Kaaba Tiles (more questions than answers)

Ever since my recent visit to Istanbul, Kaaba tiles have been swirling around in my mind. I first discovered them during a trip to Turkey two years ago, when I thought that I’d get home and look them up on the magical interwebs and find information and images to sift through to my heart’s delight. Not so much. Before we go further, here’s one, from the Mosque of Rustem Pasa (in Istanbul):

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Kaaba tile, Mosque of Rustem Pasa, Istanbul

Just look at it for a minute – see the Kaaba (the black rectangle) in the middle? See the minarets around the outside? See how there are six? Well, a seventh one was added to the actual mosque that surrounds the Kaaba after the Blue Mosque (Mosque of Sultan Ahmed) in Istanbul was built with six minarets. Of course, the mosque at Mecca, the center of Islam, had to have one more. So a seventh one was built at the Al-Masjid al-Haram (surrounding the Kaaba and meaning “the sacred mosque”) in 1629. Does that mean that this tile dates to before 1629? It seems like it must, but as with most questions about these tiles, then again, it may not.

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What a Difference Color Can Make! Prokudin-Gorskii’s Photos of Samarkand

I recently learned about these photographs taken in the Russian Empire between 1905 and 1915.  Not being overly interested in the Russian Empire (Not that it’s not interesting! It’s not you, Russian Empire, it’s me.), I didn’t take much notice, until I saw this, of the Bibi Khanym Mosque in Samarkand (in Uzbekistan):

Bibi-Khanym mosque (late 14th century). Dome from the southeast side. Samarkand. Photo by Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, taken between 1905-15. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Prokudin-Gorskii Collection Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich

And this of the Gur-e Amir Mausoleum, also in Samarkand, where Timur (Tamerlane) is buried:

Entrance into the Gur-Emir mosque (late 14th cent, actually a mausoleum). Samarkand. Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, photo taken between 1905-15. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Prokudin-Gorskii Collection

Are they or are they not stunning?  And it gets better!  The photographer, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, was an early practitioner of color photography. (Read all about it here.)

Dome of the Gur-Emir mosque from eastern side, 14th century. Samarkand. Photo by Prokudin-Gorskii, taken between 1905-15. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Prokudin-Gorskii Collection

AND he traveled around the Russian Empire with a darkroom in a rail car, provided by Tsar Nicholas II, who also supported other aspects of Prokudin-Gorskii’s journeys. Continue reading

The Dome of the Rock: A Whirlwind Tour

The Dome of the Rock popped up on the screen recently in an Islamic architecture class that I’m sitting in on, and I thought, oh yeah!  The Dome of the Rock!  When I looked into it again after class, I realized that I’d forgotten how rich and complicated it is. So rich and complicated that I’ve really been struggling with this post, trying to figure out what the point is.  Here’s what I’ve come up with: 1) The Dome of the Rock is breathtaking beautiful; 2) The Dome of the Rock is somewhat mysterious; and 3) The Dome of the Rock may be an Islamic building, but it’s firmly rooted in architectural traditions that came before it.

Let’s start with the beauty. Take a look:

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, 691 CE

Wow flipping wow!  Doesn’t that knock your socks off? Continue reading