February 10: Fall of the Abbasids

2016/02/10 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1258, Baghdad fell to the Mongols.

The third of the Islamic Caliphates, the Abbasids established control in 752 at the capital of Baghdad (previously it had been in Syria), ousting the Umayyads from Persia, Arabia and North Africa–everywhere except al-Andalus, where they hung on for a few more centuries (more of them back here).  Although they regained power in 1261, the Abbasids’ control had long been symbolic or significant in religious matters alone, having already ceded actual control to regional rulers in the tenth century.  But the triumph of Hulagu Khan (grandson of Genghis) brought the Abbasid Caliphate to its end.

The roots of Umayyad architecture had grown from ancient Greek and Roman traditions; the Abbasids introduced a different sense of scale achieved by great mud- and baked-brick vaulted structures covered with decorative stucco work–materials that were available virtually everywhere Islam had spread its reach, which helped to establish a first “international style” for Islam.  The Abbasids introduced a greater depth of eastern influence to their architecture, some of it dating back to Mesopotamia, mapped on to the hypostyle mosque plans established in the earliest days of Islam from Syria to Spain.  Regional differences are clear, but slight, within the first widely dispatched style of architecture representing Islam from its capital in Baghdad, as seen in the Great Mosque of al-Mutawakkil (Iraq), the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (Egypt), the Tarik Khane of Damghan (Iran), and the Masjid-I-Tarikh (Afghanistan).  Due to the violently shifting sands of power in Baghdad from the thirteenth century to the present day, virtually nothing remains there of the Abbasids, whose monuments, often in a crumbling state, are scattered across their former territories from Tunisia to Afghanistan.

Image: ninth-century Masjid-I-Tarikh in Balkh, Afghanistan; interior detail of arch on southeast wall, from northwest (from this source)

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