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Decorative muqarnas vaulting in the iwan entrance to the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran

The muqarnas (Arabic: مقرنص‎‎; Persian: مقرنس‎‎) are a form of architectural ornamented vaulting, the "geometric subdivision of a squinch, or cupola, or corbel, into a large number of miniature squinches, producing a sort of cellular structure", sometimes also called "honeycomb" vaults from their resemblance to these.[1] They are used for domes, and especially half-domes in entrances and apses, mostly in traditional Islamic and Persian architecture. When some elements project downwards, the style may be called mocárabe;[1][2] these are reminiscent of stalactites, and may be called "stalactite vaults".

Muqarnas developed around the middle of the 10th century in northeastern Iran and almost simultaneously — but seemingly independently — in central North Africa. Examples can be found in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, the Abbasid Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, and the mausoleum of Sultan Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt.[2] Large rectangular roofs in wood with muqarnas-style decoration adorn the 12th century Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Sicily, and other important buildings in Norman Sicily. They are also found in Armenian architecture.


High-resolution detail from the Alhambra, showing horizontal courses; the clearer one zigzags across at about 1/3 of the way down.
Medieval architect's plan of two muqarna vaults, from the Topkapı Scroll; more plans from the scroll.

Muqarnas are typically applied to the undersides of domes, pendentives, cornices, squinches, arches and vaults.[2] Muqarnas are downwards-facing shapes; a vertical line can be traced from the floor to any point on a muqarnas surface. They are also arranged in horizontal courses, as in a corbelled vault, with the horizontal joint surface having a different shape at each level.[3][4] The edges of these surfaces can all be traced on a single plan view; architects can thus plan out muqarnas geometrically, as seen in the image.[5][6] See these diagrams for clarity.

Basic principle of corbeled arch design
Corbelled vault carved into muqarnas (method of suspension for pendant points, one of which is missing, not clear).

Muqarnas do not have a significant structural role. The muqarnas need not be carved into the structural blocks of a corbelled vault; they can be hung from a structural roof as a purely decorative surface.[7][8] Muqarnas may be made of brick, stone, stucco, or wood, and clad with tiles or plaster.[2] The individual cells may be called alveoles.[1]

Some modern muqarnas have been designed, if not built, with upwards-facing sections;[8] see also the Indian capitals above.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 VirtualAni website. "Armenian architecture glossary". Retrieved 2009-07-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Curl, James Stevens (2006). A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (Paperback) (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860678-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1

External links