When one culture mixes with another, what lasts is often what works. In Britain it was Roman roads and baths. In Spain it was, and remains, the architectural heritage and style of the Moors. First introduced from North West Africa 1,300 years ago, the beautiful and striking essence of Moorish architecture remains and continues to be a template for property builders and developers in the area.
Their presence may have disappeared 500 years ago, but their Islamic architectural influence very much remains in the character and heritage of areas like Granada, often termed the ‘Moorish jewel’. The best surviving historical examples of it dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries are La Mezquita, the Roman Catholic Cathedral and former Mosque in Cordoba, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
The Moorish style features more than just horseshoe arches and intertwining patterns. Elaborate decoration, intricate mosaic work and ornate ceiling carvings also play their part, as do the regal surroundings. This is most notably characterised by the presence of an interior courtyard or ‘riad’, which has its origins in Morocco and other parts of the Islamic world in the Middle East.
Also at the heart of any Moorish building is the use of nature and light. Many Moorish features emanate from the desert-like conditions found in parts of North West Africa, on the edge of the Sahara. The use of water is central and hugely important to the Moorish style and architecture. Every part, be it a room, a courtyard or a garden, utilises water. Indeed, interior courtyards typically feature a spring of running water from nearby mountains. Fountains, reflecting pools and tiny canals that run through floors combine aesthetics with cool refreshment from the year round weather.
Modern moorish fountain
As important as the use of water is the use of light. Depending on the property and the room or courtyard, the light may be full, filtered, reflected, or made to create elaborate designs across floors according to taste. Double height ceilings are also typical, ensuring the retention of the Mediterranean light well into the evening. Both the use of water and light, introduced over 1000 years ago, were considered highly sophisticated at the time compared to existing practices throughout Europe.