en zh es ja ko pt

Volume 27, Number 3May/June 1976

In This Issue

Back to Table of Contents

The World of Islam

Architecture in Arabia

Written by John Sabini
Photographed by Peter Keen

The Ka'bah is the physical center of Islam. A cubic structure built, according to the Koran, by Abraham and his son Ishmael at Mecca as the first sanctuary on earth, it is the center of the Islamic Pilgrimage and the point towards which all Muslims everywhere turn to pray. It is fitting, therefore, that it should be represented in the World of Islam Festival, and a model of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca with the Ka'bah at its center is part of the exhibition "Mecca and Medina: Islamic Architecture in Arabia" at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

Prepared by the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia, the exhibition also contains models—all on a scale of 1:150—of the Prophet's Mosque at Medina, the second most holy spot in Islam, and Qasr al-Masmak, a fortress in Riyadh that is closely associated with the history of Saudi Arabia. The Prophet's Mosque was originally built by Muhammad as his home in Medina and became the first mosque in Islam. It contains his tomb and is visited by hundreds of thousands of Muslims yearly as an act of respect and piety.

The fortress of al-Masmak is typical of Arabian military architecture of the 19th century, with its thick mud walls and watch towers. Amir—later King—'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Sa'ud captured it in 1902 in a daring dawn raid with only a few companions, a major step toward the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The point of the lance of one of 'Abd al-'Aziz's men is still embedded in the wooden door of the fortress.

In photographs, the exhibition evokes another important site in the history of Saudi Arabia: the ruins of al-Dir'iyah, the ancestral home of the House of Sa'ud. There are also a map showing the cisterns and rest houses along the route improved by Zubaidah, the first wife of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, from Baghdad to Mecca in the ninth century A.D., an audiovisual projection showing the two holy mosques in use, and a display of books and publications on Arabian architecture and the European exploration of Arabia.

This article appeared on pages 19-21 of the May/June 1976 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for May/June 1976 images.