The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Islamic Art

What is the difference between Christian and Islamic architecture?

When looking at examples of Christian and Islamic religious architecture, one might be surprised that there are often many similarities. Both churches and mosques often feature central domes, and some early mosques, like the Dome of the Rock, resemble centrally planned churches in their use of the ambulatory. While the nave of a basilica-plan church is often filled with pews, mosques have open floor plans, which allows Muslims to kneel and pray using prayer rugs. The exterior of a mosque is notable for its tall minarets, which are not used in church architecture, though both styles emphasize monumental height and grandeur. In terms of decoration, many (though certainly not all) Christian churches are filled with mosaics, painted narrative scenes, and stained glass windows featuring stories from the Bible. Mosque decoration also features passages from the Qur’an; however, this is visualized using calligraphy, due to Islam’s iconoclastic approach to art. Both early churches and mosques rely heavily on mosaics for decoration.


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