Islamic Art Mirror || of the Invisible World 2019 || History Of Documentary

Islamic Art Mirror || of the Invisible World 2019 || History Of Documentary


[music playing] NARRATOR: The narrative
of human history is punctuated by war
and conquest, triumph and catastrophe. But in the end, what endures? It is not the struggle that has
lasting in our consciousness and treasured in our museums. It is the outpouring of
creativity and intelligence that is civilization’s
greatest gift. The true legacy
of Islamic culture is revealed in the
nuance and ingenuity of its art and architecture. D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: That feeling of the encounter with
majesty, the encounter with monumentality,
it transcends culture. It transcends history. It is a kind of universal
human experience of the arts. We use art, we use architecture
to crystallize our deepest emotions and our
deepest aspirations for an understanding of
our place in the world. NARRATOR: These
monuments and artifacts continue to inspire us. They herald the finest
qualities of Islamic culture and show us the best of
individual achievements. Each contributes a
crucial part in the ascent of world civilization. [music playing] [music playing] The seventh century was a
turning point in history. In Europe, the
Germanic tribes that had overrun the Roman Empire
struggled for supremacy as they shaped their
feudal kingdoms. To the east, the once great
empires of Byzantium and Persia were weakened by centuries
of mutually destructive wars. At that moment, the
tribes of Arabia began one of history’s
greatest revolutions in power, religion,
culture, and wealth, united under the new faith of Islam. From its birth in the
Arabian Peninsula, Islam spread across the basin
of the Mediterranean Sea, eventually we changed
from Indonesia to Spain. And from this
diverse civilization, and the extraordinary
wealth of its rulers, came an outpouring of artistry. Objects and buildings,
gardens and paintings reflect how this
new culture grew in a varied and complex world. RUBA KANA’AN: It’s not only
about beautiful things. It’s not only about looking
at specific techniques or how a beautiful
object looks in a museum. It’s more like a
window on a culture. Islamic art is a reflection
of the people and the context in which it was produced. AFSHAN BOKHARI: And
that, of course, makes art even that much
more important because it is a reflection of
who we are, and what we are, and will be memorialized
in the years to come. NARRATOR: The
themes that emerged as Islamic art developed
show us the similarities in our common cultures, how
our techniques and styles are shared and transformed. D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: Well, there are aspects of art
and architecture that are universal, that
you don’t need to learn to appreciate to get it. So I might have to learn Arabic
to read the inscriptions, but I don’t have to read
Arabic to appreciate the purity of
simple black script on a white background
on a plate. It is elegance,
and it’s elegance that speaks through
the centuries. NARRATOR: In Muslim
tradition, Islam began in 610 in a
cave in Mecca, where an angel came upon
the prophet Muhammad and revealed to him
the words of the Koran. In the first revelation, God
proclaimed himself the creator and said, “Read, for your
Lord is the most generous, the one who taught
the use of the pen, taught man what
he did not know.” More than poetry,
more than a holy book, it was the very word of God. SHEILA S. BLAIR: For Christians,
God’s gift was his son. He sent down his
son to save mankind. For Muslims, god sent
down a revelation. So the parallel is between
Christ and an oral revelation. Because God’s gift to mankind
in Islam is the Koran, writing becomes the central
feature of Islamic culture. And the use of the
word everywhere, from day-to-day objects
to Koran manuscripts, is the one feature that
separates Islamic culture from all others. NARRATOR: The earliest
dated words of the Koran are found in a stone
building in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred and
politically charged cities in the world. Built in 692, it is called
the Dome of the Rock. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
The Dome of the Rock would have been a familiar
building in terms of form, that is, that the shape,
the arches, the techniques of decoration
would have all been within the local
Christian vocabulary. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
It borrows the form from a Byzantine martyrium. And a martyrium is
simply a building that marks the
place of a martyrdom or perhaps the burial
place of a saint. NARRATOR: But instead
of a burial site, the dome covers a massive
rock believed by Muslims to be the sacred place from
which Mohammad ascended to heaven on his
mystical night journey to pray with Abraham,
Moses, and Jesus. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
The thing that makes this a uniquely
Islamic building is the Arabic inscription
that runs around it. That is, in effect,
the sign that says, this is from a new culture. This isn’t just somebody
putting up words. This is somebody who cares. This is carefully composed. This is beautiful
writing, calligraphy. SHEILA S. BLAIR: The interior
inscription talks constantly about how God is
the one not three. And this is clearly a
rebuttal to Christianity where the primary focus is
that God sent down his son and God is tripartite. And for Muslims,
this is anathema. God is one, not three. So clearly there is
some kind of response to the Christian
presence in the city. That inscription is
made in gold cubes. They’re small glass cubes
with gold foil on them. They are by far the most
expensive kind of cube. And in Christian buildings
often are used for halos or used behind the
figure of Christ. In the Dome of
the Rock, they are used for this inscription
that runs around the building. NARRATOR: The Koran became
the focus of devotion, but it also became
the focus of art. SHEILA S. BLAIR: From
the earliest times on, Muslims try to make
Koran manuscripts as beautiful as possible. Calligraphy, the art
of beautiful writing, is considered more important
than all the other arts. NARRATOR: Today, one of
the most well-respected Muslim calligraphers
in the world is a convert from California. After teaching himself Arabic,
and working for over 20 years to perfect his art,
Mohamed Zachariya finally traveled to Turkey to
learn from the masters in 1983. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA:
Basically, they made a deal. They said, if you want to start
all the way from the beginning, if you want to forget everything
you learned about calligraphy for a while and sort of go
from blank from start, just like you’d never
picked up a pen before, and go through
the lessons, we’ll be behind you all the way with
this thing and help you out. But if you can’t do that,
have a nice time in Istanbul. [laughs] NARRATOR: Zachariya
accepted the challenge and began to learn
his craft again, just as the first
masters had before him. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
Traditionally Muslims always wrote with a reed pen. So you went out and you had
reeds or you imported reeds. Trimming the pen is
even more important. Cutting the nib is
even more important than actually the reed itself. And you have a tool on
which you lay the reed when you cut it and a special knife. And people collected these
tools and gathered them in their little tool boxes. NARRATOR: Decorated
with geometric designs and calligraphy, these
toolboxes alluded to the practical use
of the box, as well as the mystical power of the pen. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA: I’ve always
had a facility for carving. But to cut a pen, you need
a knife of a certain shape and a certain
curvature in the blade. If it isn’t that
curvature, you’re never going to cut a good tip. NARRATOR: In the
seventh century, calligraphers wrote the
Koran on treated animal skins called parchment. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
The parchment was so important and so
expensive that sometimes they even reused it. And they scraped away an earlier
text and rewrote on top of it. And what’s happened over time is
the earlier text has darkened, and you can actually
see it underneath. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA: Most of
them– they’re readable, or legible, or practical. They’re very, very interesting. But they don’t rise
to the level of art. But every now and then you see
one of them, and you look at it and say, how on earth could
this guy have done that? You know? How did they do
their [inaudible]? How’d they cut their pen? We don’t even know what
angle the pens were cut. But it simply takes
your breath away. NARRATOR: Islamic
calligraphy was forever altered by a new invention
from the east, paper. AMY LANDAU: Paper was introduced
into the Islamic world in the eighth century due
to interaction between China and the Islamic caliphate. So the technique of paper
making and actual paper makers were transported from
China to Islamic lands. And paper just takes off
in an Islamic context. NARRATOR: Just as
important as the pen, the paper must be specially
treated and prepared for calligraphy. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA: The man who
taught me paper making or paper prep took me aside
one day and said, I’m going to show it all to you. The paper is rubbed with a rag
that has a bit of soap on it. The soap is dry
rubbed on the drag. It’s a wool felt, and it’s
rubbed all over the paper to give it lubrication. Otherwise, the burnisher
would snag the– the surface and digress the heck out of it. You want to have it
smooth so the pen will glide across the surface. But you also don’t
want it slippery. You want to have the paper have
a grab to it, just enough so it holds the pen. Doesn’t slip. The ink sits undersurface,
doesn’t penetrate. NARRATOR: For the
calligrapher, the process of copying the
words of the Koran is, in itself, a
meditation, a prayer, as God speaks through the pen. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA: And when you
write, it just writes itself. Your own connection
with it feels minimal because your concentration is
concentration without thinking about it being concentration. It’s what the old Arabs
used to call [arabic], which is the ease that comes
from practice that makes the hard thing look easy. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
Now, it is impossible if you are writing with a reed
pen to write more than two or three letters
with one pen stroke. You have to recharge your pen. You have to dip it
back into the ink. But the point with calligraphy
is to not see those strokes, to not see the difference
between one and the next, to imagine that it was
written with an unending pen. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA:
The old guys used to hold their breath
under the theory that if you hold your breath
when the pen is in motion, the breath goes down into
your hand, through the pen and into the paper. And that’s what would give it
that life, or breath, as they would call it. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
You are not looking to see any human interaction. You are looking
to see the divine. When you see a manuscript that
has all these little marks on it, that’s a later
manuscript because it’s meant to be used by someone
who’s actually reading the text not just using it to recall
what he already had memorized. AMY LANDAU: We also have chapter
headings that are illuminated. Illumination is a very
important art form in the production of
Islamic manuscripts. It serves to navigate the reader
through the different sections of the text. MOHAMED ZAKARIYA: Because
calligraphy basically is for reading, you know? It’s not really about paper,
pens, ink, and stuff like that. It’s about meaning. And in my case, you
know, I’m an American. Obviously, wherever I go,
you know, I’m the pink on, you know? And, uh– you see a photograph
of all the calligraphers, you know? And I’m in there, you know. It’s– that guy looks
really funny, you know? But it’s– what am
I doing with it? So I try to– I try to
bring it out what it means. And for me, that’s absolutely
the number one thing. I have access to this material,
and I have to pass it on. NARRATOR: It is that
divine presence embodied in the word that appears
throughout Islamic art as writing becomes ornament. D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: I am always moved when I hold a plate or a
ceramic object or a metal pen case, and think of myself,
I’m holding the same thing that someone 1,000 years
ago or 600 years ago held. I’m repeating the experience. I’m in a different place, a
different moment in history. I’m a different human being. Everything about my world is
different except that object. And that object
comes forward intact. That’s very moving. NARRATOR: Many buildings
in the Islamic world are imbued with the voice of God
as elaborate inscriptions speak from their stone walls. They really are
beautiful to look at. Even if one doesn’t
understand them, one can always
appreciate their beauty. RUBA KANA’AN: And those
inscriptions are usually in places that you
cannot really read. You’re not expected to read. But you expect to relate
to them because you know what’s going to be there. You just know what sorts
of verses of the Koran are used, for example,
in certain buildings or in the case of Alhambra
it’s the beautiful poetry. NARRATOR: The Alhambra was
built in the 14th century by the last Muslim
rulers of Granada, Spain. Part fortress, part
palace, the Alhambra provided a princely
refuge from the ravages of the fading empire. OLEG GRABAR: In order
to feel Alhambra, to know what was meant, you
have to go slowly and read the poetry that is
written just at eye level inside the building. I could spend hours
standing by a window, reading an inscription,
looking at this. That’s what it was made for. It is meant to be lived in. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: In some cases,
some of the writing actually is as if the building is
speaking about itself. You have the dome or
the wall or the fountain talking to the viewer and
telling you what it’s about and how it functions or how it’s
set within the building itself. NARRATOR: The water
basin whispers. Melted silver flows through
the pearls which it resembles in it’s pure, don beauty. Water and marble
seem to be as one. GARY VIKAN: The calligraphy
as it melds into ornament, the boundary between
the two is so subtle that they become
so extraordinarily good at just weaving shapes
in and out of one another. Are these zoomorphic? Are they– do they come
out of vegetable life? You know, you can’t
really tell, and it doesn’t make any difference. Because they arrive at
a place that totally masks and has left the
place from which they came. NARRATOR: The cities
of the Muslim world, extending across
three continents, are as diverse as their people. But the fundamental human need
for shelter is common to all. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: We
put tremendous effort in what we build. And therefore, they reflect
a great deal about us, about our values– economic
values, social virtues, cultural values. You have mosques. You have palaces. You have very impressive
military architecture, and you have the whole
spectrum of buildings that cover what people use. NARRATOR: The first mosques were
made from simple unadorned mud brick. Hearing the call
to prayer, Muslims gathered in open courtyards
all facing the side of the mosque closest to Mecca. Later, direction
is shown by niche in the wall called the mihrab. RUBA KANA’AN: Other than
the mihrab, in real terms, there is no other
standard element that has to be in a mosque. The mosque is one of
the elements that are ubiquitous to Muslim societies. Yet, it is built, expressed
in very different ways, historically. NARRATOR: One of
the oldest surviving mosques is in Damascus, Syria. Finished in 715, it was
built a little over 100 years after the birth of Islam. The Great Mosque
of Damascus reveals how Islamic architecture
quickly adapted to the changing needs of a growing religion. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: More
and more specialization develops within mosque spaces. You have special
places for the prints and special places for
ablution and special places for the call to prayer. It becomes more hierarchical. NARRATOR: A pulpit
called a minbar was added for the reading
of the Friday sermon, making the speaker visible
to the entire congregation. In order to create
a large enough space to house the city’s entire
Muslim population for Friday prayer, the great
mosque of Damascus was built in the hypostyle form. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: The
hypostyle mosque simply is the idea of a series of
columns built along a grid. So what you end
up with s a forest of columns, an infinite space. So you look and just see column
after column after column. It’s a very
spiritual experience. And you find it very
often in the mosques that were built during
the first three, four centuries of Islamic history. NARRATOR: Outside in
the mosque courtyard, glass mosaics sparkle
in the sunlight, evoking a protected and sacred
natural space within the stone walls of the mosque. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD:
It incorporated the largest service of
mosaics ever created anywhere in the world. You have rivers and
houses and trees and some have read that as
an expression of Damascus, a city that is known
for its Barada river and also for its orchards. Another was that this
is a representation of what paradise would be like. So you have that
reading of the mosque, which is very interesting. NARRATOR: But the leaders
of the dynasty that created the wealth
and power of Damascus would perish later in
the eighth century. After a violent
political rebellion, a young Syrian prince
named Abd al-Rahman was forced to flee
Damascus, narrowly escaping a certain death at the
hands of his family’s rival. Abd al-Rahman made his
way to North Africa and on to Cordoba,
Spain, seeking refuge in the struggling European
outpost of the Islamic empire. There, the prince founded
a dynasty of his own. His subjects called him
al-Dakhil, or the immigrant. But Abd al-Rahman
made Cordoba his home. As he set out to create a great
mosque for his new capital, he used the hypostyle
mosque of Damascus as his blueprint, longing
for the Syrian homeland to which he could never return. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD:
Abd al-Rahman I who built one of
the masterpieces of Islamic architecture
and world architecture. He had access to older
Visigothic columns that he found in Spain. These were relatively
short columns. They didn’t have a
sense of monumentality that we could find in an earlier
building such as the Great Mosque of Damascus. So what he did is he
put two rows of arches on top of each other
to raise the ceiling and get a higher building. And it actually created this
wonderful spatial effect. And whenever the
building was expanded, that system was maintained. SHEILA S. BLAIR: One
of the extensions was to add this
fabulous mihrab, which is right now on the qibla wall. And it’s done in the same
technique of mosaic that had been used earlier in Damascus. NARRATOR: Added 200 years
after the mosque was first constructed, the mosaics
required a skill unknown to the artisans of Cordoba. SHEILA S. BLAIR: They had to
write to the Byzantine Empire and say, send us a mosaicist
and the glass cubes so we can learn how to do this. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
You make sheets of glass in different
colors, and then you cut it up into little
pieces, little cubes. And then you set them in
plaster to make designs. NARRATOR: Mixing Byzantine
and Roman techniques with Islamic style, the
great mosque of Cordoba created a striking
juxtaposition of old and new. SHEILA S. BLAIR: You
take a look at the arches as opposed to the
round arches that are used in Damascus in Syria. We have slightly
horseshoe arches. So there’s a little bit
of a local tradition. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Islamic architecture has this ability to absorb the
best, the kind of the solutions that are already on the ground
in these regional areas, and to realize what is in
fact a continuous tradition of a mosque in all of
those different areas using different adaptive techniques. NARRATOR: By the 14th
century, Muslim Spain had developed its own distinct
style of architecture, shown nowhere more magnificently
than in Grenada’s Alhambra Palace. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: Palaces
express another aspect of life, more a life of luxury,
a life of refinement. There is spirituality
even in those buildings. In many ways, they also
express the power of the ruler partly in terms of how space is
manipulated, how as a visitor, you have to go through a certain
series of spaces to enter it. But you see, I think, how
there is a sense of refinement and sophistication in
the use of visual form and natural resources
in those buildings. NARRATOR: Courtyards open
to the sky, but still inside the palace walls blend
the interior with the exterior, creating a varied
and vast domain. RUBA KANA’AN: But also, there
is the light and how it plays, the color, even the smell. And of course,
architecture embodies that. NARRATOR: In 1453, the
Islamic world and beyond was forever changed when
the Muslim Ottomans captured Constantinople from the
Christian Byzantines. The conquest signaled a new
era of expansion and empire for the Ottomans who
would reach eventually into North Africa, Eastern
Europe, and the Arabian Gulf. Their capital became
known as Istanbul. To display their
increasing preeminence, the Ottoman sultans
created the Topkapi Palace, an expansive court
exemplifying royal life for the powerful Islamic
empire at its peak. Its most famous resident,
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, easily outshone his 16th
century European counterparts in wealth and influence. The Ottoman Empire
was very hierarchical and so is the space
in Topkapi, that you are moving linearly in toward
the most restricted space, which is where the sultan was. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Palaces, of course, were only for the elite. They were for the delectation
of the prince and his court and whoever visited him there. So it’s part of that
elite world of art. NARRATOR: A great
cultural patron, Suleiman also wrote poetry,
espousing the traits of a benevolent prince. “Do not sleep. Be awake on your throne. Our strong hands hold
the fate of the world.” OLEG GRABAR: 16th century
is a time of princes all over the world making
beautiful things in order to compete with each other. Sultan Suleiman was
the first sultan who realized that he was not
just continuing old empires, but he was creating
a new empire. NARRATOR: Suleiman was named
for the wise King Solomon, and his signature graces many
of his creative endeavors, including the Topkapi Palace. His vision for the new empire
was far reaching and even extended into Jerusalem
to the venerated site of the Dome of the Rock. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: Originally
it was covered with mosaics, and the dome was
not gold leafed. I think it was
just lead covered. Under the Ottomans
in the 16th century, the mosaics had deteriorated,
so basically ugly stars were put in its place. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
The renovations, instead of thinking
of them as changes, what I love to
say about it is it shows how meaningful
the building remains. That is, people
always thought it was worth redoing and repairing. NARRATOR: Suleiman
asserted his power across the Ottoman
Empire, but his legacy endures most in Istanbul. Completed in 1558,
Suleiman’s imperial mosque, the Suleymaniye, represents
the coming together of a great patron and a
great architect, Mimar Sinan. The son of a Greek
stonemason, Sinan rose in the ranks of
the Ottoman court, becoming a military architect
before designing the greatest monuments of the Ottoman Empire. SHEILA S. BLAIR: Sinan was
trained as an engineer. And you can see his
engineering ability come to the fore in buildings
like the Suleymaniye. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD:
What you have is a large, dominating,
overwhelming dome that just defines an enormous
space beneath it. And the Ottoman, especially
imperial Ottoman architecture, has always emphasized that. JONATHAN M. BLOOM: The
structure is very, very clear. And the ornament is used in
a very, very restrained way to emphasize the structure
but not overwhelm it. NARRATOR: Perhaps the greatest
source of inspiration for Sinan was the nearby dome of
the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia, built
in the sixth century and converted to a
mosque by the Ottomans. SHEILA S. BLAIR: We know
from written documents that Sultan Suleiman
and his architect Sinan tried to outdo what
was there before. So the dome is slightly larger
than the dome in Hagia Sophia. It’s much better proportioned. The spaces are
opened up much more. There are all kinds of
better and more adventuresome things in it. But it is clearly within
the same tradition. NARRATOR: Whether domed or
hypostyle, plain or ornamented, all mosques serve
the same purpose. RUBA KANA’AN: They reflect how
people perceived and understood prayer. And they expressed that
from different places and different ideas
in different ways. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
The differences between their very simple
mosques and the very complex, highly engineered
buildings have to do with local cultural traditions,
the availability of materials, and of course the availability
of money and technologies. NARRATOR: In the West African
Muslim country of Mali, the buildings of Djenne
evoke the simplicity of early Islamic architecture. Settled between the
Niger and Bani rivers, Djenne survives
despite the torrents of monsoons and flooding. Shelter has always been made
from what is locally available. And during the
rainy season, Djenne is rich in water and earth. The Great Mosque of
Djenne celebrates these natural resources. [non-english speech] INTERPRETER: It unique,
made entirely of mud brink. I have traveled to many
places and seen many mosques, but none look like
the mosque of Djenne. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD:
In some ways, it redefines our conception
of what a mosque is. And it emphasizes the fact that
diversity is a very important issue to keep in mind whenever
thinking about the architecture of the Islamic world. NARRATOR: Rebuilt many times
on its original 13th century site, the massive
mud structure’s shape comes from a millennia
old West African tradition not Islamic design. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH: However
different the outside may be, the inside has all the
elements that a Muslim coming in from Iraq or Saudi
Arabia would find familiar. NARRATOR: The hypostyle
mosque’s flat roof is supported by 99
columns, one for each of the 99 names of God. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH: And these
pillars go up three stories. They’re not shaped
like the pillars of the Greek temple that gives
you the image of soaring space. They are quite squat. But still, there’s this sense
that you’re in a [inaudible], that the light is streaming
through, being broken up by those network of pillars. It’s a very different light. It’s a very different
use of light and space than you find in
your everyday life. NARRATOR: For Muslims
entering the mosque to pray, its towering space is
informed by their faith, the mystical branch of
Islam called Sufism. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH: The
West African brand of Sufism is very, very tolerant. And the tolerance
comes from the fact that everyone is
allowed to have– within certain
boundaries– but everyone is allowed to have
their own experience and to celebrate their
own experience with God. It’s something about
we humans that we need to make space where we can
be alone with our own thoughts, with the knowledge
that we’re only a very small speck in
this larger universe. RUBA KANA’AN: The
Great Mosque of Djenne doesn’t have what people think
of as mosque architecture, the big dome, the tall minarets. But it is local and that it’s
the same architectural style as the mosque in the
village next door. And there is the sort
of intimate picture, which is how the space is used
by people in and around Djenne. It is a reflection of how people
perceive their place of prayer. NARRATOR: In the hands
of skilled craftsmen, threads become stars,
words, and arabesques, repeated endlessly
over colorful textiles. Patterns, intricate
and interwoven, transform ceilings into
the cosmos overhead. In these complex
designs, Muslims can see the very possibility
and promise of heaven. AFSHAN BOKHARI: When
Prophet Muhammad comes down from the mountain
with God’s message, he tells these potential
believers, here’s what happened looks like. And he uses every
flora, fauna aspect that is not in the landscape
of these desert dwellers, starting with trees, water,
shade, fruit, and, of course, what would you do if you had
no concept of the afterlife and at that point
you were just a pagan worshipping idols
of your ancestors? It seems like a pretty
provocative message and also promise. So this idea of heaven, you
know, the afterlife and what’s in there, in terms of the
vegetable, floral abundance is emblazoned in the
minds of most Muslims. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
What’s interesting is the patterns and the
leaves and the tendrils and the vines that were used
in previous artistic traditions to frame more important
things in Islamic art become the subject itself. D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: And I think there is the idea of infinity
there, the idea of an ending. And what is it
that is an ending? It is that abundance,
the fertility of the earth, the ability
to not just survive but to survive well. NARRATOR: The stunning
effect of these patterns reflects Muslims’ deep
interest in geometry. OLEG GRABAR: Geometry is a very
tricky, very difficult thing because it’s something
which to us seems on the whole rather boring. And they’ve managed to transform
to something quite different. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
And of course, geometry was very central to Islam
because there are so many religious and
social practices that are dependent upon geometry. For example, they have
to orient their mosque by looking at the stars
and making calculations based on geometry to know the
proper direction of prayer. They need geometry to
determine the times of prayer. They need geometry
to navigate as they move through the Mediterranean
or through the deserts of Arabia. So geometry is a
survival technique. Geometry is important
to religion. And it becomes
aestheticized in the arts. NARRATOR: Ordinary,
everyday objects are made extraordinary,
embellished with geometric and
vegetal designs. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Some of the objects that are most delightful
to look at today were made for
utilitarian purposes, so plates, bowls, pitchers
for pouring water, that may take very
fanciful forms, may have a little bird
on it or an inscription around the outside. Or it may have a surface
that is completely filled with vegetative
ornament, you know, this kind of leafy vine
scroll ornament or geometrical ornament. These things were made for use. It was an elite
patron who used it. It wasn’t the ordinary
person on the street who could afford a beautiful
metal ewer to pour water. They would have used a clay jug. But it was in the
princely environment, in the palace
environment, something that would have been used. NARRATOR: Enjoying
the tremendous luxury their wealth afforded
then, Muslim rulers were major players in the
international world of princes and adopted many of
the same practices of their contemporaries. OLEG GRABAR: The king was
glorified and glorified not so much by the victories
he won, [inaudible], but by the treasures he had. That was what counted. KJED VON FOLSACH:
Muslim princes wanted to compare themself
with Christian princes or Buddhist princes and so on. And they have
wonderful sculptures of roaring lions
and flying eagles. And so wanted the
Muslim princes. We have a very nice
example of an incense burner in the shape of a lion. But if you look at
the body of the lion, it consists of plant
ornaments instead of, you know– had it been a
European incense burner, you would see the
hairs of the fur. And you will see the
claws, and you will see a lot of naturalistic details. The Muslim artist is
kind of more creating an idea of a lion not
necessarily an image which you would recognize–
an animal which you would recognize from the zoo. NARRATOR: Depictions
of animals or people are surprising, as one of
the greatest misconceptions about Islamic culture is that
figurative art does not exist. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: If
you look at this line because throughout the
ages, in many parts of the Islamic world,
figurative art and sculpture is very common,
whether it is painting, whether it’s sculpture, animals,
human beings, and so on. It’s very common, in fact. We even have
pictures of Mohammad unveiled in manuscripts
made by Muslims for Muslims. But they are not idols, and they
are not meant to be worshipped. NARRATOR: Because early Muslims
feared idolatry, in the mosque the divine presence
is portrayed only through non-figural designs and
the holy words of the Koran. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Figural imagery, images of people and animals, is
really confined to the secular world, the sort
of ordinary world where religion
does not dominate, is not the primary interest. I think by denying
that there are images and refusing to
show images, you try to project the image that
there were no differing views in Islam,
where it’s perfectly clear from the historical
record that we have images and that different
Muslims felt differently at different times
in different places. And this is one of the
great things about Islam. It is such a large religion,
and it has so many adherents. Over the past 1400
years, the people saw things in different ways. NARRATOR: One of the
most striking artifacts of figurative imagery
in Islamic art is a small ivory box
from Spain meant to hold precious objects like perfume. KJED VON FOLSACH: Our
quart of an ivory box belongs to a very small and
select group of objects which were made for the
caliph in Cordoba and the circle
very close to him– his wives, his
viziers, the princes. So they are works
made for the court. NARRATOR: The box
was made and kept here in the caliph’s
palace, Madinat az-Zahra. Built in the 10th
century but now in ruins, the palace set a new standard
of luxury and prestige, proclaiming the caliph’s
supremacy to all who saw it. KJED VON FOLSACH: The
iconography or the images on the objects reflect that. They are kind of
princely animals. They are falcons. They are griffins. They are lions. NARRATOR: Cut from
a single tusk, the ivory is delicately
carved, giving the illusion that the figures are emerging
from this small case. JONATHAN M. BLOOM: What’s really
extraordinary about it is it shows us a whole other aspect
of the artistic culture of the time. We have to look at the
mosque and this box and say, these are the poles. One of them represents the
religious public aspect of the artistic culture
and then the box represents something
that was meant for precious materials,
that was meant for very private consumption
rather than public display. NARRATOR: In Spain’s Alhambra
Palace, the ornament of the box is turned inside out, hidden
inside plain stone walls. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: It’s
like a pearl in some ways. You have a shell around it. But then you go to the
inside, and what you have is just a very delicate
arrangement of decoration. You enter into some of the
domed rooms in the Alhambra, such as the Hall
of Abencerrajes, and you see these
wonderful [inaudible] vaults, these [inaudible],
honeycomb walls which short of hover over the person. You can get a sense
of immateriality, as if you’re watching the
stars or the constellations. OLEG GRABAR: They
used all kinds of ways of covering the walls
that used stucco to make it look like
textiles, so that in fact, as has been recently argued,
the Alhambra tries to imitate a tent, a series of tents. So there is an
aspect of it which is like a fairy tale,
the fairy tale created by an ornament, which I think
the fact that the ornament is so dependent on textile
patterns, I think, is rather important too. NARRATOR: All over the
Islamic world, textiles evoked a life of comfort
through their sumptuous materials and bright colors but
also through their decoration. AFSHAN BOKHARI: And often rulers
who went to desolate areas in their military
campaigns, they had to recreate
that magnificence that they were accustomed to. Textiles are portable
for those purposes, to recreate this
concept, this idea, of a heavenly, abundant,
lush, luxurious environment. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
You have to imagine that textiles are the
furniture of the Islamic lands. Tables and chairs are used
in the European and American tradition to get you off the
ground, which is cold and damp. In the Islamic lands, it’s
fairly warm and it’s dry. So you just need something
that separates you from that dirt on the ground. The rug is the perfect item. You can roll it up and carry it. You can sit on it. You can sleep on it. You can put another one on top
of you, and you have a blanket. NARRATOR: The ancient
skill of carpet weaving was perfected in Persia, as
specialized dyes and techniques led to a thriving
textile industry in Iran. During the 16th century,
Persian textile designs spread into India with
their descendants, the Mughal dynasty. In modern-day India,
weavers make carpets by hand as their Mughal ancestors
did centuries before, using a special hooked knife
for cutting the thread. SHEILA S. BLAIR: Weaving
is always done on a loom. You set up vertical threads. That’s called warping the loom. And then you weave in and out
horizontally with the weft. So it creates a
grid like pattern. Weaving is basically
a geometric technique. So it’s very hard
to weave a circle. You can knot a
circle just like you can do it on a computer screen
by making the knot so small. And in fact, this is
one of the reasons that people invented what’s the
so-called Persian knot that’s open only on one side because
you could pack more of them together, and therefore,
execute circles, or curves, or arabesques,
or scrolls more easily. AFSHAN BOKHARI: The Mughals were
particular in showing florals, especially to a
botanic precision, and also to show– I’d like to
think– the transience of life by showing flowers in their
various stages of birth and death. In the Koran, God says
to Muslims, “To know me, know my creations.” And of course,
you can’t see God. God is never represented
in Islamic art. But this sort of instruction
to look at his creations deeper and at their essence will
get us that much closer to God is another imperative, another
objective for representing flora and fauna in Islamic art. That’s what makes it
all so very dramatic, you know, that here
is a textile that is dated 300 years from today. And yet, still sort of is
moving, that you’re almost catching it in a
moment of transition, that it’s not static,
and it’s not still but sort of speaks of the
life that God had put into it. NARRATOR: Today India’s
diverse heritage is revealed in its art
and architecture as well as day-to-day life. In workshops in Agra,
India, Muslim artisans still practice an
ancient Roman technique of stone inlay called
pietra dura, first adopted by the Mughals in the
early 17th century. D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: So in India we have, again, that
display of a willingness to borrow, and
eclecticism, and a kind of cultural intermingling
that I think must have been one of
the artistic strengths of Islamic art. NARRATOR: Using
hand-powered machines as they have for
centuries, craftsmen cut and shaped tiny
semiprecious stones. Then, with
astonishing precision, they fit them together, creating
arabesques and other floral and geometric patterns. The Mughals’ colorful pietra
dura designs cover every wall of Agra’s tomb of
I’timad-ud-Daulah, commissioned by Emperor Jahangir for
his father-in-law in 1622, the building is made from marble
inlaid with Carnelian lapis lazuli, onyx, jasper, and topaz. But it is the
building’s form that reveals the most about the
Mughals, a dynasty with Persian as well as local
Indian heritage. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: It looks
Persian in some respects, and it fits the end of
a four square garden called the Chahar Bagh–
these are Persian art forms– but that has these little corner
umbrella-like cupulas that are called [inaudible]
that are, in fact, borrowed from
Hindu architecture. NARRATOR: Nearby, one of the
most magnificent monuments ever created in Islamic art
appears against the sky like a heavenly
pearl, the Taj Mahal. A colossal mausoleum,
it was built by Mughal Shah Jahan
for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal in 1628. AFSHAN BOKHARI: Mumtaz
Mahal, first of all, is of Persian heritage
and not Indian or mixed Indian heritage. So she hails from
a Persian legacy. She wasn’t his
first and only wife. But he favored her, and he
had the most children by her. Whether it was because she
was beautiful above all or not is still up for question. But love transcends all. And I think that’s a very
powerful symbol of it and continues to be. OLEG GRABAR: He
buried her very young, and she died, and
he was so in love with her that he built her
this beautiful mausoleum. And he mourned her
forever and ever. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
The fact that she was buried in the
central position under the summit of the
tomb’s dome is very telling. And it says something about
certainly his respect for her and the importance that was
accorded to her that she would have a monument of
that size and that she would get that central spot. NARRATOR: Shah Jahan
spent 10 years overseeing its construction, using an all
white marble as well as pietra dura but refining the technique
to achieve a rare subtlety and grace. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: The Taj
Mahal is a very delicately ornamented building. In some ways, to me,
it’s the material that dominates the decoration
not the other way around. So when the light
falls at a certain way, the decoration emerges
in a certain way. The delicacy of the
marble absorbs the light. And so at sunset,
you’ll experience it in a very different way
than you would at sunrise or in summer you would
experience it very differently than you would at winter. AFSHAN BOKHARI:
You’re suddenly imbued with that perception of heaven. You feel you’ve entered
an other worldly realm with a monument completely
encased in marble, reflecting its ulterior identity in
the pool in front of it, showing both realms,
heavenly and earthly. And he basically models
the entire complex on what the vision of
paradise and heaven is. NARRATOR: In West
Africa, the simplicity of Mali’s small village mosques
stands in stark contrast to the heavily decorated
buildings in the East. Their minimal design
of mud and timber is echoed even in the
more urban city of Djenne. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: You look
at the mosque of Djenne where there is no
applied ornamentation. But you have
something different. There, the scaffolding
is actually built into the building. And that is done for a very
practical reason, which is that these mud buildings,
these dried mud buildings, need constant maintenance. RUBA KANA’AN: These
beams protrude enough to make a pattern on the wall. So when you look at it,
you’re not looking only at the plain earth building. When you’re looking
at it, you’re looking at a building
that has lines on it. And those lines are making
different patterns, mostly in diagonal lines or
herringbone pattern. But this pattern changes. It’s sort of alive. It reflects the sun
in its movement. On the interior, you have
almost no ornament at all. The ornament there, if
we can call it that, is the play of light
through the lightwells and how light is reflected
on these huge columns that formed the corridors inside. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH: That’s
what the Djenne mosque is all about to the communicants
who go there. They have an experience with
God, an unornamented experience with God. NARRATOR: Bereft of water and
scorched by the unrelenting sun, the urban landscapes of the
traditional Islamic heartlands were mostly dust colored, made
from the surrounding earth. In its scarcity,
vivid color became a treasure used to
celebrate and elevate more than buildings and objects. SHEILA S. BLAIR: Imagine if
you’re coming on your camel, and you come across this plain,
and you see a mosque from afar. And Mohammad, sometimes
Ali or Ya Allah are written in glazed tile. They are neon. They glow. And you’ve got another
20 miles to go, and you’re plunking along. And so you start reciting sacred
names, prayers, Koranic verses, and it’s a way of
encouraging you. It’s a way of bringing you on. It’s a way of enveloping
you into the community. One of the ideas was to
make life, as everywhere, as pleasant as possible. So you perfume things
and you colored them. You colored your food. You colored the
clothes you wore. The weaving of different
colors is possible because you can dye
silk, particularly also wool and cotton in
many different colors. And many different dyes
from saffron, from crocuses, to various kinds
of blues, and reds, were all available
and accessible and easily transportable
in the Islamic lands. And color becomes so
important that people often made color and things that
are difficult to color. Take, for example, metalwork. RUBA KANA’AN: There was
everyday use metalware. Then there was metalware
that was perceived of as, at the time, not only from our
perspective as art objects, objects to be appreciated
because of their beauty. SHEILA S. BLAIR: One of
the highlights of metalware that’s made in the Islamic
lands is the inlaying of one metal into another. So you have a bronze object, and
you put silver and gold pieces into it to make it colorful. And just doing that shows
you that people valued color because why bother otherwise? NARRATOR: This small
painted wooden table from the 11th century
was discovered only recently hidden away
for hundreds of years in a cave in Afghanistan. KJED VON FOLSACH: This little
piece of secular furniture is an extraordinary survivor. We hardly have any
secular furniture from the Islamic world at
all from the medieval period. The color combinations of
the table– reds, blue, kind of greenish
colors, black, and then the color of the wood itself,
where the layer of paint has been cut through–
gives it an extremely lively nearly garish appearance
to the object. It is stunning. NARRATOR: Colorful
paints, enamels, and glazes are readily
available today. But historically,
they were extracted from the natural
environment and given life by the artist’s hands. SHEILA S. BLAIR: One of
the ways you make color is by grinding up pigments. Often metallic pigments,
so you can grind up copper, and you can get green. For tiling, and blue and white
ceramics, you need cobalt. And the biggest sources
of cobalt, traditionally, were in Iran. So we think today of Chinese
blue and white ceramic. That cobalt and the idea
of blue and white ceramic actually comes from Iran. NARRATOR: The Iranian
city of Isfahan, poised between the
East-West trade routes became a burgeoning
center of ceramic arts in the 16th and 17th century. Isfahan’s Sheikh
Lotfollah mosque with its striking blue
tiles an ornamental dome was built in 1618 by the great
Persian ruler, Shah Abbas. Used only as a private mosque
for the Shah’s royal court, it wasn’t until
centuries later when the building was
open to the public that its magnificence was
revealed to the world. The ornament is some of the
most colorful and complex tile work ever created. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: They would
take tiles and break them and then rearrange
them so that you would have a more intricate,
rich play of light and color. And you see that in this mosque. Where in some ways, the building
is dematerialized completely. You no longer see the
building as a special form or special space but
more as basically an overwhelming surface
of color and light. Just enough light comes in to
bring the mosaic tiles to life. While if there was
more light coming in, it probably would
overwhelm them, and you would lose that
effect of the tiles. But here, the right amount
of light only is let in. NARRATOR: Faced with the labor
of cutting each mosaic tile by hand, the mosque’s
architects adopted a more efficient glazing
technique that allowed designs to be painted
directly onto the tile. RUBA KANA’AN: They were thinking
of how to transfer ideas. They were experimenting. They were what we– they were
the daring artists of the time. Because they’re introducing
new ideas and new techniques. NARRATOR: In this new
technique, potters paint in an outline
of the design with a mixture of mineral
pigment and grease before filling it in
with colored glazes. Once fired, the
grease would burn off, leaving a thin line to
separate the colors. Inside their private palaces,
like the Chehel Sotoun, the shahs of Iran used color
in a very different way, with figurative
paintings of epic tales from their own history. This fresco commemorates
the Battle of Chaldiran, when the Persians bravely
faced the Ottoman army in 1514. Outnumbered and fighting
only with traditional weapons against the firearms of
the Ottoman soldiers, the Persians suffered
a devastating defeat, losing more than 5,000 men. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: In
the secular environment, in bathhouses, in palaces,
in the private tradition of manuscripts that are not
Korans, not prayer books, but rather story books
or historic or epics, or historical narratives,
or scientific manuals, for example, there are
lots of images of people. OLEG GRABAR: These
were made in the court, and they were not made– this is
important point– they were not made with the same obvious
externalization that happen in Western art. This was not for a public. The public probably didn’t
even know of the existence of these paintings. NARRATOR: With high
drama and emotion, illustrated narratives
tell the tales of the princes’
distant ancestors, linking them symbolically to
the wise rulers of the past. The greatest most
famous of these is the Persian epic poem by
Ferdowsi called the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Mythical figures like
Rostam are recounted as heroes, cloaked
in animal skins, slaying demons,
and saving humanity from the evils of the world. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: The
imagination runs wild. And heroic exploits are
depicted on the page– not just human beings but also
super human animals, and monsters, and angels. NARRATOR: Rostam’s rival, the
valiant knight, Esfandiyar, must face his own
supernatural enemies before he can meet
Rostam in battle. After wisely wounding
the ferocious beast with his blade covered
horse, Esfandiyar delivers the last
fatal blow by hand. OLEG GRABAR: You have the
monster with its striking wings and color and the clouds
that look like the monster. And this is where the
talent of the composition comes in, where
details repeat itself, echo each other in the image. Here, you have very
slowly to start looking, and then you start drowning
within those images. NARRATOR: Finally,
after much bloodshed, Rostam is able to
conquer the invincible Esfandiyar, by discovering
his only weakness, his eyes. One double-pointed arrow
silences his opponent forever. AMY LANDAU: The Shahnameh
recalls great battles of the pre-Islamic past. It also recounts
great love stories. It has a certain sensitivity
to the human condition, much like we see in the
work of Homer, for example. NARRATOR: The Shahnameh
was so beloved that other characters like the
fifth century Persian prince Bahram Gur took on new
life in romantic epics. In the poem “Seven
Beauties” by Nizami, Bahram Gur asks an
architect to build seven pavilions for
the seven princesses he admires from afar. As he visits each one,
the pavilions’ colors are used to illuminate the
prince’s own spiritual journey. Poetry, like art, is a mirror
reflecting the invisible world of the human spirit. AMY LANDAU: The central
part of this beautiful poem is his entering seven
pavilions and being entertained by a princess in each pavilion. And each privilege is
identified, distinguished by a certain color. And these colors are
related to a progression of going from a point of
just thinking about oneself and not being enlightened
to enlightenment. NARRATOR: These Persian
art forms spread, as Islam blossomed in
India under the Mughals. AMY LANDAU: There was a
lot of strong contacts and interest between Iran
and India in this period, and we have a lot
of interaction, a lot of movement
of poets and artists going between these two empires. And that’s how ideas
are transmitted. That’s how techniques are
transmitted and goods. NARRATOR: By the 17th
century, under the reign of Emperor Jahangir,
Mughal art and architecture was flourishing. The monuments built
during his reign reveal how Islamic heritage took
new forms, influenced by trade. Janhangir himself admired and
collected European and even Christian art. AFSHAN BOKHARI:
And that probably has a lot to do
with the Portuguese, the Jesuits, who had already
come to India in Jahangir’s reign, bringing gifts. Along with gifts, they’re
bringing illustrated Bibles. And, of course, in
the hopes to– they’re proselytizing, hopefully
converting these great emperors of this great empire. And, of course, the emperors
are accepting these gifts. They’re very gracious. They’re very thankful. So the reservoir, then,
becomes quite rich from where the artist is drawing. NARRATOR: Here, a Mughal
painter experiments with the Western concepts
of perspective and shading, while using local materials. AFSHAN BOKHARI:
The colors are all derived from pigments,
natural pigments, and even semi-precious stones. The blue, especially,
is from lapis lazuli, which comes from Afghanistan. But most of the reds,
the yellows, the white is all naturally derived and
is indigenous to the place in which the
painting was created. AMY LANDAU: Indian
yellow is a mixture of the urine of cows
that are fed on Mango, and that’s bound with water
and also a gum arabic. And mixed together, and it
creates this incredibly vibrant yellow. NARRATOR: It is in
Jahangir’s illustrated memoir that the growth and
sophistication of Mughal painting is most clearly seen. AFSHAN BOKHARI: In this
work, he’s shown with a halo. And that links him
to Western art, and specifically Christian art. He is above everyone. Even though everyone is
dressed in their finery and they are individualized,
that beautiful blue basically winds us back to our
primary focus, which should be the emperor and nobody else. And colors in Islamic
art are very moving. They’re very sumptuous, lush,
almost supernatural colors that transport you to another
place that is not earthly. [music playing] NARRATOR: Water gives
life in barren lands. It changes its surroundings. It moves. It reflects. It is also a simple element that
ties us to our past in a way that nothing else can. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: Water
is one of those elements that we take for granted. But when I see water in a
pool in a tomb or in a palace, I’m often struck by the
fact that it’s actually the same water that flowed
when the palace was built. Because water doesn’t go away. It evaporates, and then it
falls back on the earth. And it evaporates, and
it falls back down again. It’s the same water. It’s the Roman water. It’s the Islamic water. It’s water from all
stages of history. It’s continuous. And so for that moment,
I am in that place, not just in my
imagination but literally, materially, I’m part of
that same environment. NARRATOR: Though
appearing effortless, the water that ran for centuries
into the reflecting pools and garden beds of
the Islamic world traveled a difficult journey,
one involving a complex system of engineering and labor. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: A number
of parts of the Islamic world do suffer from
scarcity of water. They have very little rainfall. Some of them might have
large sources of water, but you have to move the
water to other locations. NARRATOR: Perched on the edge
of the Orontes River, the city of Hama, Syria once had as many
as 30 water wheels in service, bringing water from the
source to the people. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: You have
these wonderful, enormous water wheels, which could be
20 meters in diameter or 60 feet in diameter. And they would carry the
water from the bottom from the river up to the
top of the water wheel. And then from there,
it would be transferred to aqueducts or to canals. And then it would feed
various other parts of the city, whether
for agriculture or for residential
use and so on. There’s a very important
verse in the Koran that often is repeated, which
is that God has made everything alive through water. So it’s actually a very even
simple and basic principle, which is water is life. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: Through
irrigation, an otherwise dry landscape is made doubly
productive in that it is– you can grow crops
through the summer. You can grow crops
through a time of the year when you wouldn’t
ordinarily have any crops at all because of
this ability to manage water. NARRATOR: In more arid
climates like Iran, the challenging desert
topography spurred innovation. SHEILA S. BLAIR:
One of the wonders engineering feats of
this part of the world is the subterranean aqueduct
called, in Persian, a qanat, in Arabic a [arabic],
Probably invented in Iran already in the
fourth century BCE, but certainly developed
in the Islamic period and brought from Iran all
the way to West Africa and then in fact
to the new world. NARRATOR: From
above, qanats appear as a series of large
crater-like holes in the earth. Workmen were lowered
into these access points, some as deep as 150 feet,
to tap the water’s source in the heart of a mountain. Then, by hand, they
cut through the earth to create a long tunnel. SHEILA S. BLAIR: You bring
this water 25 miles underground on a slightly sloping
path, and then you bring it out whenever you
want to water your field. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: The
management of that water requires a very careful
understanding of slope. Because the cardinal rule about
water is it flows downhill. If it flows too fast,
you lose your water because it spills
over the edges. If it flows too slowly,
you have a stagnant pool, and it doesn’t go where
you want it to go. NARRATOR: In Kairouan, Tunisia,
water flowed from aqueducts into massive reservoir basins. Built in the ninth century,
these highly sophisticated collection pools
provided water that was both fresh and filtered. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD:
They’re quite sizable. You have a small pool
and then a large pool. The idea is that
the water, which is brought in from
another location, goes into the small pool. There, the sediments
basically settle. And then it moves
into the larger pool where it’s stored for the use
of the residents of the city. NARRATOR: Once inside
the city walls, water played an
important religious role, as all Muslims are required
to wash before prayer. JONATHAN M. BLOOM:
Washing involves a symbolic and practical
cleansing of one’s self before approaching God. And so it is a way
of putting yourself in the right mental framework
for approaching the divine. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: You have
the section for ablutions in the mosque, and often these
are very beautiful elements within the mosque. Sometimes you find them in
the middle of the courtyard. Sometimes you find them
outside the mosque. You find them in
different locations. But they do have an
architectural presence in the mosque. SHEILA S. BLAIR: Water takes
on this sacred association in many cases. But at the same time, it has
a day-to-day connotation, and you can’t separate the two. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Water is actually a very complicated substance
because it does not hold its own shape. It has to be given form. It’s very heavy, and
therefore very heavy to lift. And any time you
work with water, any time you manage
water or carry water, you actually need
a container for it. You need a vessel for it. NARRATOR: Decorated
ewers, or pitchers, carried drinking
water and could be used for washing before meals. SHEILA S. BLAIR: Someone would
come out and pour the water, and you would rub
your hands over it. And the wastewater
would go into the basin. But water was so precious
you wouldn’t just let it run away on the floor. You. Would take that
basin of dirty water and pour it on your garden. RUBA KANA’AN: Water is
about so many things. It’s not only about cleanliness. It’s not only about produce. It’s not only about beauty. It’s all of that. NARRATOR: In palaces like
the Chehel Sotoun in Iran, called the Palace
of 40 Columns, water magnified the ruler’s majesty,
making it as valuable as gold. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Water has the ability to enhance the
architecture around it– the architecture
that contains it or the architecture
that it surrounds. So if you think of the Chehel
Sotoun, the Palace the 40 Columns in Isfahan, it
doesn’t have 40 columns. Its columns are in
fact doubled by being reflected on the body of water
that sits in front of it. MOHAMMAD AL-ASAD: It’s a very
nice poetic interpretation of the building. But it also shows,
again, that water always plays an element in how the
popular imagination sees a building. NARRATOR: In the Alhambra
Palace in Granada, Spain, water spouted upward
from an alabaster basin and poured from the
mouths of 12 marble lions. A poem carved on the basin
echoed its physical form. “The fountain is the sultan
who showers all his subjects and land with grace, just
as water wets the gardens.” D. FAIRCHILD
RUGGLES: The fountain is nothing more than the
mechanism of extracting water from the earth, turned
into a celebration. Every time water enters
into a palace environment, it enters through some
kind of theatrical effect. It enters through
the mouth of a lion or the mouth of a bronze
deer so that the animal seems to come alive. And this is the only way
of creating animation in this world. And it must have had an
enormous effect on viewers. It must have been– it must
have excited the imagination to see something like that. NARRATOR: Now
covered in pebbles, the Alhambra’s Court of Lions
was once a four-part garden fed by the channels
of water, representing a microcosm of the
irrigated landscape outside. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES: The
ultimate expression of water is, of course, in the garden. Because none of the gardens
in the Islamic world would exist if they
didn’t have a man-made, an artificially introduced,
source of water. NARRATOR: The Generalife,
Granada’s 14th century summer estate, was a pleasure palace,
decorated with lush gardens and whimsical fountains. They evoke, on the one
hand, the garden that is the garden that grows food. But they also evoke the gardens
of paradise and the very word “paradise” comes from the
Persian “paradeisos” which means a walled park or garden. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Islamic gardens are typically walled enclosed spaces,
and the reason for that is that by enclosing
the space, you are creating a box in
which fragrant flowers, fragrant fruit trees,
are contained and made more available to the nose. You can smell them. They are close at hand. They are meant to be
something that you have almost physical contact with. SHEILA S. BLAIR: You also
should think of water in the context of
sound, because water provides a pleasing sound. So most gardens, like the
Alhambra or the Generalife, have running water because it’s
this babbling noise behind you that screens out other noise
but also brings quiet and calm. NARRATOR: During
Mali’s long dry season, water is an even greater luxury. In the mud villages
outside the city of Djenne, people persist and
thrive without rain, grinding the millet grown before
the floodwaters slowly recede. In the hands of an artist,
water becomes a medium for creativity, used
to shape and build the world around them. For over 4,000 years, people
have used the sun, the earth, and water to create mud
brick or adobe buildings. The word “adobe” itself comes
from the Arabic word for mud, “at-tub.” The city of Djenne
is actually an island in a vast flood plain. Here, water is both a
blessing and a curse. And here, the
buildings tell a story of survival and community. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH:
This part of West Africa has a very long dry season
and a short wet season, rainy season, only about
two and a half, sometimes three and a half months. But the rains are
monsoonal rains, so they come in torrentially. [non-english speech] INTERPRETER: Mud architecture
needs constant repair because these rains wear
way the plaster walls. NARRATOR: The Great
Mosque of Djenne is the largest adobe
structure in the world. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH:
You see the mosque, and there are very
few sharp corners. Everything is softed. Everything is rounded. That’s in part a
good protection. But it’s a tribute, if you
will, to the force of the rains and the force of nature
in that– in that sense. INTERPRETER: This
mosque is very important not only for me but
for all the Malians because it shows
how creative and how ingenious our masons are. NARRATOR: The
masons of Djenne mix earth and water
with a vegetable fat called shea butter to
shape the cylindrical mud bricks which form the skeleton
of the mosque building. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH:
There is a very long archeological
tradition that goes beyond a millennium of dealing
with these traditional mud bricks. And the traditional
mud bricks are the signature of the barey
ton or the masons of Djenne. They are cylindrical bricks. They’re about 20
centimeters high. And they’re laid
vertically in rows, but they’re extremely hard. NARRATOR: In order to
protect them from erosion during the heavy
rains, mud plaster is continuously applied
to the traditional bricks by masons who scale
the timber scaffolding. INTERPRETER: The timbers not
only serve as decoration. They also serve as a tool to
create, to build a mosque, to plaster it, and to make
repairs on the mosque. RODERICK J. MCINTOSH: They
let this mud and the grain and the butter
ferment for weeks. It’s really foul smelling,
but it’s– once it’s put on, it’s as hard as
regular Portland cement. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
The Mosque of Djenne is eternal in a
different sense, and it is in the act of rebuilding and
renewing and replenishing it that it’s importance is found. NARRATOR: The legacy
of Islamic art is intertwined with the very
fabric of world civilization. In a deep and meaningful way,
it is part of who we are today. OLEG GRABAR: It’s not
that Islam has suddenly appeared in our lives now. We’ve been involved with
Islam for centuries. AFSHAN BOKHARI: I think
that Islamic art puts a face on a lot of the
uncertainties Western society has about Islamic culture. And also it sheds light
on some shared histories between Western culture
and Islamic culture and shows a continuity
rather than a break. GARY VIKAN: To anchor
ourselves in the past as a way of giving
ourselves, I think, an anchor in a world that is in
such enormous and threatening flux. Art, I think, is something
that is the most human thing. It’s what makes us human. D. FAIRCHILD RUGGLES:
Sometimes material objects can be the bridge between
one world and another. That translucent
glass is beautiful regardless of your
religious background. Mosaic sparkles and
dazzles the eye, regardless of what time in
history you are in. Monumental, tall domes
that stretch overhead like the heavens themselves
are awesome whoever you are, whether you walk in
there to pray or walk in there with a camera as a tourist. [music playing]

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