Mudejar architecture in simple terms: key features & examples
Mudejar architecture is a fun style that emerged in the Iberian Peninsula after the Reconquista, blending the beauty of Islamic and Christian elements. It originated during medieval times (11th-15th century) and has recently experienced a revival in the form of Neo-Mudejar style.
In this post, you can see pictures and videos of some iconic Mudejar Spanish and Portuguese architecture. And to help you understand what you are looking at, I explain key features of the Mudejar style architecture.
You don't need to be an architect to enjoy Mudejar architecture, but having some knowledge about this style can make your experience even more enjoyable, when you look at Mudejar style buildings.
Structural elements in Mudejar architecture:
Mudéjar style around the world
Highlights of Mudejar ARCHITECTURE
Cool arabesque patterns!
Horseshoe shaped, lavishly decorated archways and domes!
The Chapel of Saint Bartholomew in Cordoba, Spain, is a fine example of Mudejar style architecture in Andalusia.
It is a rare case of the use of all elements of Mudejar style together in one small room. You can see pictures of the Mudejar style vault, Mudejar style arches, ornate wood carvings, Moorish tiles and other elements of Mudejar style, complimenting each other in one small room.
What is Mudejar style
What is Mudejar style of architecture?
Mudéjar is the name given to the unique style of old architecture developed in the Iberian Peninsula after the Reconquista. It combines Islamic decorations and Christian architecture. It even has some Jewish influence reflecting the rich cultural history of the region, with Córdoba Synagogue being the best example.
Let's clear up some definitions about the origin of the term Mudéjar.
What is the origin of the Mudéjar?
The term "Mudéjar" [moo-the-hah-r] comes from the Arabic word mudajjan. It means "those who are allowed to stay"—a reference to the Muslim people who were allowed to remain in the Iberian Peninsula Christian territory under Christian rule, but didn't convert to Christianity. Read the detailed account of Muslim life in Spain, covering the period from the fall of Seville to the Christian reconquest in Harvey book 'Islamic Spain, 1250 to 1500'.
Where the term Mudejar art come from?
The term Mudejar art was created by an art historian named José Amador de los Ríos y Serrano. It refers to the Mudéjars, who were important in bringing Islamic-inspired decorations into the Christian architecture and arts of Iberia.
History and Origins of Mudejar architecture
Mudejar style architecture appeared during a period of cultural exchange between the Moorish Muslim rulers in Al-Andalus and the Christian rule settlers who had conquered much of the region by the late 11th century. The last Muslim state in the peninsula was the Emirate of Granada, which was located in the southern Spain and fell to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.
Gifted Islamic craftsmen continued their traditions working with decorative Islamic art motifs and patterns, but they started to apply them to traditional Christian architecture. This exchange created a a distinct new style: a unique blend of architectural styles, with features of both Islamic architecture and Christian architecture together, that became known as Mudéjar.
The Mudéjar style has been influential in many areas around the world, particularly in Latin America, where it was adopted by settlers from Spain during colonial times.
It has also been adapted into modern Islamic architecture in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey, making it a truly global influence.
Let’s see what characteristics define Mudejar architecture.
Magnificent dome celling in Sevilla's Royal Alcazar
Combination of Islamic and Christian Styles of Architecture
Mudejar style was used as a way to integrate the two cultures, Islamic culture and Christian culture, and it features elements from both in unique ways.
Mudéjar style buildings are characterized by their combination of Islamic art elements and Christian elements of architecture. They often feature intricate decorative elements: geometric patterns, arabesques, carved intricate calligraphy inscriptions and star shapes. These elements reflect the influence of Islamic architecture, which was prevalent in Spain during the Middle Ages.
At the same time, architectural features such as columns, domes, and arches have been used in a way that is characteristic of Gothic and Romanesque Christian architectural styles. And quatrefoils were decorative elements typically used for Christian religious buildings.
Budlings materials used in Mudejar architecture were also a mix of both traditions.
This blend of two styles has created a distinct new style - Mudéjar.
Christian architectural styles that influenced Mudejar architecture
The Christian architectural styles that influenced Mudejar architecture include:
Gothic architecture emerged in Europe in the late 12th century and lasted until the 16th century. It featured pointed arches, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults, stained glass windows, and intricate decoration. It drew inspiration from Romanesque, Byzantine, and Islamic art, and reflected the religious and artistic ideals of the medieval period.
Some of the characteristics that Mudejar architecture uses from Gothic architecture are:
The use of:
pointed arches, which are arches that have a sharp apex and two curved sides that meet at a point.
The use of ribbed vaults, which are vaults that have projecting ribs or bands that divide the surface into sections.
The use of stained glass windows, which are windows that have colored glass pieces arranged in patterns or scenes.
However, Mudejar architecture is different from Gothic architecture in the following ways:
- It uses materials and techniques influenced by Islamic tradition, such as bricks, glazed tiles, and ornamental tracery, which create a beautiful and detailed decoration.
- It incorporates horseshoe arches, which are curved arches that narrow at the bottom. These arches are derived from Islamic architecture and are a distinguishing feature of Mudejar art.
- It includes square or cuboid towers, which have a simple and solid shape. These towers are also influenced by Islamic architecture and are a contrast to the round or polygonal towers of Gothic architecture.
The resulted Gothic-Mudejar style is characterized by the use of brick and glazed tiles in the decoration of the walls, arches, and vaults. Some of the notable examples of this style are the Alcazar of Seville, the Teruel Cathedral , and many Palaces in Alhambra.
An angled entryway, typical of the Gothic style, surrounded by Moorish tiles results in Mudejar style element.
2. Renaissance-Mudejar style: This style was a fusion of Mudejar and Renaissance elements, which was popular in the 16th century.
Renaissance architecture is a style that revived the classical elements of ancient Greece and Rome, such as symmetry, proportion, and harmony, in Italy and other parts of Europe. It is characterized by the use of columns, arches, domes, and pediments, often in churches and palaces.
Mudejar architecture “borrowed” the use of columns, arches, domes, and vaults from Renaissance style .
But there are also differences between Mudejar and Renaissance. In Mudejar architecture, bricks, tiles, tracery and decorative paster are the main materials and techniques used. On the other hand, Renaissance architecture primarily utilize stone, marble, and simple plaster as its main materials and techniques.
Buildings in this resulting Renaissance-Mudejar style style feature ornate woodwork, intricate plasterwork, and tilework.
The Palace of Carlos V in Granada and the Church of San Francisco in Santiago de Compostela are examples of this style.
3. Baroque-Mudejar style:
Baroque architecture is a style that took the naturalistic and theatrical aspects of the Renaissance to the next level. It was popular in Italy and other parts of Europe. This style is known for its emphasis on contrast, light, motion, and ornamentation. Baroque architecture is characterized by curved and twisted forms, intricate scrolls, and the use of sculptures. It is often seen in the design of churches and palaces.
Baroque-Mudejar style emerged in the 17th century. It used many decorative elements of Baroque architecture, in addition to its own characteristics. The resulting Baroque-Mudejar style was characterized by the use of polychrome ceramic tiles and colorful decoration.
The Royal Chapel of Granada and the Palace of the Marquis of la Vega Inclan in Sevilla are examples of this style.
Elaborate decorations and Moorish tiles result in Mudejar style element.
Key features of Mudéjar architecture
3 Key Groups of Elements
Mudejar style of architecture can be characterized by three key groups of elements:
1. Ornate decorations: Mudejar architecture is known for its intricate and elaborate decorative elements. These include quatrefoils, star patterns, Kufic inscriptions, muqarnas, arabesques, and ornate tiles, which were commonly used to embellish walls, ceilings, and other architectural features.
2. Structural architectural elements: Mudejar architecture incorporates distinctive structural elements such as domes, arches and vaults. These elements add depth and complexity to the overall design.
3. Distinctive building materials: A defining characteristic of Mudejar architecture is the use of brick walls covered with stucco or plaster. These building materials not only makes the Mudejar buildings durable but also added to their unique appearance, blending decorative and practical aspects.
Let's look at all these key elements in details.
Decorative Elements of Mudejar ARCHITECTURE
There are some distinctive decorative elements in architecture built in Mudejar style, such as quatrefoils, star patterns, Kufic inscriptions, muqarnas, arabesques and ornate tiles.
Quatrefoils are one of the most recognizable decorative elements of Mudéjar style architecture.
Quatrefoils (four-petaled flowers) are geometric designs that feature four lobes or petals arranged into a symmetrical star-like shape.
Often seen as an ornamental motif on both the interior and exterior of buildings, quatrefoils can be found on walls, ceilings, doors or other architectural features. The quatrefoil is believed to have originated from Islamic art and design, which was then adapted by Christian architects working in Mudéjar style during the Middle Ages.
Quatrefoils are also used in many other architectural styles, including Gothic and Renaissance architecture, making them a versatile and timeless design element.
A typical example of quatrefoils decorative element of Mudejar architecture.
A typical example of quatrefoils decorative element of Mudejar architecture
Arabesques refer to intricate, flowing patterns of foliage, geometric shapes, and intertwining lines. They are commonly used in Mudejar architecture to create decorative motifs on various surfaces such as walls, ceilings, and arches.
Arabesque patterns are often made up of geometric shapes, like circles and stars.
Aren't they fun?!:)
These patterns can be seen in wooden windows found in Mudejar buildings across Portugal and Spain.
The use of arabesque patterns within the windows adds an element of beauty and elegance, while still maintaining a connection to the Islamic roots of the Mudéjar style.
Fun and happy arabesque pattern on the wall in Alhambra, Spain. It was so beautiful I took a rare selfie to save the moment of happiness from seeing that room.
Here is a typical example of Mudejar style element - arabesque pattern on Alcazar de Real in Spain
Latticework is a type of decorative feature often seen in Mudéjar style buildings, mostly on the windows and door frames.
Latticework is elaborate metal or wood carving interlocked to form geometric shapes. These shapes: stars, circles, squares and triangles add an extra layer of detail to the building's interior or exterior.
This creates stunning Mudejar art.
True Mudejar buildings were decorated by Muslim craftsmen. How did they achieve such artful beauty?
In order to create latticework designs, one needs to measure out the size and shape of the desired design first. Once these measurements are obtained, a saw or jigsaw should be used to cut each piece; then nails or screws can be used to connect them together. When all the pieces are connected, any rough edges should be sanded down and paint can be applied if necessary for a finished look.
This creates latticework that not only astounding, but long lasting. We all can just admire what the Islamic craftsmen of Andalusia created in 13th through 16th centuries, and the current Spanish and Portuguese's Governments preserves!
This one of the reasons European destinations are so popular! They have timeless art to admire!
Here is another beautiful example of an Mudejar style elaborate woodwork over an archway
Here is an example of a Mudejar elaborate woodwork over an archway in Alcazar de Real in Sevilla
Kufic inscriptions: These are decorative Islamic calligraphy inscriptions in Kufic script, often used to embellish walls, ceilings, and arches in Mudejar architecture.
Stalactite work: Stalactite work, also known as muqarna, is a unique architectural technique that involves creating ornamental designs using three-dimensional, hanging, and interlocking structures resembling inverted stalactites. Used primarily in ceilings and vaults, stalactite work adds depth and complexity to Mudejar architectural designs.
In Mudejar architectural style, ornate tile-work is a prominent feature that adds a unique and distinctive touch to the design. The use of ornate tile-work in Mudejar architecture is a reflection of the Islamic tradition of using intricate geometric patterns and calligraphy in their art and architecture.
The tiles used in Mudejar architecture are typically made of glazed ceramic and are often brightly colored. They are used to decorate walls, floors, and ceilings, and are arranged in intricate patterns and designs. The patterns often include geometric shapes, floral motifs, and calligraphy, and are arranged in a way that creates a sense of harmony and balance.
Looks at the staircases. Aren't they fun?! :)
Distinct style of building materials; Use of Brick, Plaster and Ornate tile-work
Mudéjar architecture has its own distinct style of building materials. Mudéjar buildings are often constructed with brick walls, covered with stucco or plaster, and ornate tile work to create intricate patterns and designs that can be seen on walls, ceilings, vaults, and other architectural elements.
This combination of building materials creates this distinctive style, typical of Mudejar style.
Mudejar architecture in medieval Spain and Portugal is famous for its use of Mudéjar style plaster.
This decorative plasterwork is known for its intricate patterns and carvings inspired by Islamic art. It is made by combining sand, limestone, gypsum powder, and water, which are then spread on walls or ceilings and carved into beautiful designs.
The plaster can also be enhanced with vibrant colors by adding different pigments.
Mudejar style plaster is versatile and widely used in modern architecture for both interior and exterior decoration. It adds elegance and charm to homes, hotels, and other buildings.
The unique combination of materials and decorative elements gives Mudéjar architecture its distinct appearance.
A great example of a distinctive element - Mudejar style plaster on this archway in Royal Alcazar. Notice the infusion of blue and brown pigment in the plaster.
Arches are a fundamental element of Mudéjar architecture; they are both decorative features and structural elements. These arches create an open and airy feel that helps to bring light into the building and provides a sense of space. Using multiple arches also allows for complex designs and inner courtyards, commonly found in Mudéjar buildings.
Horseshoe arch is one of the typical arches in Mudejar style of architecture.
The horseshoe arch, also known as the Moorish arch and the keyhole arch, is a specific type of arch. It has a curved shape like a horseshoe and extends downwards beyond the flat line of its diameter. This means that the bottom opening of the arch is narrower than its full width.
Fun looking entrance horseshoe arch in Cordoba, Spain
Horseshoe shaped archway in Mudejar architectural style in Seville Cathedral.
Vaults are another important element of Mudéjar architecture.
A vault is an arch-shaped structure that is used to span a space and provide support for the roof or ceiling of a building. They can often be seen on ceilings or walls, creating interesting shapes that add depth to the design.
The vaults themselves can be constructed using different material like stone, steel, or other materials and provide stability while keeping the space open and airy. Vaults are commonly seen in Mudéjar architecture as they help to keep the unique aesthetic of an Islamic-influenced building, while creating large open spaces - domes.
Watch the video at the beginning of this post about Sant Bartholomew Chapel to see the best example of Mudejar vaults both on the ceiling and the wall.
This vaulted ceiling in a closer in Geronimo Monastery is an example of a typical element in Mudejar architecture - vaults. It also shows another element of Mudejar style - arches.
Domes in Mudejar architecture
Domes were an important feature of Mudéjar architecture.
Domes are semi-circular or polygonal structures that provide strength and stability to a building, while at the same time creating an impressive aesthetic when adorned with decorative motifs.
Use of intricate tile work in domes made them a key element of the Mudéjar style.
A fine example of the Mudejar dome - the dome in Sintra National Palace.
Contribution of Jewish culture to Mudejar style
Do you know that besides being a blend of both Islamic and Christian cultural features together, Mudéjar style of architecture has also some Jewish influences? That happened because of the Spanish diverse population back in medieval times that were all living and building, and creating peacefully together.
Read more about contribution of Jewish culture to Mudejar architecture in my other post.
This rich cultural exchange helped shape the Mudéjar style of architecture and made it a unique symbol of Spain's multicultural heritage and Spanish architecture.
the examples of mudejar architecture
To learn main characteristics of Mudejar architecture, read my post above. Here, you can find the best examples of buildings in Mudejar style.
Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain
The Alhambra Palace is one of the most famous examples of Mudéjar architecture and the Spanish architecture in general. This palace was built by the Muslim rulers of Al-Andalus in the 13th century and features a unique combination of Islamic and Christian elements. It includes several towers, courtyards, gardens, pools and other decorative structures as well as intricately carved stonework and ornate tile-work.
The Alhambra is one of the most notable examples of the use of ornate tile-work in Mudejar architecture is the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. The palace is adorned with intricate tile-work that covers the walls, floors, and ceilings, creating a stunning visual effect.
It's impossible to describe all the amazing examples of Mudejar architecture in Alhambra, so I will just write another post about it soon.
The Royal Chapel in Granada, Spain
Another example of Mudéjar architecture is the Royal Chapel in Granada, Spain. The chapel was built in 1536 and features a stunning Mudejar style dome with complex carvings and colorful tiles. The dome is made up of two different levels; an upper level with more elaborate designs and a lower level with simpler designs that are still striking to look at.
Sintra National Palace
Sintra National Palace is a stunning and fun example of Mudejar Architecture is not to be missed! Learn more about it by following the link to my post.
examples of Mudejar architecture seville
A few of the most iconic examples of Mudéjar architecture are found in Seville, Spain.
The ceiling in the Alcazar de Real in Seville, Spain (above) is the best example. This stunning example of Islamic-influenced art features intricate plasterwork and tile designs that create a beautiful effect. The ceiling contains a plethora of symbols and motifs, including quatrefoils, stars, latticework and Arabesque patterns that draw inspiration from traditional Islamic art.
The rest of Alcazar de Real in Seville has many amazing examples of Mudejar (and other) architectures, especially The Palace of Pedro I - the heart of the Alcázar of Seville, and deserves a separate post.
Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain
Casa de Pilatos in Seville, Spain
Mudéjar Pavilion in Maria Luisa Park, Seville, Spain (below).
Cathedral of Seville
Mudejar Pavilion in Maria Luisa Park, Seville, Spain is another wonderful example of Mudejar architecture in Seville. Also known as the Pavilion of King Alfonso XIII, it was constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition.
The pavilion beautifully combines Islamic and Christian influences, featuring intricate brickwork, colorful ceramic tiles, and exquisite arches that are characteristic of Mudejar style.
As you explore the pavilion, you will enjoy grandeur of Moorish splendor, and every meticulously crafted detail.
The orange trees surrounding the Pavilion, and the rest of the garden are also worth at least an hour of your visit.
Toledo, Spain has many great examples of buildings and churches in Mudejar style and deserves a separate post.
Here is the 13th century Church of San Roman. Toledo has many other examples.
examples of Mudejar architecture in Toledo, Spain
Jeronimos monastery in Lisbon, Spain
The Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Spain is usually categorized as an example of Manueline stile. But it also has many examples of Mudejar architecture, like vaulted ceiling and intricate stonework. Built in the 16th century, this monastery is composed of two structures: the main church and the Cloister of Saint Jerome.
There are many examples of Mudejar architecture in Spain and Portugal in diffferent cities.
Here is a list of a few cities, with their best examples of Mudejar architecture.
- Cathedral of Santa María de Mediavilla in Teruel, Spain or Teruel Cathedral. This Cathedral is the world heritage site. It's tower, the dome and the roof are well preserved Medieval structures in Mudejar style and are decorated with Aragonese Mudéjar art.
- Tower and church of San Pedro in Teruel, Spain
- Church tower of San Martín in Teruel, Spain
- Church of San Miguel
There are several 12th century mudejar buildings in Aragon, Spain, that reflect the artistic and cultural fusion of Islamic and European influences. I have another post about Aragonese Mudejar buildings.
- Church of San Pablo
- Church of San Nicolas
- Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas
- Church of San Esteban
Viso del Marques:
- Palace of the Marquis of Santa Cruz
- Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
- Palace of the Counts of Barcelos
- Palace of the Counts of Ourém
- Palace of the Counts of Redondo
Celorico de Basto:
- Palace of the Counts of Basto
- Palace of the Counts of Vimioso
- Palace of the Counts of Ficalho
- Palace of the Counts of Alcáçovas
- Palace of the Counts of Avintes
- Palace of the Counts of Vila Flor
- Palace of the Counts of Castro
- Palace of the Counts of Almada
- Palace of the Counts of Penafiel
- Palace of the Counts of Alvor
-Sintra National Palace.
In what city do you see great examples of Mudéjar?
What is the meaning of Neo-Mudéjar?
Neo-Mudéjar is a contemporary interpretation of Mudéjar art styles that were prevalent in Spain and Portugal during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This artistic style incorporates traditional Mudéjar elements like arches, tiling, and brickwork, alongside modern materials such as cast iron and glass.
As this style has been gaining popularity in the region, some Spanish architectural companies have taken these designs to the Arabic-speaking countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Eastern Arabia.
As well as impacting architecture from the West to the East, Mudéjar characteristics have been influencing modernizing styles across many different countries.
Muslim architects are embracing technical advances while also keeping true to their aesthetic expertise reminiscent of Mudéjar styles and art. It's inspiring how they stay true to traditional forms while at the same time innovating new designs that continue to be sought after both locally and worldwide.
Mudéjar style around the world
Mudejar architecture and style has spread across Europe and the world over many centuries, influencing a variety of other architectural styles.
In Latin America, Mudejar architecture has left a strong imprint on many colonial cities, especially in Mexico and Peru. These structures are characterized by their use of bright colors, ornate geometric patterns, and intricate details. In the Middle East, Mudejar styles have been adapted to incorporate modern materials like steel and glass, but still keep the same decorative motifs found in historical Mudéjar structures.
Mudejar architecture is a style of architecture that is particularly significant in architectural history because it combines the architectural styles of Muslim, Christian and even Jewish cultures. So, basically all the groups living back then!
The Mudejar style also had an influence on later architectural trends, such as the 19th century Neo-Mudejar style of architecture. As a result, Mudejar architecture is a key part of Spanish architectural history and has had a lasting influence on the development of architecture both in Spain, Portugal and around the world.
We must appreciate and preserve buildings in Mudejar style, as they are not only beautiful but also represent a significant point in history.
So the next time you visit a region with examples of Mudejar architecture, take some time to admire its intricate details and appreciate the fusion of a few cultures that created this stunning style. Besides, they are just so incredibly beautiful and unique!
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