In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula

  • Introduction
  • Convivencia

Art History Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula
Jonathan Bloom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0124


This article deals with the literature on architecture and art (but not archeology nor urbanism) in the Islamic lands surrounding the western Mediterranean, including North Africa from Tunisia through Algeria and Morocco (and briefly Sicily) to Spain and Portugal. It focuses on the period between c. 700 CE, when Islam came to the region, and c. 1500 in the Iberian Peninsula, after Muslims (and Jews) were expelled, but it also covers North Africa until c. 1800, when France and then Spain established colonies there. This region, known as the Maghrib (Arabic for “west”), shared in the great and early spread of Islamic culture and techniques across Eurasia and Northern Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant to the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean and Central Asia on the east, but later developed styles of art and architecture, sometimes termed “Moorish” or “Hispano-Mauresque,” that can be distinguished from those of the central and eastern Islamic lands, particularly in the period after c. 1000 as political developments tended to increasingly isolate the region from what was happening elsewhere. Thus, in architecture, the hypostyle (many-columned) mosque, which was the earliest type, persisted in the Maghrib, whereas elsewhere it was replaced by other types of mosques; in Arabic calligraphy, a distinctive Maghribi script and numbering system persisted until modern times, particularly in the production of manuscripts of the Koran, which were copied on parchment rather than paper far longer than elsewhere. After the end of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula and to a somewhat lesser extent in Sicily, the legacies of Islamic architecture and art lived on for centuries. In Spain, the style of Christian art with an Islamic flavor is known as Mudéjar, from the Arabic mudayyan, “those permitted (by the Christian vanquisher) to remain,” and many of its technical and stylistic elements continued to be found for centuries in Spanish art and architecture, eventually being carried as far as the New World. The arts of this region have largely been studied by Europeans, particularly the Spanish and French, along with some Italians and Germans. Americans have largely ignored the region until fairly recently. The history of art and architecture has not been a major field of study in postcolonial North Africa, where it is overshadowed by classical archaeology or subsumed into other fields such as manuscript studies. Consequently, few Tunisian, Algerian, or Moroccan authors are included here, particularly since much of their work, even when not written in Arabic, is not readily available outside the region. Because of these factors, there is a strong imbalance in coverage of the subject. Spanish material tends to be studied in minute detail, particularly by Spaniards, whereas it is sometimes difficult to find even the most basic information about North African material, particularly since non-Muslims are not normally permitted to enter mosques in North Africa. This article focuses on English, French, and Spanish scholarship, while trying to balance the coverage among the various regions.

General Works

There are few, if any overviews that survey both the art and architecture of the entire region over the period. For general introductions to the visual culture of the entire region in the context of Islamic art and architecture, a good place to start would be Ettinghausen, et al. 2001 and Blair and Bloom 1994.

  • Anderson, Glaire D., and Mariam Rosser-Owen, eds. Revisiting Al-Andalus: Perspectives on the Material Culture of Islamic Iberia and Beyond. The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    A series of essays by different authors offering a variety of perspectives on many aspects of Spanish Islamic art and its reception.

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

    The second volume of the survey of the field in the venerable Pelican History of Art series. Two chapters are devoted to the architecture and arts of the Maghrib.

  • Bloom, Jonathan M., and Sheila S. Blair, eds. The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    A three-volume work reorganizing and updating material by various authors first published in the thirty-four-volume Dictionary of Art (London: Macmillan, 1996; also available as Oxford Art Online). In addition to individual country surveys (e.g., “Algeria,” “Morocco,” etc.), surveys of particular media (e.g., “architecture,” “ceramics,” etc.) are divided chronologically and historically. Contains extensive bibliographies. Also available as part of Oxford Islamic Studies online.

  • Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2001.

    The first (revised) volume of the venerable Pelican History of Art survey of the field, originally published in 1987, with several chapters devoted to the Maghrib.

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

    This new two-volume work contains several chapters of varying coverage and quality on selected western Islamic topics, including Glaire Anderson and Jennifer Pruitt on the Three Caliphates (i.e., Umayyad, Fatimid, and Abbasid), Abigail Balbale on the Berber dynasties, Lev Kapitaikin on Sicily, Cynthia Robinson on the Alhambra, and Thomas Cummins and Maria Judith Feliciano on Mudejar Americano.

  • Gómez-Moreno, Manuel. El Arte árabe español hasta los Almohades; arte mozárabe. Ars Hispaniae III. Madrid: Plus Ultra, 1951.

    The classic work in the venerable Ars Hispaniae series on Spanish art and architecture to c. 1150, with some North African material.

  • Hattstein, Markus, and Peter Delius, eds. Islam: Art and Architecture. Cologne: Könemann, 2000.

    A well-illustrated collective volume with some accessible and interesting material on western Islamic art and architecture.

  • Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. The Legacy of Muslim Spain. Handbuch der Orientalistik. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1992.

    A massive volume published to commemorate the quincentennial anniversary of the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain. Several of the essays deal with aspects of art and architecture.

  • Rosser-Owen, Mariam. Islamic Arts from Spain. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2010.

    A short and synthetic overview of Spanish material, with a focus on objects from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

  • Terrasse, Henri. L’Art hispano-mauresque des origines au XIIIe siècle. Publications de l’Institut des Hautes Études Marocaines. Paris: G. van Oest, 1932.

    A classic general survey of art and architecture in Spain, Morocco, and Algeria by one of the founders of the field; however, it only goes up to the 13th century and is somewhat dated in approach, although still valuable.

  • Torres Balbás, Leopoldo. Arte almohade; arte nazarí; arte mudéjar. Ars Hispaniae IV. Madrid: Plus Ultra, 1949.

    The second volume on Islamic art and architecture in the venerable Ars Hispaniae series focuses on the period 1150–1500 in Spain, but also includes some North African material as well as a discussion of art and architecture produced in “Islamic” styles for or by Christians and Jews.

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