Stalactites of Stucco

Muqarnas is an architectural element existing in the whole Islamic world, which is not only used for vaulting in various ways, but also in the form of capitals, arches, friezes or in niches (Figs. 1-2). In al-Andalus, the oldest existing muqarnas dates from the Almohad period, while Nasrid architecture has developed particularly sensational specimen. Thus, the Palace of Lions, built under Muhammad V between 1362 and 1391, stands apart from the other palatial buildings of the Alhambra because of its minute muqarnas vaults. The gypsum domes of the Sala de los Abencerrajes and the Sala de las Dos Hermanas, often being compared to stalactites, aroused the interest of architects such as Jules Goury and Owen Jones, or Konstantin Uhde at an early date (Figs. 3-4). – FG

Goury/Jones 1836-1845. Girault de Prangey 1837-39. Girault de Prangey 1842. Uhde 1892. Tabbaa 1985. Fernández-Puertas 1993. Ibrahim 2002. Pavón Maldonado 2004.

A Mathematical Problem

The strictly mathematic-based designing procedure of muqarnas varies regionally. In al-Andalus, the complex figures of muqarnas were assembled from ready-made standard elements (Fig. 5). The design process of the multi-leveled muqarnas domes was especially challenging (Fig. 6). According to its tripartite layout with starting point, central section and vertex, the points of abutment were set first, to fit the general design in the available space, and only then the rising middle section was formed. For this purpose, the geometric system underlying the vault had to be established, and the main and lateral stars to be positioned within the overall structure (Fig. 7). Setting the vertex section followed the elaboration of the intermediate space along the different levels’ contours. – FG

Uhde 1892. Dold-Samplonius 1992. Necipoğlu 1995. Ibrahim 2002. López Rodríguez et al. 2003. Pavón Maldonado 2004.

The Suspended Sky of Stars

The making of muqarnas vaults from stucco can be observed in Morocco until today. Using templates from thick cardboard, wooden negative forms are produced, in which the mentioned standard elements are moulded. These are then assembled to build particular vaulting segments, which are set onto a prefabricated skeleton of gypsum arches on the construction site. The fixture is mostly achieved through wooden hangings on the walls and ceiling. The vaulted surface is then covered with stucco, smoothed or textured, and eventually painted. Muqarnas vaults of that type are therefore never self-supporting, but require fixation to the wall or ceiling behind, as has been recently demonstrated during the renovation of the vaults of the Sala de los Reyes in the Alhambra. – FG

Paccard 1980. Ibrahim 2002. Pavón Maldonado 2004.
Fig.1 (en)

Fig. 1. Different application fields of muqarnas (Girault de Prangey 1837-39, Pl. 16).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. Muqarnas dome in the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Girault de Prangey 1842, Pl. 17).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. Muqarnas dome in the Sala de las Dos Hermanas (Goury/Jones 1836-1845, vol. 1, text to Pl. 10).