The Most Famous Islamic Architecture in the World

The Most Famous Islamic Architecture in the World

Islamic architecture is distinct across the world for its grandness and splendour. Wherever they appear, palaces, tombs, or mosques, Islamic structures can be singled out for their adherence to architectural excellence and commitment to designs that transcend present-day trends, standing as a monument for generations to come. This article explores some of the most popular global Islamic structures and might inspire some Islam-lovers to go on an architectural pilgrimage.  

Taj Mahal, India.

The Taj Mahal is renowned not only for its architectural ambition, which is vast and all-encompassing, but also for the passionate story of love that fueled the construction of the edifice. The marble mausoleum, ivory-white and dazzling in the heat of the Indian sun, was originally constructed to house the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, wife to Shah Jahan (the fifth Mughal emperor), who died while giving birth to the couple’s fourteenth child. Commissioned in 1631 and completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal, literally Crown of the Palace, is the epitome of architectural grandeur. Sprawling over a 42-acre complex, the construction employed over 20,000 artisans and cost about US$498 million to complete (adjusted for inflation in 2023). 

It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, cited as being the jewel of islamic art in India, and attracts about 5 million yearly visitors and pilgrims. Designed in strict adherence to Islamic guidelines, the structure employs calligraphy, vegetative motifs and some Islamic text in adorning the exterior and interior of the structure, but no anthropomorphic figures.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.

Standing resplendent on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, and jutting out starkly against the Jerusalem skyline, the Dome of the Rock is an edifice of impossibilities. The Islamic shrine, which stands at the centre of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, is hailed as the world’s oldest survivor of Islamic architecture, with sundry splendorous elements to prove it.

With its architecture and mosaics patterned after nearby Byzantine churches and palaces, the octagonal structure was built on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and has, in recent years, been culled Jerusalem’s most recognisable landmark. The structure is capped at its centre by the classic Islamic dome and surrounded by outer octagonal walls and many windows. Internally, the structure is adorned with mosaics, faience and marble, and bears a lot of Qur’anic inscriptions.

Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

Built by the Umayyad ruler ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān I between 784 and 786, with extensions in the 9th and 10th centuries that doubled its size, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is a Muslim structure of much global admiration.

Measuring 180 by 130 metres, about a third of the area is occupied by the court of oranges. The deep sanctuary is supported by about 850 pillars, dividing the sanctuary into 19 north-to-south and 29 east-to-west sections, with roofs supported by porphyry, jasper, and colourful marbles. During his reign from 961–976, Al-Hakam II (the son of ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān I), extended the hall by 45 metres to the south by adding 12 more arches. This expansion is responsible for some of the mosque's most significant architectural flourishes and innovation. 

Suleymaniye Mosque complex, Istanbul

This imperial Ottoman mosque is situated on the Third Hill of Istanbul, Turkey. A masterpiece of Turkish architecture, its unique location on the hills affords a magnificent bird’s eye view of the surrounding areas. This mosque is a memorial erected in tribute to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and represents the pre-eminence of the Ottoman empire. Marble stones were repurposed from old structures in Constantinople for the construction of this structure, which took some inspiration from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Intending to build a mosque that surpassed all its predecessors, the Sultan spared no expense in erecting the structure with a lavish foreground containing a central fountain, and a courtyard (47 x 57 metres) supported by columns of marble and granite. The doors and other wooden parts of the monument are carved from walnut, olive wood and ebony wood. All materials used in the design of this monument are of finest quality and pulled from the world's most generous resources.


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

This building was commissioned in 1994 by the former president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, whose mission it was to build a grand structure that married the cultural diversity of Islam with the historical and modern values of art and architecture.

Supervised personally by the Sheikh, this project's architect employed artisans, specialists and materials from across global regions like Turkey, India, Austria and Germany; evidence of the vast economic resources of the UAE. The dome structure was inspired by the Badshahi Mosque, with quintessentially Moorish archways and distinct Arab elements. 

With a courtyard large enough to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, the architect for this project opted for the use of natural materials like crystal, marble, wood and ceramics, for their durable nature.

Have you been to any of these locations, or do you intend to visit any of these architectural wonders in the near future?