. Mosaics that in Byzantine churches displayed biblical scenes were replaced by abstract ornament and Arabic inscriptions in mosques. Perhaps because of this, the Islamic visual tradition did not favor manuscript illustration until quite late in the medieval period, with the result that builders at one end of the world could not have had much knowledge of what was occurring at the other end, except through the exchange of artisans. More often the artisans were local, working for whatever patron could employ them. Functional types such as the mosque, tomb, caravanserai, and fortress were ubiquitous and might share important elements such as orientation and aniconism, but building technique, plan, and the manner of ornament varied widely and could reflect regional differences. Artistic transmission occurred along known routes, developed for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and were facilitated by the relative speed of sailing across bodies of water Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, and the late medieval rise of the land routes collectively known as the Silk Road.

General Overviews

Islamic architecture in Ettinghausen, et al. 2001 and Blair and Bloom 1994 is treated together with art, in part because the same kind of ornament is found on buildings and portable objects. However, due to the relatively late development of the book arts, architecture was until the early thirteenth century the more prevalent and important means of expression. Scholarly studies of Islamic architecture such as Creswell 1969 (cited under Formative Period (Seventh Century through Tenth Century)) and Hoag 2004 are meticulous, archaeologically driven surveys that rely almost entirely on the description of material structure, structural technique, and the analysis of the development of building typologies. Arnold 2017 continues this tradition, updating it with current findings in archaeology. These are valuable for their breadth and for explaining the arc of history through time and across a wide geographical area. They also provide a useful canon of key sites. But because of the enormous area covered by the rubric “Islam,” surveys of its architecture tend to lack depth. Regional surveys offer more explanation of why architectural innovation occurred in specific contexts, how identity was expressed, and the social and legal mechanisms that stimulated monumental building. Beginning in 1973 with Grabar 1987 (cited under Formative Period (Seventh Century through Tenth Century)), interpretive studies have sought to explain Islamic architecture in terms of the social milieu from which it was produced. Michell 2006, Hillenbrand 2004, and Bloom 2020 are examples of this social history approach. Jayyusi 2008 provides expansive coverage of the topic of urbanism as well as drilling deep into specific issues at specific sites. Petersen 1996 provides a succinct list of key monuments while Ruggles 2011 introduces readers to primary sources translated from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.

  • Arnold, Felix. Islamic Palace Architecture in the Western Mediterranean: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190624552.001.0001

    An up-to-date and accurate survey of palatine architecture, focusing on typology and form, free of speculation as to cause and significance.

  • Blair, Sheila, and Jonathan Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250–1800. Pelican History of Art. London and New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

    Begins where Ettinghausen, et al. 2001 ends. It offers brief descriptions of key monuments of art and architecture, tracing their development historically and in response to social conditions.

  • Bloom, Jonathan. Architecture of the Islamic West: North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, 700–1800. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2020.

    A much-needed, up-to-date, and well-written survey that explains social and political reasons for architectural change across the western Islamic Mediterranean.

  • Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Medina. Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250. 2d ed. Pelican History of Art. London and New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

    Revised and expanded from the original 1987 edition, the new edition surveys the large field of Islamic architecture and art, illuminating the social context that produced it. Organized by region and chronologically, it offers brief descriptions of individual monuments.

  • Flood, Finbarr B., and Gülru Necipoğlu, eds. A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture. 2 vols. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2017.

    Volume 1, From the Prophet to the Mongols, and the first section of the second volume contain essays reflecting current scholarship on Islamic art and architecture, leaning toward an emphasis on the former. Excellent essays written by leading scholars, but poorly illustrated.

  • Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

    A thorough survey of Islamic architecture, organized by functional type (rather than period). The text is accompanied by excellent axonometric and perspectival drawings made by the author, but the thumbnail plans at the end of the work are too small to be of use. First published in 1995.

  • Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. London: Phaidon, 2004.

    A general survey, originally published in 1977, organized by dynasty with each building illustrated in black-and-white photographs and a ground plan or section. Largely descriptive, it emphasizes form rather than social history or symbolic meaning.

  • Jayyusi, Salma K., ed. The City in the Islamic World. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.

    A comprehensive collection of essays on the development of urbanism, aspects such as law and waqf (legal endowment) that affected urban formation, and studies of individual cities such as Jerusalem, Cordoba, Fez, Rabat, Kirman, Bukhara, and Samarkand.

  • Michell, George, ed. Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2006.

    Originally published in 1978 and thus no longer up to date; yet it remains a good basic introduction for students, emphasizing architectural function and decoration, and concluding with an encyclopedia briefly describing key buildings.

  • Petersen, Andrew. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

    Useful for brief descriptions of terminology, architectural and decorative elements, sites, dynasties, and regions. Freely available online through Archnet.

  • Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Art and Visual Culture: An Anthology of Sources. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    A collection of primary sources on Islamic art and architecture, each excerpt preceded by a brief explanation.

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