The muqarnas (Arabic: مقرنص; Persian: مقرنس) is a form of architectural ornamented vaulting, 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 "honeycomb" vaults from their resemblance to these. They are used for domes, and especially half-domes in entrances and apses, mostly in traditional Islamic and Persian architecture. When some elements project downwards, the style may be called mocárabe; these are reminiscent of stalactites, and may be called "stalactite vaults".
Muqarnas developed around the middle of the 10th century in northeastern Iran and almost simultaneously — but seemingly independently — in central North Africa. Examples can be found in 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. They are also found in Armenian architecture.
Muqarnas are typically applied to the undersides of domes, pendentives, cornices, squinches, arches and vaults. Muqarnas are concave-downwards shapes; a vertical line can be traced from the floor to any point on a muqarnas surface. They are also 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 seen in the image. See these diagrams for clarity.
Muqarnas do not have a significant structural role. The muqarnas need not be carved into the structural blocks of a corbelled vault; they 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.
Some modern muqarnas have been designed, if not built, with concave-up sections.
- VirtualAni website. "Armenian architecture glossary". Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Curl, James Stevens (2006). A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (Paperback) (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860678-8.
- 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 muqarna geometry, with traditional and computer-assisted new designs.
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