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Welcome to this tutorial on architecture. Religious architecture is meant to invoke a certain feeling in the worshipper. I've drawn here a picture of a Buddhist stupa, which is meant to remind Buddhists of the Buddha and the Buddha nature, to remind them of the need to meditate and realize the Buddha nature.

But we could give examples from other religions, whether a simple Quaker meeting house or a Trappist monastery or a Jewish temple. All of these spaces are meant to invoke a certain feeling in the worshipper, whether one of awe or respect or simplicity or peace. The religious space, the space of the designed building, is meant to invoke a feeling in the person who enters.

Now we're going to take a look at Islamic architecture. We start out with the Abbasid Caliphate, sometimes called the golden age of Islamic architecture. This is just after the Umayyad Caliphate. The buildings begin to get a little bit more complicated. They have complicated arched doorways. They might have spiral minarets. This is where the muezzin goes up to give the call to prayer. The buildings begin to get more ornate during this period.

The minaret is a common feature, a very tall structure. And it's usually the tallest point that the mosque has, and it might even be the highest point in the immediate area. The first mosques had no minarets. And some sects, like the Wahabis, avoided building minarets because they thought they were too ostentatious. Still today, the minaret is what many people associate with mosques.

Now we're going to take a look at the T-style mosque. This is an early form of Ottoman mosque where one enters the by means of a portico. The portico has many different domes. So you're going to enter this way, and then into a central courtyard. The central courtyard has an oculus, a hole that is open up to the sky. And that lets in light and it lets in air.

Then one finally comes to the prayer hall. Prayer halls generally have no furniture, very little decoration, perhaps some versus from the Koran painted in Arabic. The prayer hall is also called the Musallah. This is where one goes to actually worship. One has gone through all of these ornate structures before arriving at the prayer hall. This must have invoked a feeling of awe in the worshipper.

Over time, this becomes more and more ornate. And this develops into the central dome mosque, which gives one the impression of domes within domes within domes within domes. This is just my crude little sketch. But these can be quite elaborate and ornate. Again, conveying a feeling of awe, also a monument to the person who built them. So they might be surrounded by madrasas, by religious schools. They might have residences for religious leaders and so forth. And they might have tombs of rulers nearby.

But the prayer hall itself, again, very simple. Some rugs on the ground. No images as in Christian cathedrals. No images of people. No images of animals or spiritual figures. Only in calligraphy from the Koran. So no matter how ornate the outside, the prayer hall is still going to be very simple.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on architecture. We said that religious architecture is meant to invoke a certain feeling in the worshipper, whether that's a feeling of peace, a feeling of being over awed, a feeling of wonder. The worship space is itself a part of the religion. We looked at three different types of mosque. We looked at the Abbasid mosque, the T-style mosque, and the central dome mosque. We said that due to the strictures of Islamic interpretation of the Koran, mosques do not have any kind of depiction of saints or animals. But they are allowed to have geometric designs and verses from the Koran.

Our vocabulary terms from for this lesson-- mosque or Masjid, a Muslim place of worship. A minaret is a tall, slender tower that is usually situated at one of the corners of the mosque structure. And Musallah, a prayer hall within an Islamic house of worship.

Notes on "Architecture"

Terms to Know

Mosque or Masjid

A Muslim place of worship.


A tall, slender tower that usually is situated at one of the corners of the mosque structure.


A prayer hall within an Islamic house of worship.