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Abbasid Dynasty: Architecture and Science Flourish

The collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate ushered in the golden age of the Abbasid Dynasty. This era produced greater advancements in arts, science, and architecture. Damascus was the political, commercial, and cultural center of the Umayyad Dynasty. However, when the Umayyad family was ousted from power and the Abbasids rose to prominence, the center of the Muslim world shifted from Damascus to Baghdad. The city of Samarra briefly rose to prominence between 836-892 AD when it was made the capital of the Abbasid Empire by Caliph Al-Mu’tasim. Only to be abandoned during the waning years of the Abbasids in the 10th century. The rise of architecture and science is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History around 900 AD.

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The Abbasid legacy in architecture was showcased in different structures built during this period. However, the magnificent mosques and palaces (qasr) reflected more of the Abbasid touch than any other structures. The Abbasid workmen in Mesopotamia and the Levant made use of materials widely available in the area. Such as cheap mud-bricks (air-dried) or more expensive baked bricks for walls, which were then finished with gypsum plaster or stucco revetments to protect the surface. Beveled geometric or vegetal patterns on glazed tile mosaics (later known as “Arabesque” pattern) decorated the walls of the mosques and palaces. Intricate calligraphy and image representations painted on walls were also common during this era.

Mosques came to define Islamic architecture. The construction of these structures was in full swing during the Abbasid era. The most important architectural elements present in mosques are the courtyard (sahn), the niche constructed in the direction of Mecca (mihrab), the tower (minaret), the dome (qubba), and the pulpit (minbar). The hypostyle and four-iwan were two of the most popular mosque architectural styles during the Abbasid period. The centrally-planned mosques came later during the Ottoman period. Mosques were more than places of worship, and prayer as the structures also served as learning centers (madrasa) for the Muslims, as well as soup kitchens for the poor.

Secular structures such as palaces, tombs, caravanserais, warehouses, bridges, and markets were also built during the Abbasid period. Only a few of these would survive into the modern times. Unlike mosques, these structures were not as heavily maintained throughout the years and some, including the city of Samarra, were simply abandoned.

“Great Mosque of Kairouan”

Structures Built During the Abbasid Period

The Great Mosque of Kairouan – Kairouan, Tunisia, 836 AD

The Great Mosque of Cordoba – C贸rdoba, Spain, 785 AD

Jawsaq al-Khaqani Palace – Samarra, Iraq, 836 AD

Al-Mutawakkil Mosque and Malwiya Tower (Spiral Minaret) – Samarra, Iraq, 851 AD

Al-Rafiqa (City Walls of Ar-Raqqa and Baghdad Gate) – Ar-Raqqa, Syria, 908 AD

Bab al-Amma or Dar al-Khalifa – Samarra, Iraq, 836-837 AD

Hirakla, Qasr al-Salam, and Al-Qadisiya – Ar-Raqqa, Syria, between 796 to 808 AD

Ibn Tulun Mosque – Cairo, Egypt, 884 AD

Nine-Domed Mosque (Masjid i-Tarikh) – Balkh, Afghanistan, 9th century

Niyariz (Neyriz) Mosque – Neyriz County, Iran, 973 AD

Mosque of Bab Mardum – Toledo, Spain, 999 AD

Mosque of Bu Fatata – Sousse, Tunisia, 838-841 AD


The economic prosperity and political stability during the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate brought about a golden age not just for architecture, but also for science. Mathematics, engineering, astronomy, chemistry, and technology all flourished during the Abbasid era. One of the most important legacies of the Islamic Golden Age was in the field of medicine. Prominent Greek physicians such as Galen, Hippocrates, and others greatly influenced the Abbasids who came across Greek texts and had them translated into Arabic. Some of the most prominent physicians and medical writers who rose during this period were Yuhanna ibn Masawaiyh who performed some of the first dissections on human corpses (then prohibited in medieval Europe because of religious reasons) and al-Razi who identified the differences between measles and smallpox.

Al-Zahrawi conducted the first known surgeries on the human body, while the Central Asian ibn Sina (Avicenna) went on to become the leading authority in medicine for hundreds of years. The first known hospital in the Muslim world was established in Damascus during the Umayyad era. The Abbasids continued the medical tradition and built another in Baghdad when they came to power. Other groundbreaking discoveries were also made in surgery, ophthalmology, hygiene, bacteriology, and other branches of medicine during the Abbasid period.

Blair, Sheila. “Islamic Architecture – Abbasid Period 芦 Islamic Arts and Architecture.” Islamic Arts and Architecture. March 12, 2011. Accessed August 24, 2016.
Bloom, Jonathan, and Sheila Blair, eds. The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Falagas, M. E. “Arab Science in the Golden Age (750-1258 C.E.) and Today.” The FASEB Journal 20, no. 10 (2006): 1581-586. Accessed August 24, 2016. doi:10.1096/fj.06-0803ufm.
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