The Cordobese Arching Systems

The systems of vertically level, intersecting arches in the Great Mosque of Córdoba are one of the most original innovations in the extension of the prayer hall executed under al-Hakam II in the years between 962 and 971. The arching systems of the Capilla de Villaviciosa and the maqsura are fashioned as a two-storey construction, rooted in the two-storey arcades of the original prayer hall, in which the arches of the upper level intersect and thus create the impression of complex netting (Figs. 1-2). The further development of this undoubtedly most successful motive in Ibero-Islamic architecture can be traced punctually. The threshold to becoming a surface ornament was already crossed by the contemporary portals of the Cordobese mosque. Here in the prayer hall, the big-scale systems of arches were transformed into small-scale blind arcades. – FG

Camps Cazorla 1953. Ewert 1967. Giese 2014.

From System of Arches to Surface Ornament

The taifa-period Aljafería in Zaragoza (between 1049-1082) follows the Cordobese models and excels them by transforming them into repeating blind arches stuccoed on the brick construction behind. In the 12th century, the mainly decorative network of arches (sebka) developed and embellished the façades of the monumental Almohad minarets in Rabat and Sevilla (around 1195) (Figs. 3-4). Exemplary for post-Almohad architecture should become the small-scale sebka nettings of the late 12th-century/early 13th-century Patio del Yeso and the Patio de la Casa de Contratación in Sevilla’s Alcázar. During the course of their transformation the contours of the arches became more and more complex just as the multi-layer systems grew gradually denser, whereas their static importance waned noticeably. – FG

Ewert 1968. Ewert 1978. Manzano 1995. Ewert et al. 1997. Almagro 2007. Tabales Rodríguez 2010.

The Triumph of Sebka

Granada’s Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo (late 13th century) attests the continuation of sebka repeated surface ornaments in early Nasrid architecture. They would reach the climax in the Lion Court and the neighbouring halls of the Alhambra’s Palacio de los Leones built under Muhammad V between 1360 and 1362. While the court arcades with their mainly decorative stuccoed netting of arches are reminiscent of the Almohad patios in the Alcázar of Sevilla (Fig. 5), the sebka networks of the interior stucco claddings are juxtaposed with the widespread star ornaments of Ibero-Islamic architecture (Figs. 6-7). Just as in the latter, the intersecting arches build the skeleton of the wall cladding enriched by vegetal décor (ataurique). A tangle of lines at first sight, the ornament’s strict geometric design is appreciated at a second glance. – FG

Pavón Maldonado 1975. Almagro/Orihuela 1995. Fernández-Puertas 1997. Pavón Maldonado 2004.
Fig.1 (en)

Fig. 1. System of intersecting arches of the Cordobese maqsura (Monumentos 1859-80, case 4, cuaderno 75).

Fig.2 (en)

Fig. 2. System of intersecting arches of the Capilla de Villavisiosa (Monumentos 1859-80, case 4, cuaderno 66).

Fig.3 (en)

Fig. 3. General view of the Giralda in Sevilla (Taylor 1832, Pl. 40).