What Are the Most Important and Famous Monuments that Were Produced in the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization?
The oldest such monument, with its distinctive golden dome, is the Dome of the Rock, built in Jerusalem between 685 and 691 CE. It was probably meant to express the Muslims’ growing self-confidence and Islam’s competitiveness to local buildings of other religions as well as to Byzantium. Next to it sits the al-Aqsa mosque, built only shortly after the Dome on the spot believed to be the starting point of the Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey to heaven (mi’raj).
The Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus was built between 706 and 715 on the site of the Byzantine Church of John the Baptist. Despite many renovations, its original is still visible with its elaborate mosaics, the shrines containing the heads of John the Baptist and al-Husayn, the Prophet’s martyred grandson. The tomb of Saladin is in a garden adjoining one of the mosque’s walls
The construction of the magnificent Mosque of Cordoba began in 784 in the capital of Muslim Spain, or al-Andalus, but was reworked for two centuries until 987, when it was the second largest mosque in the world, with a distinctive “forest” of slim, exquisite columns and decorated walls. It was transformed into a cathedral after the re-conquest of Cordoba in 1236.
The Alhambra, “The Red Fortress,” is a royal residence and fortress built on top of a hill overlooking Granada, in Muslim Spain, by Granada’s last Nasrid kings in the mid-fourteenth century. It is known for its courtyard, lion- and myrtle-fountains, gardens, and irrigation systems.
The Fatimids built the al-Azhar mosque in 969-971 in the city they founded around the old city, Cairo, and in 988 a college (madrasa) was attached to it, making it the first institution of higher learning in Islamic history.
The shrine of the eighth imam of the Twelver Shi’ites, ‘Ali al-Rida (Ali Reza, in Persian) first built upon his death in 818 in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, but additions continued to be made on it for a long time.
“Alhambra – Granada, Spain, The.” Artifice, Inc. Link to resource (accessed April 30, 2010).
Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Studies, Emerita, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago
1. What was the significance and symbolism of the various monuments built during the Golden Age of Islam?
2. Compare and contrast the Golden Age of Islam and the Renaissance.
3. Has the focus of Islam as a religion and as political system changed? Why?