Crystalline Paradise  
               Moorish Spain 2012 Symmetrical Photographs      
                Double-page illuminations for "An Imaginary Book" Chapter IV 

Click on the images to enlarge

Crystalline Paradise is the fourth in a series of nine core projects or "chapters" for "An Imaginary Book" inspired by my travel experiences in Turkey in the spring of 2011, and my studies of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge that has since followed.  All of the core projects, my Preface, the Epilogue and more are available at  "An Imaginary Book" which offers a brief illustrated introduction to each of the online projects.  Steven D. Foster 

Moorish Spain
After having completed the first three chapters of "An Imaginary Book" I became obsessed with the idea of traveling to Spain to see the wondrous examples of Islamic gardens and architectural decorations at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Alcazar in Seville, and the great mosque in Cordoba, Spain -- all places that had been referenced in practically every book I had been reading by the Islamic scholars on the sacred art and architecture of Islam.  I felt I really needed to experience these places for myself; and I thought perhaps the photographs I would make on the trip could be used as source material for yet another project of Four-fold symmetrical photographs.  

However I did feel somewhat apprehensive: the Four-fold picture-making process had been for me about transformation, about imaginatively raising "earthbound" subject matter I had photographed into visual symbols of a "higher" order.  Given the celebrated artistic perfection of these buildings I wanted to see, with their grand ornamentations and paradisal gardens and the sacred space of the Cordoba mosque, I worried that my visual transformations would not provide the necessary transcendence to carry my special subjects beyond their existing culturally elevated status.  

Gloria and I traveled to Spain on a ten day tour in the Spring of 2012, almost exactly one year following our trip to Turkey.  (See our itinerary) 

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The Crystallization of Form  
This picture of paradise is composed not merely of murmuring water, 
the scent of flowers, and the song of birds, but also of the enchanting 
contrast between the luxuriant vegetation and the cyrstalline architecture.  
The true paradise possesses both these qualities in equal measure -- 
the fullness of life and the immutable nature of crystal. Titus Burckhardt

At the very heart of Islamic sacred art and architecture is the mystery of the Point and its OriginThe origin of the Point is associated with such mysterious concepts as the VoidNothingEmptiness, Eternity, Divine Presence.  From the Point comes the line, from the line comes the circle (with the Point of Origin at its center), and from the circle comes the crystallization of all geometrical forms and their repeating, rhythmical patterns.     

To prepare us for the photographs you'll be seeing in this project I thought it best to introduce you to some ideas which pertain not only to the pictures I have made, but also to the subject matter I photographed.  Following are some text excerpts by two Islamic scholars.

Keith  Critchlow Islamic Patterns An Analytical and Cosmological Approach  
Islam’s concentration on geometric patterns [which are based upon mathematical laws of repetition] draws attention away from the representational world to one of pure forms, poised tensions and dynamic equilibrium, giving structural insight into the workings of the inner self and their reflection in the universe.  

The circle is the archetypal governing basis for all the geometric shapes that unfold within it . . . reflecting the unity of its original source, the point, the simple, self-evident origin of geometry and a subject grounded in mystery.  

The circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end,  just being. . . In the effort to trace origins in creation, the direction is not backwards but inwards.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:  Islamic Art and Spirituality 
The Islamic doctrine of Unity places emphasis on the "otherness" of that which is Ultimate Reality, that is, emphasis upon the truth that God is completely beyond all that the ordinary mind and the senses can conceive as reality in the usual meaning of the term.  If we consider God as the Ultimate Substance or Pure Being, then there is an aspect of nothingness or void which lies in the very nature of the whole created order.  God and His revelation are not identified with any particular place, time or object.  Hence His presence is ubiquitous.  He is everywhere, in whichever direction one turns.   

Many calligraphic designs are justly famous as much for the patterns created from empty spaces as for the lines traced by the script itself.  Through calligraphy as well as the arabesque and the geometric patterns, an awareness of the relation between the void and the Divine Presence is achieved in Islamic art; an awareness which is also closely related to the spiritual attitude of poverty (faqr).

The void symbolizes the sacred and the gate through which the Divine Presence enters into the material order which encompasses man in his terrestrial journey.  The void is the symbol of both the transcendence of God and His presence in all things. . . Whenever and wherever the veil of matter is removed, the Divine Light of Unity shines through. . .  Hence "Whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God" (Qur'an, 11:115).    

The use of the void in Islamic art became, along with the use of geometric and other forms of abstract symbolism, is the only way to indicate the Unity which is at once everywhere and beyond all things.  Emptiness in Islamic art becomes synonymous with the manifestation of the sacred.   
(click here for additional selected texts on these themes)

Keith  Critchlow Islamic Patterns An Analytical and Cosmological Approach  
Islamic art is predominantly a balance between pure geometric form and what can be called fundamental biomorphic form . . .  The one aspect reflects the facets of a jewel, the purity of the snowflake and the frozen flowers of radial symmetry; the other the glistening flank of a perspiring horse, the silent motion of fish winding their way through the water, the unfolding and unfurling of the leaves of the vine and rose.  The Islamic art of geometric form can be considered the crystallization stage both of the intelligence inherent in manifest form and as a moment of suspended animation of the effusion of content through form. 

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Between the Photographs
For this project I have interspersed selected text excerpts by Islamic scholars between the photographs, and in some cases I've included my own additional comments.  I feel the texts shed revelatory light upon the images, and the project as a whole.  The selected texts are in italics, and have been taken from my Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge webpage.  My personal notes are in this typeface.

Spain Travel blog
I created an informal travel blog of our visit to Spain intended for friends and family.  It contains lots of "snapshots" plus some personal comments and interesting bits of contextual information about the things we saw and places we visited on our trip.  I thought perhaps you might find it interesting as well; and it provides the unusual opportunity of seeing many of the source images I used in the construction of the Crystalline Paradise four-fold symmetrical photographs.  Visit: Spain Travel Blog.

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The Alhambra Palace 
Granada, Spain
"A Crystalline Paradise"


 The Alhambra - built in the mid 14th Century - is a very large Morrish fortress overlooking Granada.  It's surrounded by two sets of massive protective walls plus the luminous, snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It has some of the most beautiful Islamic 
architectural decoration and traditional Islamic gardens ever created.  
Just above the Alhambra is the King's private garden, Generalife. 
The great Islamic scholar Titus Burckhardt (1) wrote: 
"Inside the massive walls of the citadel 
lay hidden a crystalline paradise."

click on the images to enlarge

Spain #1:  Waterfall, Alhambra Palace 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Water is the secret life of the Alhambra.  It produces the luxuriant growth of the gardens and the splendor of the bloom schrubs.  It reposes in the pools which mirror the magnificent, pillared halls, and cascades at the fountains, and murmurs in the narrow channels that flow through the very center of the royal apartments.  "A garden flowing with streams" is the Qu'ran's description of paradise. (1)  

Note: the waterfall above, about three feet in height, is the water from the melting snows of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.  This intimate, decorative fountain-like area was in a wall just inside the public entrance to the Alhambra.  (SF)

Spain #2: Alhambra courtyard with reflecting pool  
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Islamic gardens were not enjoyed for their sake alone, but in the full knowledge that they were a reflection of the bliss of the heavenly gardens to come.  (3)

Spain #3: Reflections in the garden pool of Alhambra's Court of Myrtles  
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The trials of life, like life itself, are as transient as a reflection in water. . . This world is an illusion, an ephemeral reflection of the eternal Heavenly realm.  One of the principle roles of water and reflections in an Islamic garden pool is to remind us that anything reflected in water is inverted, an image of an image.  St. Paul wrote: "An intelligent man, seeing the image of a tree in a pond will look up to see the tree itself.  A wise man seeing the tree will look beyond it to the archetypal tree standing inverted at the centre of the universe."  (3)

Spain #4: Water fountain, Generalife - the King's private garden above the Alhambra
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

"The fountain in my midst" runs an iscription in the Alhambra's Hall of Ambassadors "is like the soul of a believer, immersed in remembrance of God."  In the Qu'ran, al-janna has several meanings -- "garden" and "concealment" and "paradise".  The plan of the heavenly garden always includes four rivers of paradise flowing towards the four quarters of heaven, or from them towards the center.  (1)

Note:  The above photograph is not the typical symmetrical image you will see in Crystalline Paradise.  It does not have a strong center point from which the image radiates outwardly.  Nonetheless this photograph was constructed using repeated parts from the same one image.  Like the Alhambra, which has multiple gardens and fountains spread throughout the estate, each fountain in this image represents the center point; and many of the repeating forms in the image have their own center points as well.  This photograph, then, with it's multiple center points, is not unlike the Alhambra -- or the whole world itself -- with it's many gardens and fountains.  

Every place on earth is directly attached to the Meccan center, and it is in this sense that the Prophet said, "God has blessed my community by giving them the face of the whole world as a sanctuary."  The center of this unique sanctuary is the Ka'ba, and the believer, who prays in the universal sanctuary, finds that all distance is momentarily abolished.  (2)

Spain #5: Goldfish in a garden reflecting pool
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The longing, more often unconscious than conscious, for serenity of soul is like a vague memory of our primordial nature when man was at peace with his Creator in the Garden of Eden and therefore at peace with his own soul.  In order to regain this primordial paradise those seriously committed to the spiritual path must reach the state of constant remembrance of God.  The Islamic garden can be an aid in this remembrance; like all sacred art it provides a sanctuary as well as a solace for the tired or troubled soul, putting worldly cares into perspective. (3) 

Note: In Islamic traditions, the fish is a symbol of knowledge or wisdom, and water - a symbol of life.

Spain #6: Looking up at cyprus trees from inside an Alhambra courtyard 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

This picture of paradise is composed not merely of murmuring water, the scent of flowers, and the song of birds, but also of the enchanting contrast between the luxuriant vegetation and the cyrstalline architecture.  The true paradise possesses both these qualities in equal measure -- the fullness of life and the immutable nature of crystal. (1) 

Note: this image was used as a source image for the opening photograph in the sixth project, Infinite Beauty.  I mention this because the transformation that occurs form the original "snapshot" to this image, and then from this image to the repetition field image in the Infinite Beauty project is, to me, not only surprising but quite extraordinary.  Click here to see the Infinite Beauty version of the above image.  SF

Spain #7: Alhambra ceiling, covered by Islamic "stalactites" 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Paradise is created from divine light, and the Alhambra is made up of light.  For the forms of Moorish architecture -- the frieze of the arabesques, the trelliswork etched into the walls, the sparkling stalactites of the arches -- are all used not so much for their own sake, but to display the nature of light.  The innermost secret of this art is an alchemy of light, for just as true alchemy aims at "transforming the body into spirit, and the spirit into body," so does the art of Granada dissolve the solid bodies of the structure into a mass of shimmering light by transforming the light into immobilized crystal.  (1)

My Conundrum: The image above is an example of what I knew I would have to face when photographing the Alhambra.  The ceiling stalactites were already perfect, magical, transcendent architectural ornamentation known as mukarnas which were expertly crafted by Islamic artisans according to certain mathematical formula.  If you could have stood under the actual ornamented ceiling that I photographed for the picture above, you might not have seen anything all that different from what my Four-fold photograph has manifested here.  

Thus, I have had to ask myself: "Why did I make this symmetrical photograph? and why am I showing it to you here?"  

It seems to me the Four-fold process has not succeeded in transforming my original subject to a higher order of visual meaning.  But, having now confessed this, I must say this as well: photographs are absolutely not what was photographed; they are distinctly different objects from the things of the world that was photographed.  

Though the transformation in the image above is not so obvious, that is to say perhaps not obvious enough to elevate the source photograph into the status of pictorial symbol, as such the Four-fold process simply becomes a kind of affirmation, a visual continuum of the transcendental nature of the thing that was photographically documented.  In a rather ironic turn, this may be a strength of the image rather than a weakness, and if so, I shall be content.  But then, am I merely fooling myself?  I have similar concerns for certain other images below.    (SF)

Spain #8: "Honeycomb" mukarnas 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The ornamental art of the Alhambra is a science, and in order to appreciate it fully it is necessary to know its underlying principles.  One of its elements is the arabesque, which is developed in an almost unlimited variety of ways.  It is not merely a substitute for figurative art, which is forbidden by Islamic law, for, apart from the fact that this law is diversely interpreted, the arabesque, with its rhythmic repetition, serves quite a different artistic purpose than does pictorial art.  It is a direct contrast to it, as it does not seek to capture the eye to lead it into an imagined world, but, on the contrary, liberates it from all preoccupations of the mind, rather like the view of flowing water, fields waving in the wind, falling snow or rising flames.  It does not transmit any specific ideas, but a state of being, which is at once repose and inner rhythm.  This is abstract art, without any subjective, semi-conscious tentativeness about it, composed by entirely conscious rules.  (1)

Spain #10:  Alhambra ceiling design, carved wood gold painted
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The geometrical roses or stars that continuously run into one another and develop out of each other are essentially the product of the Islamic spirit.  They are the purest simile for the manifestation of divine reality which is the center throughout, in each creature and in each cosmos, without any being or any thing being able to claim to being its soul reflection, creating an unending reflection of centers in each other.  The "unity of being" however, is expressed in two different ways in these "spiders webs of God" -- by being woven from one single band, and in the way they radiate from many identical centers.  Work of this kind filled the Muslim artist with satisfaction as none other could.  This art provides man with a framework worthy of his dignity, to make him its center, and at the same time to remind him that he himself is God's representative on earth.  (1)

Spain #11:  Patterned Wall Decorations
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Sacred art is strikingly impersonal through its transcendence of the individual.  All the more fitting therefore that it should be anonymous, as in fact so much of it is deliberately anonymous resulting from the consciousness of this or that artist that the work in question is not, ultimately speaking,"his".  (5)

Spain #13: Version 2  The Walls surrounding the Alhambra
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Geometry represents the essence of nature through abstract pattern; this means that every geometric form carries a qualitative, symbolic meaning.  Traditional Islamic art is centered on Divine unity.  Through order and harmony as manifested by geometry and rhythmic interlacement in art (arabesque), the essential nature of the created world, the underlying unity within the multiplicity of forms, can be made visible.  (3)

Note:  The above image anticipates the kind of repetition field imagery that was to come later, for the sixth project Infinite Beauty.  

Spain #14:  Generalife Courtyard Terrace  
 Symmetrical Photograph 19x25" 

Spain #16:  Shaped bushes, Alhambra courtyard 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Note: when I saw the sculpted or shaped bushes at the Alhambra I was rather shocked.  I had not expected to see this kind of man-handling of the things of the Natural world.  My visual response here may appear, to some, equally surprising, or perhaps even humorous.  I have used the image above in a more elaborate composition for the Infinite Beauty project.


The Alcazar of Seville

Originally a Morrish fort built in the 10th century by the first Caliph of Andalucia,  
 the Royal Alcazar was built in the 14th century and today it is actually used  
 by the Royal Family as its official Seville residence.   
The interior room ornamentation and the  
traditional Moorish gardens 
are stunningly 

click on the images to enlarge

Spain #17: Alcazar reflecting pool and sunken gardens: Patio of the Maidens
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Nature and beauty are outward symbols of an inward grace.  Throughout the Qur'an the faithful are exhorted to meditate upon these signs or symbols, since everything in the created world is a sign or a symbol of God. . .  The world should be seen for what it is -- an illusion (maya, in Hinduism) that both veils and reveals the archetypal heavenly world.  When a civilization is centered on the sacred, whether it be Islamic, North American Indian or medieval Christian, the practical is always an inextricable link to the spiritual.  This is the language of symbolism -- linking the everyday activities back to their heavenly archetype. . . The Islamic garden can be seen as an open air sacred art, the content, form and symbolic language all combining to remind the visitor of the eternal, invisible realities that lie beneath outward appearances. (3)

Spain #18: Alcazar Wall Decorations
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Together, the void and the "positive" material form, color and so forth, depict the full reality of an object, chiselling away its unreality and illuminating its essential reality as a positive symbol and harmonious whole.  The combining of these two aspects is seen clearly in the arabesque, so characteristic of Islamic art, where both the negative space and the positive "form" play an equally central role.  The arabesque enables the void to enter into the very heart of matter, to remove its opacity and to make it transparent before the Divine Light.  Through its extension and repetition of forms interlaced with the void, the arabesque removes from the eye the possibility of fixing itself in one place, and from the mind the possibility of becoming imprisoned in any particular solidification and crystallization of matter.  This refusal to identify, even symbolically, any concrete form with the Divinity stems as much from the Islamic insistence upon Divine Unity as it does upon the absence of an icon which would symbolize the God-man or the incarnation found in other traditions.  (6)  

Remember: you can Click on any of the images to enlarge them for closer more detailed viewing viewing.  (SF)

Spain #19:  Decorative Tile, displayed in the Alcazar
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

In Islamic art the "arabesque" encapsulates Nature and represents her inward essence in abstracted form rather than Nature in her outward visible form.   The aim is to represent Nature as a whole, the organic natural rhythms of the universe.  Islamic art captures the imagination and directs it upwards towards heaven, to the Creator Himself, rather than drawing it down into the world and emphasizing the illusion.  Nature is understood as a reflection of the glory of God, not an end in herself.  Islamic art offers the viewer a glimpse of an imaginal universe, closer to the higher realms of heaven. (6)

Note: I constructed the image above from a photograph of a single ancient ceramic tile that was on display in a glass case in the Alcazar.  (SF)

Spain #20:  Alcazar wooden cupola, carved and painted wood, over the Hall of the Ambassadors 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25" 

Spain #22:  Wall and ceiling ornamentation, Alcazar, Chromatic Field 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Spain #24: Alcazar cistern: Baths of Lady Maria De Padilla, Chromatic Field
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

It is through harmony that Divine unity is reflected in the world, harmony being nothing other than "unity in multiplicity", and the same as "multiplicity in unity".   Interlacement expresses the one aspect and the other.  But it is in yet another respect that it recalls the unity underlying things, namely that it is generally constituted from a single element, a single rope or a single line, which comes endlessly back upon itself. (2)

Spain #25:  Marble Steps going down into the basement of the Alcazar
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Spain #26:  Fish Feeding Time in an Alcazar Pond,  version #1: "Gorgon's Mask"
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

A plurality of microcosms is represented by the ornamental units in mosque decoration, for example each with its own centre echoing the Qur'an verse 11:109  "Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of God" for the multiplicity of the world is as a non-transparent veil, where as Islamic sacred art presents multiplicity as a veil through which oneness can be clearly seen.  (5)

Note: Again, in Islamic traditions, the fish is a symbol of knowledge or wisdom, and water is a symbol of life.  The image used to construct the symmetrical photograph above was one of three exposures made after a young child had thrown some food into the pond.  All the fish swimming nearby rushed to the food in a fury.  The next two photographs, below were made from the other exposures I made of this same event.

Spain #27:  Fish Feeding in an Alcazar Pond, version #2
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Islamic art is predominantly a balance between pure geometric form and what can be called fundamental biomorphic form . . .  The one aspect reflects the facets of a jewel, the purity of the snowflake and the frozen flowers of radial symmetry; the other the glistening flank of a perspiring horse, the silent motion of fish winding their way through the water, the unfolding and unfurling of the leaves of the vine and rose.  The Islamic art of geometric form can be considered the crystallization stage both of the intelligence inherent in manifest form and as a moment of suspended animation of the effusion of content through form. (4)  

Spain #28:  Fish Feeding in an Alcazar Pond, version #3
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Islamic art is primarily concerned with geometrical form as it relates to the circle -- as the circle is the symbol par excellence for the "origin" and "end" of both geometric and biomorphic form.  At the same time all those rhythms in flowing line that we recognize as the intervals in everyday life -- breathing, blinking, heartbeat, digestion and so on -- reflect our intimate connection with the cosmic rhythms of day, month and year.  The circle is also, then, the primary cosmological symbol, one of wholeness and unity. (4)


The Sacrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain.  Unfinished masterpiece
 of architect Antoni Gaudi (1853-1926).
Gaudi wanted those who experienced 
The Sacrada Familia, a basilica, 
to experience the wonders 
of nature, as if one
 were inside 
a forest. 

click on the images to enlarge

Spain #29:   Ceiling #1,  Gaudi's Sacrada Familia
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Note: It may seem odd that I have included in this project -- which is devoted to symmetrical photographic transformations of Islamic mosques, palaces, and gardens -- these two symmetrical images of a basilica designed by a contemporary architect.  I personally do not think Gaudi would be offended by my treatment of his luminous, forest-like architectural wonder which, through the Four-fold process, has become transformed into an image that is slightly more crystalline-like.  I prefer to believe he would have appreciated this transformation, and perhaps would have taken it as a form of praise, not just of him and his work, but of the invisible, transcendent nature within the forms and spaces.   

Spain #30:   Ceiling #2,  Gaudi's Sacrada Familia
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"


The Seville Cathedral
Largest Gothic Cathedral and the third 
largest church in the world.
 Inside is the Memorial 
and burial site of 

click on the images to enlarge

Spain #31:  Seville Cathedral Pillars
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Note: Again, if one were to question me as to why I would make symmetrical transformations of this wonderful though somewhat dark and amazingly large Gothic Cathedral which contains the memorial monument to Christopher Columbus. . .  and include it in a project celebrating Islamic sacred art . . . I might in defense be compelled to say that, not unlike the many mosques that were taken over by the Christians (for example, the great mosque of Cordoba, in which the Christians placed a "black spider" [i.e., a cathedral made of dark mahogany wood] in the very middle of a luminous Islamic "forest" of palm tree - like pillars) . . . I have sympathetically sided, for at least the moment, here, with the Islamic artisians and "taken over" the Seville Cathedral by turning its source images into something a little more like a Crystalline Paradise.  And, need we be reminded that Christopher Columbus was no saint?  (SF)    

Spain #32:  Seville Cathedral, Memorial to Christopher Columbus
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Spain #33:  Seville Cathedral floor design
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"


Toledo, Spain
Surrounded by the Tajo River and fortress walls, Toledo was the 
former Capital of the ancient Spanish Empire. It was the home
 of the great painter El Greco (1541-1614).  Toledo was once
 a place of great religious tolerance and peaceful  
coexistence between the Muslims, Christians 
and Jews.  It was a great center of
 Jewish learning and is the home
 of the beautiful and perhaps
the oldest Synagogue 
building in Europe, 
which was designed by 
a Morrish architect.

click on the images to enlarge

Spain #34: View of Toledo on the Tajo River
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The concept of unity is the fundamental message of the Qur'an.  Thus existence is entirely centered on the consciousness of Divine Unity and this means that everything in the created world -- all of phenomena -- is transparent; that is, behind the ephemeral beauty of the outward form lies the ineffable spirit within.  It is this invisible, eternal and transcendent quality that gives the world of nature and all of manifestation its meaning; all else passes away. (3)

Spain #35:  Santa Maria La Blanca 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Spain #36:  Santa Maria La Blanca
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

The nature of origins or the creation-point of a subject is grounded in mystery.  The nature of a point -- the simple, self-evident origin of geometry -- is one such mystery.  Starting with a luminous point the first line is the extension from this point.  The limits of this extension having been reached, rotation takes place to encompass the next domain -- an area.  With this enclosure formed, a cycle is completed, a "world" in the form of a circle.  The circle becomes the archetypal governing basis for all the geometric shapes that unfold within it.  From the basic circle . . . emerge the three basic shapes: the triangle, the hexagon and the square.  From their interrelatedness comes repeating patterns and the mathematical foundation of the laws of repetition upon which islamic geometrical art is founded.  (4)

Spain #37:  Santa Maria La Blanca
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"


The Great Mosque of Cordoba
Once the Capitol of an Islamic caliphate, Cordoba was home of 
many masterpieces of Islamic architecture including the 
 Great Mosque of Cordoba.  At the site of the mosque 
there was originally once a pagan temple, then 
 a Vishigothic Christian Church, and then 
 eventually the Moors built a new  
mosque on the site.  
After the Spanish Reconquista it became a Roman Catholic church 
with a plateresque cathedral later inserted into 
the center of the large Islamic building.  
One Islamic scholar referred to the 
cathedral part of the mosque as 
a "black spider".  See my 
comments for
Image 31

Spain #38: The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Pillars and intersecting Morrish arches
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

In Islam there is no priestly hierarchy as in Christianity, and the architecture of the Cordoba Mosque is planned accordingly, with the endless repetition of the same pillars and bays of arches.  Wherever a worshipper happens to be standing or kneeling on a mat, for him that spot is the center of the mosque, indeed of the world.  Like the branches of the date palm, the pillars are linked by horseshoe-shaped arches which appear to be suspended like so many rainbows in the sky.  The whole structure seems to expand and extend outwards as the eye travels upward; the fan-shaped alternation of light and dark voussoirs intensifies this impression - the impression of a room that appears to fan outwards from many centers, and is at once motionless and mobile. (1)

Spain #39:  Prayer-niche, or Mihrab at the Great Mosque of Cordoba 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"
 Ezan (Vertical) Diptych #9:  Prayer Stone, divided    19x25"   double-page illumination

Prayer-niches have existed in mosques since the earliest times, and are reminiscent of some of the more mysterious passages in the Qur'an: of the "niche of lights," a symbol for the divine presence in the heart, and of the holy of holies (Mihrab) of the Temple of Solomon, where, according to the Qur'an, the Virgin Mary was fed as a child by an angel.  The vaulted niche is, in itself, one of the most ancient forms of sanctuary, the place where God manifests himself. In the Islamic context its ancient function is restored, in that the word of God revealed in the Qur'an is recited in it.  All this explains why the architecture of the prayer niche expresses this feeling, which in Arabic is described as al-heyba, an approximate translation of which would be, "fear of the tremendous." (1)

Spain #40:  Cordoba Mosque, Dome above the Mihrab 
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Spain #41: The Great Mosque of Cordoba
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

By using the intersecting arch in addition to the horseshoe arch, the Moorish architect produced an exceptionally rich structure in which everything contributes to the effect of static clarity as well as to the great, pulsating rhythm.  It is this combination of qualities that appeals most to the Islamic spirit and to Arab thought.  Geometric forms without rhythm are sterile and lifeless, and rhythm without geometric clarity produces discordant emotion.  The reality of the world itself consists of the interweaving of perpetuity and rhythmic change, of space and time: "You see the mountains and consider them to be immovable, and yet they pass like the clouds," says the Qur'an. (1)

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Note:  Please continue on to chapter five of "An Imaginary Book" entitled  The Tree of Life.  The Tree of Life plays a significant role in the Traditional Wisdom of Islam.   

Related Projects and other links:

          "An Imaginary Book": The Complete Collection of Islamic sacred art inspired projects
          Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge

Note: the quotes above are from the following sources.   In some of the "quotes" I have taken some liberties in the hope of creating added clarity to make up for lack of context.

Titus Burckhardt
1)  Moorish Culture In Spain                    
2)  Art of Islam: Language and Meaning

Emma Clark        
3)  The Art of the Islamic Garden
Keith Critchlow     
4)  Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach

Martin Lings
(5)  Splendors of Qur'an Illumination

Seyyed Hossein Nasr
(6)  Islamic Art and Spirituality      
Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.