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Art, Faith and Empire in Early Islam
The Great Mosque of Damascus is an iconic monument of world architecture, and the oldest mosque still standing in something close to its original state. This book is the first in-depth study of its foundation by the Umayyad dynasty, just as the first Islamic century was drawing to a close.
Towards the end of 705, the Umayyad caliph al-Walid determined to build a new monumental mosque at the heart of his capital Damascus. This required the seizure of a church that had stood there since the forceful closure, centuries earlier, of the Roman temple of Jupiter, the walls of which still stand today. When the Christians refused to cede their building, al-Walid decided to take it by force. This controversial act broke with the consensual politics of the early Islamic empire and triggered a major crisis, the ripples of which were felt as far afield as the Byzantine Empire. Still, events ran their course. Once the rubble of the church was cleared, al-Walid and his supervisors deployed complex logistics to create a building of dazzling opulence and splendour that marked a turning point in mosque architecture.
The book anchors the foundation of the Umayyad Mosque in its pre-Islamic past and brings to life the commotion that followed the destruction of the church. Alain George explores the process whereby craftsmen and materials were gathered to build the new mosque, seeks to reconstruct its Umayyad appearance, and investigates the subtle aesthetics that underpinned its stupendous ornament. This beautifully illustrated volume is based upon extensive research on new textual and visual sources, including Umayyad court poems and rare nineteenth-century photographs.
Alain Fouad George is I.M. Pei Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Oxford. Born in Beirut, educated in France and England, he taught previously at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on early Islam, especially Umayyad and Abbasid art, and Arabic calligraphy. He is the author of The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy (2010), Midad: The Private and Intimate Lives of Arabic Calligraphy (2017), and Power, Patronage and Memory in Early Islam: Perspectives on Umayyad Elites (2018, co-edited with Andrew Marsham). In 2010, he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize.
‘…this sumptuously illustrated and beautifully produced book…shows us that there is still much to learn from buildings we thought we knew. Alain George fires the imagination through his careful but evocative reimagining.’
Scott Redford, Times Literary Supplement
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