Chapter 2


From Abbasid North Africa to Seljuk Anatolia


750 - 1300

Abbasid North Africa 750-940


 Abbasid power stretched from Baghdad to the Moroccan coast of the Atlantic. Especially the North African mosques show peculiar early local designs. Splendid examples with a strong sense for desert architecture.

Kaiouran, Tunisia
Great Mosque

(Photo Wikipedia)

Sousse, Tunisia
Ribat (Castle)

Wall enclosure and gate (Photo

Sousse, Tunisia
Great Mosque

9-10th cent

Algiers, Algeria
Great Mosque


Algiers, Great Mosque, Streetview

The floorplan is reminicent of the Mesquita in Cordova (Plan

Sfax, Tunisia
Great Mosque

10th cent

Photo from I-CIAS, Tunisia

Abbasid-Saffarid-Buyid Persia 7th-12th cent

The Persian heartlands under Abbasid rule have left us with a number of unique buildings. There are Ktesiphon's astounding ruins of the Taq-i-Kisra, Samarra's al-Muttawikil (847-892) with its "Babylonian" minaret, and Damghan's Masjid-i-Tarik Khana.

Samarra, Iraq


The Minaret in the ruins of the Mosque

Damghan, Iran
Masjid-i Tarik Khana


The oldest extant mosque in Iran, the Tarik Khana, or 'House of God' incorporates a simple Arab plan with Sassanian construction techniques. An arcade lines the central courtyard, a single bay deep on all but the qibla side where it increases to 3 bays. The central aisle on the qibla arcade is wider and taller than the others, a form that presciently indicates the later ubiquitous monumental axis of Persian architecture. The arcades, recalling Sassanian precedents, are formed of fired brick arches, elliptical and sometimes slightly pointed, and massive circular brick piers. (Text and photos


Ktesiphon, Iraq

7-8th cent?

Photo Livius

Seleukia-Ktesiphon consisted of two cities, Seleukia on the left and Ktesiphon on the right bank of the Tigris. It was the residence of the Parthian and the Sassanidian kings. Together the two cities had a population of 500 000. With the foundation of Baghdad in the 8th cent AD the city lost its importance.
The last remains of Ktesiphon is the great arch of Taq-i-Kisra ("Arch of Chosrau") (Sassanid, 7-8th cent?). The technology of erecting large arches over square or rectangular bases seems to have come with the Parthians from Khorassan. The Romans only knew how to erect copulas on circular tambours. The "Iranian" cupola using spherical Pendentives reached Byzantium in the 6th cent (Aghia Sofia) and Western Europe only in the Renaissance (Brunelleschi's dome in Florence). See also Bukhara.

Abbasid and Tulunid Cairo 9-10th cent

Ahmad ibn Tulun, the son of a Turkish slave of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun was sent to Egypt in 868 as governor. Refusing to send the annual tribute to the Abbasid court, he established himself as an independent ruler of the province. His family ruled in Egypt for 135 years, until 905.

Ibn Tulun Mosque


This mosque built for Ahmad ibn Tulun, is a rare and unique architectural expression of the cultural influence of al-Andalus and Samarra's al-Muttawikil (847-892), Ibn Tulun's home. The minaret is, obviously a Cairene copy of al-Muttawikil, but the mosque is built entirely of well-fired red brick faced in carved stucco; it has ziyadas and a roof supported by arcades on piers. Andalusian influence, which came with refugees from Spain, is manifested in the use of double-arched, horseshoe windows. (Text and photos from

Fatimid Cairo 969-1171

Fatimid Cairo is the high point of Cairene architecture with such buildings as the al-Azhar Mosque and its famous Islamic University and the al-Hakim mosque.

Cairo, Egypt
Al Azhar Mosque


First Fatimid mosque in Cairo. The Mosque was founded by Jawhar al-Siqilly, the Fatimid conqueror of Egypt, in 970 as the congregational mosque for the new city of al-Qahira. The first khutba was delivered from its minbar in 972. A university was established there in 988, one of the oldest universities and to this day the most influential Islamic school in the world.
The courtyard was originally enclosed with three arcades. Caliph al-Hafiz (1138) added an arcade around all four sides of the courtyard, displaying keel-shaped arches, roundels, and keel-arched niches. (Text and photos

Cairo, Egypt
Mosque of Caliph al-Hakim bin Amr Allah

990 - 1004

The Mosque of al Hakim was begun by the Fatimid Caliph al-'Aziz in 990 and finished by his son al-Hakim bin-Amr Allah and his overseer Abu Muhammad al-Hafiz 'Abd al-Ghani ibn Sa'id al-Misri in 1013. (Photos and plan

Street view

Samanid Turkestan and Persia 874-1001

Since the time of Alexander's Diadochian Kingdoms Sogdiana and Baktria (West Turkestan) were Buddhist territory as excavations in Ai Khanoum, Balkh, Merv, Bamiyan, Marakanda-Afrasiab show. It was ruled by satraps of the Persian Sassanids (to 712). Islamic Arabs arrived in the early 8th cent ( Merv 641, Marakanda 712, Talas 751) and Abbasids ruled the area from 750- 874. Islamic architecture, making use of Sassanid examples, began to blossom only under the Persian Samanids (874-1001). Their earliest buildings survive in Bukhara, a mausoleum (914), the Balkh No-Gumbad Mosque, and in Na'in (Iran), a Masjid e-Jame (960)

Samanid Mausoleum

The Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara, built by Nasr ibn Ismail (914) square canopy tomb is the earliest Islamic monument in Central Asia. It exhibits especially the unique architectural solution of the support of the dome, which differs from Westen examples.
The technology of erecting large parabolic arches or domes over square or rectangular bases seems to have come with the Parthians from Khorassan. The Romans only knew how to erect copulas on circular tambours. The "Iranian" cupola using spherical Pendentives reached Byzantium in the 6th cent (Aghia Sofia) and Western Europe only in the Renaissance (Photos from

The unique eastern squinch (Pendentive) in the support of the dome on a square base. 

Balkh, Afghanistan
No-Gumbad Mosque


The Nine Domes Mosque (Masjid No Gumbad) 925, also known as Masjid-i-Hadji Piyada in Balkh. This exquisitely ornamented mosque is the earliest Islamic monument in Afghanistan. The mosque is in ruins, Its nine domes have collapsed.

The forest of stucco-covered columns, standing in 3 feet of rubble is still extant. (Photo and plan

Floor plan

Na'in, Isfahan, Iran
Masjid-e Jame


Typical of pre-Seljuk mosques, the Masjid-i-Jame at Na'in exhibits a simple hypostyle plan, which has remained uncomplicated despite the additions and alterations of subsequent years. A courtyard is accessed through the arcades that are built from bays of irregular spacing and number. The courtyard façade probably dates to reconstruction work of the Seljuk period, although the most unusual feature - the angled piers flanking the central nave on the southwestern (qibla) side - is dated to the original period of construction.
The minaret represents an important transition from the early square form to the Iranian minarets of the 11th and 12th centuries. Maintaining the early square plan at the base, a tall tapering octagonal mid-section rises to a short cylindrical shaft.
The Masjid-e Jame at Na'in is renown for the extensive and masterful carved stucco of the mihrab and adjacent bays, including the oldest extant epigraphic friezes in Iran. Stylistically it bridges the stucco decoration of the Sasanian and Abbasid periods with that of the Seljuks. (Text and photos

View from the southeast including the mihrab

Elaborate carved stucco decorations around the mi

Seljuk Persia 11th-13th cent

In the 11th century the Abbasids were replaced by the Turkic Seljuks, whose major architecture is found in Damghan and Ardestan. A separate example of their rule is the fortified city of Bam, deep in the Iranian south on the borders to Beludjistan. Long in ruins, it was recently restored only to fall victim to a disasterous earthquake in 2003.

Ardestan, Iran
Masjid-i Jami

10-11th cent
pre-Seljuk to early Seljuk transition
Il-Khan-Mongolic(?) influences and Safavid dome (1539)

The current form of the mosque, consisting of a four-iwan courtyard surrounded by arcades, represents the successive work of several building periods. (Text and photos

The earliest elements suggest an original pre-Seljuk hypostyle mosque, into which early Seljuks inserted a dome chamber and adjacent iwan (dated 1158 and 1160 respectively).

Courtyard and arcades.

However, the arcades as they stand cannot be dated to the pre-Seljuk original, as they include domed and barrel vaults that display wide variety in brickwork, height, and shape, the supporting piers are also ranging in size and shape.

View of vaults in the oldest parts of the complex ( southern corner, with view through arch to the southeast iwan)

The iwans and the dome other than that of the sanctuary appear to be either Safavid construction or reconstruction; an inscription in the northwest iwan cites a restoration in 1539.
The earliest stucco fragments, found in the western corner of the courtyard, have been dated to the end of the 10th century. The interior of the dome chamber and iwan are extensively covered in plaster. The dome and zone of transition are articulated with simulated brickwork; the iwan vault is uniquely faced with a complex stucco design of interlacing arabesques. The mihrab exemplifies skilled stucco carving, and may represent an Ilkhan restoration.

Detailed view of the stucco near the mihrab

Damghan, Iran
Chihil Dukhtaran Gunbad

Seljuk Tomb

Built in the year 1054-55, this monument is the second oldest remaining tomb structure from the time of Tughril Beg (1040-1063), the first Seljuk monarch. (Photo from

Rum Seljuks in Persia and Asia Minor 1077- 1570

After the defeat of the Byzantine knights at Manzikert (1071) on the hands of the Seljuks, Asia Minor lay wide open to Turkic advances and was taken by the "Rum Seljuks" (11-14th cent) (Rum = Roman or Western). Their capital became Konya.

Konya 1077-1570

Konya, Anatolia
Alaeddin Mosque, 'Ala al-Din Kayqubad I Camii


Evidence of an early building program dates from the time of Mesud I. An inscription dates the fine, ebony minbar to 1155; the minbar is the first dated example of Seljuq art in Anatolia. The polychrome ceramic frame of the mihrab and the dome above may date to this period.
Kaykaus I began a major rebuilding program in 1219. He changed the main entrance from the west to the north, opposite the mihrab. He added a monumental façade on the north side, overlooking the city and facing the Seljuq palace. A marble tomb was begun in the courtyard. Kaykaus’ building was cut short by his death in the same year, only to be resumed thereafter by his brother and successor Kayqubad I.  With the exception of Izzeddin Keykavus, all of the Seljuk sultans after 1156 are interred in the complex.  (Text and photos

North façade. The white stone columns are reused from a Byzantine building

Interior: the peristile prayer hall

Konya, Anatolia
Karatay M

Its portal displays alternating stones of light and dark, a sign of Syrian influence. A copy of the portal of the nearby Alaeddin Mosque.

The entrance is through a somewhat truncated muqarnas niche, and leads in to a large room with a tiled iwan at one end. It is surmounted by a tiled dome open to the sky. Directly below the oculus is a pool for rain water . The transition from the square room to the round dome is accomplished by way of Turkish triangles intracately decorated in black, white, and turquoise tiles. Today the Madrasa serves as a tile museum. (Text and photos

The polychrome marble entry

The interior tiled dome. The triangular penditives, known as Turkish triangles, are an architectural speciality of the Rum Seljuks.
Photo Rolf Gross 1990

Ince Minareli Medrese, Dar al-Hadith


The Ince Minareli Madrasa takes its name from what was once its extremely tall minaret, currently reduced to only the lower portion. Much of the minaret collapsed in the early twentieth century. The lowermost portion of the minaret is square and built of stone, which gives way to a brick cylinder, which must have formed the bulk of its height. The brick was once covered in green tile.
However, the extraordinary feature of this medresa is its sculptural decorations. (Text and photos

Main Portal with folded inscription

Base of the minaret

Konya, Anatolia
The Mevlana Tekke

1270s, 1512-1520
Seljuk, Ottoman

The green-domed mausoleum of Sufi mystic and poet Jalal al-Din Mohammad al-Rumi (1207-1273, known as Rumi or Mevlana) is the heart of the convent in Konya that includes a mosque, ritual hall (semahane), dervish cells and kitchens in addition to numerous other tombs and cemeteries. The site, a royal rose garden to the east of the walled city, was a gift in 1228 from the Seljuk sultan to Mevlana's father, theologian Baha al-Din Walad of Balkh (d. 1231), who chose to settle in Konya after his long flight from the Mongol army then approaching his hometown.
The earthen graves of Mevlana and his father were soon after Rumi's death covered with a shrine, and a Tekke (takiyya) was built around the tombs to house the Mawlawi brotherhood.
The first tomb built over Mevlana's grave, a simple domed structure, was commissioned in 1274 by Gürcü Hatun, wife of Seljuk vizier Süleyman Pervane and built by Tabrizi architect Badr al-Din. In 1397, Karamanid ruler Ala' al-Din Ali Bey (1361-1398) replaced the dome with the sixteen-sided conical crown covered with green tiles. The shrine grew with additions and redecorations during the rule of Ottoman sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512). Between 1983 and 1987 the complex was extensively restored.
For a collection of 129 beautiful images see Photos of the Mevlana Museum to which the following images - except the first - are linked.

First visit to Konya. On the right the Selimiye Mosque (Photo Gerhard Gross 1954)

Essentially the same view 1970

View from west showing lead-covered domes of the Dervish Tekke, with its chimneys. The green tiled Türbe of Rumi's shrine is seen behind (All other Photos

Western wall of shrine facing the takiyya courtyard, with tomb of Fatma Hatun seen in front

The gilt sarcophagus of Mevlana and his son Sultan Veled

Muquarna dome over Rumi’s tomb

Selimiye Camii


Built by Sultan Süleyman I or by his son Selim II as prince. (Photo

Diyarbakir, Turkey
Ulu Camii
Architects Hibat Allah al Gurgani, Selame oglu Mehmet

The Great Mosque of Diyarbakir is the oldest and one of the most significant mosques in Anatolia. Following the Muslim capture of Diyarbakir in 639, a church in the city was used in part as a mosque. The church was eventually fully converted to a mosque, but the building fell into disuse and ruin. In 1091 Sultan Malik Shah directed the local Seljuk governor Maidud Davla to rebuild a mosque on the site. Completed in 1092, the mosque is similar to and heavily influenced by the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus (which was repaired by Malik Shah in the twelfth century prior to work in Diyarbakir). The influence of the Damascus mosque brought Syrian architecture and decoration to Anatolia. Included in the complex are the Mesudiye Medresesi (1193) and, not connected to the courtyard, the Zinciriye Medresesi (1189) . (Text and photos

The main prayer hall and minaret from the courtyard. The influence of the Damascus Omayyad Great Mosque is clearly visible.

View of the western wing of the prayer hall

Erzurum, Anatolia

Erzurum is a true mosaic of Anatolian history. The city was founded as a trade colony in the fifth century AD named Theodosiopolis in honor of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (408-450).
Turkish tribes of the Saltukid dynasty took Theodosiopolis from the Byzantines and made it their capital in 1080. In 1179, they built the Great Mosque.
The independent
Seljuks Mughith ed-Din Tughrul and Rukh ed-Din conquered the city in 1202 and ruled there until 1230, after which Erzurum was incorporated into the Anatolian Seljuk Empire based in Konya. Following the Seljuk capture, work on the Çifte Minaret Madrasa was begun.
Ilkhanids took the city from the Seljuks in 1242, but they didn't build any monumental architecture until the Yakutiye Madrasa in 1310. The most prominent features of the Ilkhanid architecture in Erzurum are the tombs (kümbets) that were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, such as the Cimcime Sultan Kümbet, the Karanlik Kümbet, or the Üç Kümbetler.
After the
Ottoman conquest in 1514, Erzurum's commercial and military stature increased, as did the size of the city.
In 1829 and again in 1916-1918 the
Russians occupied the city and built a new citadel in its center.
(Text and photos from )

Üç Kümbetler
Three Mausolea

12th century

Two tombs are unidentified. Legend has it that the third is the mausoleum of Emir Saltuk Sultan, which woukld date it to the end of the 12th cent. . Some scholars attribute the mix of Seljuk, Armenian, and Georgian styles of the masonry to the fourteenth century. The fusion of these styles makes this mausoleum unlike any other in Anatolia. (Photos

The masonry, and the conical domes are related to contemporary 12th cent Armenian architecture, e.g. in Ani and near Lake Van.

Detail of a window in Emir Saltuk's Tomb.

Ulu Cami - Great Mosque

Saltukid 1179
Architect: Abu'l-Fath Muhammed

The Great Mosque of Erzurum was commissioned by Saltuk Emir Nasrettin Aslan Mehmet in 1179. Substantial alterations took place in 1639, in 1839 by Sultan Mahmut II, in 1860, and the last in 1957-1964. These repairs have resulted in numerous modifications especially of the old dome. A portion of the central aisle and large sections of the qibla wall are remaining from the original Saltukid mosque. (Photos

An interesting feature is the timbered dome structure obtained by stacking planks in the way shown in the photo. This method was still in use in Georgia in the 19th cent. It may go back to Kashmiri and Central Asian (Serindian) practices of the 4th-7th cent. AD

Çifte Minarets Medrese, Hatuniye Medres

The construction of this madrese, also known as the Hatuniye Medresa, has been alternately attributed to Hande Hatun, the daughter of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I (1220-1236), and to Padisha Hatun, the wife of Il Khanid Sultan Gaykhatu (1291-1295). The two attributions also suggest two different dates of construction: 1253 or 1290. Neither date is convincing, however, as it is more likely that the madrasa was completed before the demise of the Seljuk state in Erzurum in 1277, and after the Gök Madrasa in Sivas was built in 1271, a building which has been suggested as a model.  The medrese has two minarets remindful of Timurid medrese in Samarkand.

A recent photo of the medrese and the Üç Kümbetler Türbe behind it.

Text and floor plan from

Seljuk Hani – Caravanserays

Agizkara Han near Akseray, Cappadocia

13th-14th cent

One of the Seljuk caravanaserays in Cappadocia. Photos from

A lonely dog