As a monotheistic religion, Islam  was welcomed by people since it was understandable, nonhieararchical and sympathetic. Multicolumned prayer halls, mosques, were the religious places where one could pray were usually accompanied by minarets, slender towers for the muezzin.

Mecca and Medina

Kaaba, a cubical granite house, in Mecca has been a cult site for religious pilgrims. During the seventh century it was introduced with a black silk drape for shielding. After the rise of Islam Muhammed insisted on pursuing vernacular methods for the Prophet’s house using mud brick walls, a palm trunk roof and that  him and the succerssors after him would be buried without monuments. Qibla, direction for prayers, faced Jerusalem after the takeover of Mecca for the prayer hall.


The nomadic origins continued while the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina was the simulation of the caravansary. Early Muslims just like early Christians preferred secular structures for the cult buildings.The forum-basilica core of Roman cities was an influence for the early mosques. These early mosques were simple architectural structures. A fountain for the mandatory purifying abulations and a large hall were the basics for a mosque.

The Umayyad Period: Jerusalem and Damascus

Since the Arabs were nomadic tribes they lacked in masonry architecture and obtained forms and techniques from Persian, Roman and Byzantine precedents. The Dome of Rock in Jerusalem shared a resemblence with the central plan of a Christian martyrium. However, usage of two concentric ambulations distinguished this structure from Christan churches. As Islam disapproved the portrayal of human figures decorative inscriptions were conventional which why the interior of the base was covered with kufic script.

Dome of the Rock

After the fall of Mecca, Abd al-Malik’ son al-Walid ordered three notable mosques. Mosque of the Prophet contained mosaics and the first mihrab, a decorated niche indicating the qibla to Mecca. The al-Aqsa Mosque provided a congregational hypostyle on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Great Mosque of Damascus was the fusion of a mosque and a palace  is similar with Hagia Sophia in Constantinople which introduced the first minaret as a vertical axis for muezzin’s call to prayers. In addition, the Umayyads also introduced mihrab.

The Abbasid Succession: New Capitals in Baghdad and Samarra

Baghdad, city of peace, was a round city with a few remains since it was built of adobe. Yet, the construction could be understood from  literary sources. It was observed that 45° from the cardinal points four symmetrically gates were placed in which the west gate could point to Mecca. With a deep vault arch,iwan, the entrances to these gates were arranged. Early Baghdad had two major cross axial streets but they were covered with vaults rather than arcades.

Great Mosque of Samarra

North of Baghdad lied the new capital Samarra which was formed a strip of orderly patches spread along Tigris river. Caliphs’s Palace was the first grand residence covering almost the area of al-Mansur’s Baghdad.In the front existed a gate continuing with a maze like building for harem. The scale of this place was so immense that the largest mosque was also ordered to complete immensity the Great Mosque of Samarra, the exterior was similar to ancient ziggurats with its spiral minaret.