Architecture Case Study: Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz

Week 6: The Art, Architecture, Symbolism, and Décor of Mosques

LINK: Bab-al-Mardum Architect  [Please click the link to view the art piece]

In this pencil and pen sketch, I’ve taken on the persona of the architect of the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz (then known as Mezquita Bab-al-Mardum), a 10th century mosque built in Toledo, Spain.  This is the only existing mosque in the country that remains architecturally, largely as it was during the Moorish period.  It has a square floor plan; the façade is made of brick, decorated with a series of arches that call to mind the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Inside, horseshoe arches support nine vaults, whose design varies in different areas of the nave. The transept was added when it was consecrated for Christian worship, along with a Mudéjar-style apse decorated with blind arches (see the monument’s website for more).

Through this week’s readings we learn about the basic components of mosque architecture and popular patterns and decorations that are found in different parts of the world, but what I found interesting was a lack of focus on the architects themselves in the creation of these spaces.  In this piece I explore the motivations behind the work and the process.  Faruqi critique’s M. S. Dimand’s view of Islamic architecture as “essentially one of decoration,” noting that this implies a lack of content.  I also challenge Dimand’s view by focusing on the more structural components of the Bab-al-Mardum mosque’s design.  I thought that this mosque in particular was actually relatively simple in is square layout, and a bit played-down with its brick façade.

Secondly, I wanted to challenge the notion of “Islamic architecture” by choosing this mosque because it was re-purposed as a Christian place of worship in the 12th century.  Necipoglu emphasizes the importance of recognizing the diversity of mosque architecture and the context in which such a space is created.  I thought it was interesting that a Muslim likely built this place of worship and couldn’t have imagined Christians worshipping in the same building many years later.  With this generally atypical mosque design (no minarets, e.g.), I extend Necipoglu’s argument by including the importance of temporal context.

Finally, I include a translation of the inscription from the Qutb minbar gateway: “He who builds a mosque for Allah, Allah will build a similar one for him in Paradise.”  I imagine that this could have been the architect’s motivation in designing the mosque, so I place it at the very center of the work.