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Ke Arah Pembentukan Masyarakat Saintifik

Bil.: 4 | Tahun: 1998


THE EXPRESSION & POWER OF ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE

The expression of power is an inherent part of architecture, writes Oleg Grabar in "Palaces, Citadels and Fortifications" (in Architecture of the Islamic World, edited by George Michell). Notes Grabar, "Whatever its social or personal function, there hardly exists a major monument of Islamic architecture that does not reflect power in some fashion. Even the gilt domes of Shi'i sanctuaries in Iran and Iraq are symbols both of holy places and of their wealthy royal patrons. Ostentation is rarely absent from architecture and ostentation is almost always an expression of power."

According to Grabar, Islamic 'power architecture' begins primarily with military and defensive architecture, continues with certain kinds of urban developments and official palaces, and ends with the more elusive category of symbolic expressions of power.

Grabar notes that when the frontiers of the Muslim world become stabilized around the middle of the 8th century, a more or less formalized system of defense became necessary. This defensive architecture included tower-like buildings of packed earth, walled cities with mighty gates, moats and citadels.

The walls and towers were massive structures constructed of materials characteristic of their geographical locations -- for example, stone in Syria and unbaked brick in eastern Iran.

Because gates often were dated, Grabar notes, they can serve as a gauge of the most common construction techniques and available materials at any given time, and they are among the best examples for the development of vaults. "For instance," Grabar writes, "in 11th- century Cairo or 14th-century Granada the gates were built with an unusual number of different techniques of vaulting. Squinches coexist with pendentives, barrel vaults with cross vaults, simple semicircular arches with pointed or horseshoe arches....It is possible that certain innovations in Islamic vaulting techniques, especially the elaboration of squinches and cross vaults, were the direct result of the importance of military architecture, for which strength and the prevention of fires, so common in wooden roofs and ceilings, were major objectives."

A fortified defensive unit, traditionally located in an urban center and occupied by a king or feudal lord, a citadel became the typical landmark of most Near Eastern cities. Among the most spectacular and best preserved, Grabar notes, is the one in Syria's Aleppo which can be reached only by a bridge over a moat. "Inside," Grabar writes, "ornate, formal audience halls adjoin mosques, baths, living quarters, even a religious sanctuary dedicated to Abraham, cisterns, granaries, and prisons. There is something very haphazard about the internal arrangements of Aleppo's citadel, possibly because of the rugged requirements of the terrain, but also because there was no set plan for citadels, nothing comparable to the formal order of Roman camps for instance, and Aleppo's citadel grew according to the whims of individual local rulers."

Islamic culture has always been primarily urban, notes Grabar, and early Islamic cities can be interpreted as expressions of power. Grabar cites as an example the founding of Baghdad in 759. "Astronomers presided over the tracing of this round city, roughly a miles in diameter," he writes. "A mighty wall with four axial gates, bearing the names of the provinces or cities towards which they led, enclosed an outer ring of living and commercial quarters, and, in the center, a mosque and the imperial palace. The latter was provided with two superimposed domes, the symbolic centers of the city and of the universe. The uppermost dome was green, topped with the statue of a rider, and it was echoed by four gilt domes, one over each gate. Nothing survives of this Baghdad and it did not last very long in its ideal state. Contemporary or nearly contemporary literary sources, however, are sufficiently precise to allow a reasonable reconstruction of a city whose geometric perfection, rationally conceived order, and even its name -- the City of Peace -- served as a physical demonstration of the new empire's power and universal claims."

The official palaces of the great age of Islamic civilization, Grabar writes, are poorly preserved and are known mostly through literary sources like the Thousand and One Nights. These palaces seem to have been, Grabar continues, sprawling conglomerates of many separate units, ranging from very functional and specific elements, such as baths and dwellings, to formal audience halls (cruciform in Samarra, basilical in Spain), gardens, and vast areas with no concretely identifiable purpose.

"The implication in almost all of these palaces," Grabar states, "is that their recognition as monuments of official power lay less in their individual architectural characteristics than in their general presence as walled enclosures, separating the world of power from the world of the common man."

According to Grabar, matters changed after the Mongol conquest. New and wealthy dynasties, a restructuring of the politically and economically important provinces, influences from Mongolia and China, and a conscious awareness of a traditional Islamic past revived an imperial desire for cities symbolizing and expressing power. Grabar cites as an example of this tradition the Isfahan of Shah Abbas where the commercial center, royal mosque, personal sanctuary and palace entrance met around a huge open space used for ceremonies, games, parades, executions and common urban activities.

Another example, Lewcock notes, is Fatehpur Sikri in India which was created in the early 17th century by the Mughal king Akbar. "Its triumphal arch, its sanctuaries, houses, offices, and especially its private and public audience halls," Grabar writes, "all served to make the power of the emperor permanently visible. Akbar's vision of the world is summed up in its extraordinary audience hall, which has in the middle a platform supported by a single column and connected with the four corners of the room."

One of the last and most modern of the palace complexes is the Topkapi in Istanbul which was still in use at the end of the 19th century. Grabar writes of Topkapi: "Surrounded by high walls, entered through one major formal gate, and impressively located on a hill over the Bosphorus, it consists of a large number of pavilions, formal as well as private dwellings, reception halls, treasuries, and practical establishments such as kitchens. It was built over the centuries, without formal compositional order but according to a subtler order of ceremonial and practical use. Almost every one of the palace's parts must be considered as a separate monument and some, for example, the Revan or Baghdad kiosks, are exquisite works of art. The quality and excitement of the Topkapi, just as in earlier palaces, can only be appreciated from within, from living there and participating in palace activities, not from its forceful impact on the surrounding world, like Versailles or the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg."

Architecture also can express power symbolically. Two examples of symbolic authority, notes Grabar, are religious buildings and mausoleums. For example, Grabar writes, the magnificent 12th-century minaret in Afghanistan or the 13th-century Qutb Minar were not so much places for the call to prayer but stunning proclamations of the power of the Faith. And, continues Grabar, the complex of the Court of Lions in Spain's Alhambra, as well as the Puerto del Vino outside the main palace complex, can be seen in part as symbols of the Muslim victory over Christians in 1369. "Human vanities and ambitions," Grabar states, "often prevailed over the strictures of the Faith."

Similarly, Grabar continues, the enormous monuments like the 14th-century mausoleum in Soltaniyeh and the 17th-century Taj Mahal were not so much private memorials as they were conspicuous displays of personal or dynastic wealth and glory.

A number of architectural constructs, Grabar notes, go beyond the expression of power to offer personal expression. For example, the Umayyad palaces of Syria, Jordan and Palestine, offer a wealth of decoration. Walls are covered with mosaics, stucco or stone ornament whose representational themes primarily illustrate the private worlds of the Arabian occupants.

The originality of Islamic architecture of power, Grabar concludes, is not so much in its forms as in the breadth of its uses. He states that the most consistent identification of a function of power lay in human uses and associations, in the ways in which official ceremonies and ordinary living determined the quality of the forms of power. "...Islamic architecture of power," Grabar writes, "appeared in a wide spectrum, ranging from the totally secret world of the prince to the public announcement of the rich city patrician. It demonstrated an extravagance both visible and invisible. The range of Islamic buildings from extremely private to totally public ones has been usually well preserved, and it lends itself to fundamental questions about the uses of architecture in pre-modern society."