Elaborately decorated front facade of the al-Aqmar Mosque.
The Fatimids, it could be thus inferred, were among the first in Islamic civilization who used the power of writing signs on buildings in order to advance and publicize their ideological struggle. The earliest Muslim example of using buildings and building decoration systems as a means for promoting a spiritual mission and cause could be traced back to the creation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem which was initially completed in 72 AH /691 CE at the order of the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan (d. 86 AH /705 CE). Via the ways the building and its decorative styles and strategies were perceived, planned and executed, the local Jewish and Christian population was mainly targeted. However, the way the Fatimids made recourse to utilizing the power of letters and symbols on buildings for advertizing and promoting their struggle and cause was like what nobody has ever seen before.Read more: The Fatimids and the Institutionalization of Sunni-Shi’ah Conflicts (Part Two)
The courtyard of the Mosque of al-Azhar.
The Shi’ah Fatimids were a major Isma’ili Shi’ah dynasty. They founded their own caliphate, in rivalry with the ‘Abbasids, and ruled over different parts of the Islamic world, from North Africa and Sicily to Palestine and Syria. The Fatimid period was also the golden age of Isma’ili thought and literature. Established in 297 AH /909 CE in Ifriqiyah (today’s Tunisia, Western Libya and Eastern Algeria), the seat of the Fatimids was later transferred to Egypt in 362 AH /972 CE, and the dynasty was finally overthrown by Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) (d. 590 AH /1193 CE) in 567 AH /1171 CE, when the fourteenth and last Fatimid caliph, al-‘Adid li Dinillah (d. 567 AH /1171 CE), lay dying in Cairo.Read more: The Fatimids and the Institutionalization of Sunni-Shi’ah Conflicts (Part One)
Four towering white marble minarets surmount the gate pavilion of emperor Akbar’s tomb complex.
Of all the monumental royal mausoleums of the Mughals, domed and vaulted canopies (chhatris), pavilions and, to an extent, turrets were, arguably, most extensively and most ingeniously used in Akbar’s mausoleum. One gets a feeling that such was the case due to the overall design of the building which rendered it a five-tiered structure much like a truncated pyramid enveloped by low galleries. The extensive and creative use of those canopies, pavilions, galleries and somewhat turrets was resorted to in order to accentuate the dissection, orderliness and harmony of the tomb’s spaces. Their abundant and fetching presence gives a beholder liberty to familiarize and move freely his vision from one segment of the building to another without following any particular rigid order or sequence, while at the same time maximizing the experience and absorption of the aesthetic and rhythmical qualities of the tomb. Moreover, a beholder’s vision and thus emotional attachment to the building are at once spontaneous and total, from the beginning of the process of beholding and interacting with it till the end. They are also instantaneous and non-developmental. Apart from the relatively impressive pishtaqs which mark the central bays of the four sides of the tomb, the building has no real focal point towards which a beholder’s attention could develop, or could be drawn. The building’s entire contour of a truncated pyramid is its chief lure. The building in its intricate totality is that focal point to which a visitor’s attention and mind are instantly drawn and from which they last depart when he physically departs from the symmetrical charbagh and its watercourses that house the tomb. It goes without saying that thus built, Akbar’s tomb resembled especially a Dravida style of Hindu temple architecture where the rising tower, or shikhar (mountain peak), consists of progressively smaller storeys of pavilions. Dravidian temples are also called pyramid shaped temples. Lastly, due to their unusual and indeed out-of-place position, the four white marble minarets that surmount the gate of Akbar’s funerary complex rather appear as though they are four massive outgrown turrets crowned by octagonal chhatris. The minarets thus could be viewed as an amalgam, as it were, of the two fundamental functional and ornamental elements generally in Mughal architecture: turrets and chhatris. Furthermore, the minarets thus could be viewed as a sign and symbol of virtually everything that Mughal funerary architecture stood for, as well as a sign and symbol of its strong integration, amalgamation and hybrid disposition.Read more: Main Thrusts of the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals (Part Two)
The tomb of Mariam uz-Zamani, one of emperor Akbar’s powerful wives and the mother of his son and successor, Jahangir. The tomb is located in Agra, India.
Following the advent of the Mughals, their positions and reactions to the existing royal funerary architecture culture in the Muslim world in general and in India in particular, varied. For sure, there was no standardized approach to the matter. There were no established behavioral patterns that were strictly followed. On the whole, it all depended on the personal disposition of each and every emperor and his personality, as well as on the dispositions of some of his immediate family members. Hence, one cannot speak of an evolutionary process or a growth in Mughal royal funerary architecture where, for example, Humayun’s tomb is described as “an outstanding landmark in the development of the Mughal style”, or as a “successful foretaste” of the “perfection” of the Taj Mahal. A careful examination of Mughal royal monuments highlights a number of important facts which defy the laws of purported Mughal type evolution or development in relation to its stylistic homogeny, rationality and chronology, as elaborated by Michael Brand. The first fact is that the Mughals did not construct a single dynastic mausoleum. “If, as is quite possible, Humayun’s tomb was intended by Akbar to serve such a function, then Jahangir’s construction of a tomb for Akbar at Sikandra was an implicit rejection of the notion.” Secondly, none of the Mughal emperors were buried in the same city. Thirdly, there was no one form or style adopted for all the tombs, “although Humayun’s tomb and the Taj Mahal do share similar forms, and certain themes, such as the use of white marble and garden settings, do occur. Furthermore, this diversity of form does not even develop a single direction. There are clearly too many missing links and throwbacks to support a theory of evolution marching resolutely towards the Taj Mahal.”Read more: Main Thrusts of the Royal Funerary Architecture of the Mughals (Part One)