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Nancy Steinhardt. Book Review: Architecture of the Islamic West: North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, 700-1800

From the first page, a reader knows this is no ordinary book. In part, it is because so few of the buildings discussed in it are known beyond a small group of scholars. In part, it is because so many of the buildings of the Islamic West cannot be seen today, and a few are gone altogether. And in part, it is because the architecture of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sicily, Spain and Portugal—is universally known by a single building complex: the Alhambra. Jonathan Bloom’s Architecture of the Islamic West presents an interwoven study of eleven hundred years of the architecture and history of this region that gives due to every deserving building or complex. The book shows the monuments as Islamic, as building on the architecture and traditions of ancient Rome, Medieval Europe and Byzantium, and as uniquely Islamic Western. This remarkable book is possible because the author has seen almost every building of which he writes, and because he has contemplated them throughout his decades-long career. The book is as rich in new understandings as it is in introducing little-known buildings.

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January/February 2021
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