Gracious living in the towns of Muslim civilization
A 16th-century manuscript by Matrakci shows the town plan of Diyabakir in southeast Turkey
(Source: 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, page 190)
The Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt, was founded in 972, and is pictured here in 1831. The mosque played a central role in the everyday life of Muslims. It was located in the heart of the city, with homes and businesses branching out from it in different directions. (Source: 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, page 189)
From Córdoba to Damascus and Baghdad, old streets still remain intact in some ancient towns, providing glimpses of life 1,000 years ago.
The Spanish cities of Córdoba and Seville still retain areas of their old towns in which you can glimpse how life was lived centuries ago under Muslim rule.
Towns planned in Muslim civilisation centred around the mosque, with its crucial role in religious and civil life. Nearby would be the market, where traders sold food, spices, candles, and perfumes. Business districts would also incorporate bookshops, libraries, and health centres.
Bathhouses, or hammams, were a feature of every town, often in elegant buildings with sumptuous tiled walls, fountains, and decorative pools. A visit to the hammam, with its steam rooms, heated baths, and cold plunge pools, was part of every Muslim’s daily routine. Men and women would bathe at different times of day.
Away from this bustling center, along narrow streets, you would ﬁnd residential zones. Houses had inner courtyards with gardens and terraces, kept private with walls high enough to stop a camel rider from peering over. Compared to other European cities of their day, these towns were advanced, with paved roads, litter collection, and even covered sewers.
An aerial view shows the Andalusian village of Zuheroin Córdoba, Spain.
(Source: 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, page 188)
Córdoba was one of the world’s most advanced cities in the tenth century, and even had oil lamps to light its streets after dark. Farther east, Cairo had multi-story buildings and roof gardens.
View of Timbuktu by Heinrich Barth 1858 (Source)
Gardens symbolised an earthly paradise for many people during Muslim civilisation. Intended to promote contemplation, gardens and gardening spread across the Muslim world from Spain to India, from the eighth century onward. As well as providing food for the kitchen, these green spaces with their distinctive features still inﬂuence garden design today.
Geometrical ﬂowerbeds, shallow canals, and fountains emerged as new features of gardens in the ninth century. Fountains and garden water features became very popular in palaces and mosques across the Muslim world. Although water was scarce in many hot countries, water displays incorporated jets that changed shape, or later, even mechanisms for telling the time. Many of these features impacted on European formal gardens designed centuries later.