Moorish architecture is a variation of Islamic architecture. There are many motifs, or repeated patterns, in Moorish architecture. This photo gallery illustrates just a few. The first slide gives an overview of the motifs: different styles of arches, calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tiles.

Moorish architecture is named after the Moors, North African people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and many islands in the Western Mediterranean beginning in the 700s. The Moors controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years.

The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East. Although mosques are the most common examples of Moorish architecture, motifs spread to the design of homes and places of businesses. One of the most famous examples of Moorish architecture, the Mezquita or Grand Mosque of Cordoba, Spain, is today the region's Catholic cathedral.

Read the captions associated with the photo gallery and review the relevant vocabulary words in the "Vocabulary" tab. Then answer the questions in the "Questions" tab.

  1. Many buildings constructed in the Moorish architectural style are mosques, Muslim places of worship. What buildings included in the photo gallery are NOT mosques?

    • Answer

      The Ben Youssef Madrassa (slide 2), the Alhambra (slide 3), Cordoba Cathedral (slides 5 and 7), the gateway arch (slide 6), the Dome of the Rock (slide 8), and the Minaret of Jam (slide 9) are not mosques.

  2. What building, constructed as a mosque in the Moorish architectural style, is now a Christian church?

    • Answer

      The Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain, was originally built as a mosque.

  3. What photos depict minarets?

    • Answer

      Photos of the Minaret of Jam (slide 9) and the Imam Mosque (slide 11) include minarets.

  4. Most buildings constructed in the Moorish architectural style include Arabic script. Which photos do NOT depict such calligraphy?

    • Answer

      Photos of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (slide 4 ), the prayer hall of Cordoba Cathedral (slide 5), the gateway arch (slide 6), the Royal Mosque (slide 12), Sepahsalar Mosque (slide 13), tile (slide 14), and Wazir Khan Mosque (slide 15) do not include calligraphy. All of these buildings, however, have calligraphy incorporated elsewhere on the building.

  5. Which of these buildings are in Europe?

    • Answer

      The Cathedral of Cordoba and the Alhambra are in Spain, and the Blue Mosque is in Istanbul, Turkey.

arch
Noun

shape that looks like an upside-down "U."

architecture
Noun

style and design of buildings or open spaces.

calligraphy
Noun

decorative handwriting or script.

cathedral
Noun

important regional church.

cusped arch
Noun

arch with circular shapes cut into its interior.

Dome of the Rock
Noun

Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, Israel.

emirate
Noun

state or territory under the authority of an emir, or Islamic leader.

faience
adjective, noun

type of painted pottery that has a tin glaze.

grotto
Noun

natural or artificial cave.

intrado
Noun

interior (smaller) part of an arch.

Islam
Noun

religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

keyhole arch
Noun

arch that has a generally rounded shape, although it can be pointed or lobed. Also called a Moorish arch or horseshoe arch.

madrassa
Noun

school where Muslim theology is taught.

masonry
Noun

construction made of stone or brick.

Middle East
Noun

region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.

minaret
Noun

tower used to call Muslim worshippers to prayer.

Moor
adjective, noun

people and culture native to North Africa, blending Arab and Berber cultures, who established a major civilization on the Iberian Peninsula between 756-1492.

mosque
Noun

place of worship in the Muslim or Islamic religion.

motif
Noun

theme or subject that reappears in a work of art.

muqarna
Noun

decorative stone or brickwork jutting out from a wall, used in Islamic architecture.

Quran
Noun

holy book of the Islamic religion.

tendril
Noun

narrow, thread-like part of some plants that usually winds around something to help support the stem or main part of the plant.

vegetative
Adjective

having to do with plants, or the non-reproductive parts of plants, such as vines and tendrils.