Muqarnas (Arabic: مقرنص; Persian: مقرنس) is a form of ornamented vaulting in Islamic architecture, the "geometric subdivision of a squinch, or cupola, or corbel, into a large number of miniature squinches, producing a sort of cellular structure", sometimes also called a "honeycomb" vault. It is used for domes, and especially half-domes in entrances, iwans and apses, mostly in traditional Persian architecture. Where some elements project downwards, the style may be called mocárabe; these are reminiscent of stalactites, and are sometimes called "stalactite vaults".
The muqarnas developed from the squinch between the 10th and 11th centuries, in the region of Iran and Mesopotamia. They were typically grouped together to form "stalactite pendentives", to make the transition from square base to dome. The earliest examples come from fragments in Nishapur in Iran, and some of the earliest extant structures are: the Shrine of Imam al-Dawr in Iraq (1075-1090), the minaret of Badr al-Jamali's masshad in Cairo, dated by inscription to 1085, a cornice in Cairo's north wall (1085), the Great Mosque of Isfahan (1088), the Almoravid Qubba (1107-43) in Marrakech, the Great Mosque at Tlemcen in Algeria (1136), the Mosque of the Qarawiyyin in Morocco (rebuilt between 1135 and 1140), and the maristan of Nur al-Din in Damascus (1154). The largest number of muqarnas domes are to be found in Iraq and the Jazira region of eastern Syria, with a diverse variety of applications in domes, vaults, mihrabs, and niches. Other prominent examples of their development can be found across Morocco and by extension, the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the Abbasid Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, and the mausoleum of Sultan Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt. Large rectangular roofs in wood with muqarnas-style decoration adorn the 12th century Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily, and other important buildings in Norman Sicily. Muqarnas is also found in Armenian architecture.
Muqarnas is typically applied to the undersides of domes, pendentives, cornices, squinches, arches and vaults. Muqarnas cells are arranged in horizontal courses, as in a corbelled vault, with the horizontal joint surface having a different shape at each level. The edges of these surfaces can all be traced on a single plan view; architects can thus plan out muqarnas geometrically, as the image illustrates. See these diagrams for clarity.
Muqarnas do not in most applications have a significant structural role, remaining completely ornamental, but did have a structural role in the earliest forms of muqarnas domes in the Mesopotamian region, and decoration was not its primary purpose from its creation up until the building of the Alhambra. Muqarnas need not be carved into the structural blocks of a corbelled vault; it can be hung from a structural roof as a purely decorative surface. Muqarnas may be made of brick, stone, stucco, or wood, and clad with tiles or plaster. The individual cells may be called alveoles.
Muqarnas is generally a downward-facing shape; that is, a vertical line can be traced from the floor to any point on a muqarnas surface. However, some muqarnas elements have been designed with upwards-facing cells.
High-resolution detail from the Alhambra, showing horizontal courses; the clearer one zigzags across at about 1/3 of the way down.
Medieval architect's plan of two muqarnas vaults, from the Topkapı Scroll
Corbelled vault carved into muqarnas, showing method of suspension for pendant points
- Architecture of Iran
- Islamic architecture
- Islamic geometric patterns
- Mathematics and art
- Ottoman architecture
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- Muqarnas : A Three-dimensional Decoration of Islam Architecture. Contains a database of over a thousand plans of extant muqarnas, indexed by location and geometry.
- Abstract, Nexus 2004, Muqarnas, Construction and Reconstruction
- Modern muqarnas forms, Animated GIF version
- Informative page about muqarnas from the School of Islamic Geometric Design
- polygonal computer models
- Page with VRML interactive 3D models
- Slideshow on muqarnas geometry, with traditional and computer-assisted new designs.
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