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From Andalusia to Jerusalem

We learn from geography and history that Andalusia was the territory in the Iberian Peninsula ruled by Muslims between 711 and 1492, famous today for the Islamic architecture of the Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada. The influence of Al-Andalus can be seen and experienced here in Israel through exploring the Mamluk buildings of Jerusalem.

The Mamluks overtook the Ayyubid Dynasty in Egypt to make Cairo their capital, their legacy can be seen today by visiting the Mosque of Sultan Hassan or Ibn Tulun in Cairo. While Cairo was the capital, Jerusalem maintained a spiritual status it became the focus of many elaborate public buildings such as madrasas for Islamic studies, ribats, intended as monasteries but primarily used as hostels for pilgrims, and elegantly designed burial structures were built along the streets to the west and north of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif), where the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are located. Extensive building activity also took place on the Temple Mount itself, including the western portico, archways, prayer platforms and fountains. It is from these examples that we see architectural features borrowed from the powerful legacy established in Spain, as reminders of how architecture style can live on long after a dynasty has fallen.

It is interesting that the Mamluks of the 13th-16th century, drew on styles from the earlier Umayyad dynasty of the 7th century as demonstrated by the Mezquita in Cordoba with its use of red and white alternating stone known in Mamluk architecture as Ablaq and also the horseshoe shaped arch whereas periods in between them such as Fatamid and Abbasid rule did not. Perhaps a reason for this may be that Andalusian architects had fled the Reconquista in Spain in just in time to influence some of the major constructions in this area of the Meditteranean.

Characteristic features which draw on previous Islamic architecture are Mukarnas - graduated, three-dimensional stone stalactites in the half-dome above the entrance.

Ablaq - striped masonry. Courses of the beautiful cream-colored local limestone are alternated with courses of differently coloured stone, usually red, but also black and yellow.

Klebo - interlacing stones in different colours, carved in a variety of profiles and laid in intertwining, puzzle-like fashion.

Inscriptions, in elegant Arabic script, include quotations from the Kur'an, but also the name of the builder and the date of construction are an undoubtable nod to styles used in the Alhambra

Every conquerer that came to Jerusalem wanted to leave their mark, which makes for a fascinating journey through the streets to be witness to the rise and fall of empires through the ruins that they left behind while in Israel King Herod the master builder exemplifies this as we popularly follow traces he left behind in Masada, Cesarea and Jerusalem’s Second Temple, it was most eloquently stated by Abd Al-Rahman III, founder of Medina Azahra in Cordoba "If kings are to be remembered after they are gone, Only through the language of monumental buildings can it be done."


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