What are Muqarnas?
Dazzling, prismatic and intricately symmetrical, muqarnas is a stunning three-dimensional decoration unique to Islamic architecture.
Made of plaster, brick, glazed tile, wood or stone, muqarnas (moo-KAR-nas) is characterized by sloping tiers of niche-like cells that alternate with brackets and stalactite-like pendants projecting and hanging over those below. Although scholars generally believe that the word in Arabic derives from the Greek koronis and Latin coronis, no Arabic dictionary explains the way it is used in Islamic architecture, suggesting that it is a popular or technical term rather than a literary one. Medieval chroniclers rarely mentioned the term; one exception was the 12th-century-CE Andalusian traveler Ibn Jubayr, who wrote of a minaret he saw in Makkah: “It has carvings in the plaster of elongated form as if they were mihrabs. It is surrounded by qarnasa of exquisite workmanship.” Despite muqarnas’s scant presence in the literary record, it is one of the few architectural forms that became popular in a variety of materials across the Islamic lands from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
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