"I looked in temples, churches and mosques but I found the divine within my heart” - RUMI
What is sacred architecture?
What makes a sacred places sacred?
These questions have resonated strongly in me since the early days of university and remain deeply active to this day. At 21 years of age I did a summer tour of Europe, which was a rite of passage at the time. My aim was to see the great works of art and architecture that proliferated everywhere on the continent, a richness that seemed almost unfair to a person of the new world.
I saw much that was impressive and wondrous. The gothic cathedrals, most particularly Notre Dame and Chartres, were far more moving than I could have imagined like offerings to heaven expressed through aspirational forms. Yet nothing had prepared me for what I saw in Spain.
The Alhambra Palace in Granada was a revelation: intricate geometric patterns exactly and exquisitely drafted on every surface, rich tile work with colours as deep as the sea, perfectly proportioned courtyards soothed by gentle streams of water…all so harmoniously integrated and evoking an otherworldly sense of wonder and awe. The Meszquita in Cordoba presented something entirely different. In what was once the open courtyard of a magnificent 8th century mosque lays a glittering baroque cathedral. Many see this as the debasement of a sacred place of worship. Others see it as a symbol of hope in which two Abrahamic traditions respectfully co-exist through architectural co-habitation. I walked away from the Mesquite with the feeling that both may be true.
These experiences inspired me to embark on a personal study of Islamic architecture and the geometry underlying its designs. Over the years I have nourished my interest in sacred places by travelling through Uzbekistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Egypt (where I lived and worked for 4 years), Yemen, Mexico, Kenya, Zanzibar, Oman, Algeria, and Libya ever in search of unique and special architecture that produces both subtle and powerful effects on the observer.
Is it that we are simply touched and uplifted by beauty or are sacred places designed to induce a specific effect i.e. a spiritual feeling?
How do we go about exploring this?
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