Moorish Revival Architecture: Characteristics & Style

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Revival styles were all the rage in 19th-century architecture. In this lesson, we're going to explore the Moorish Revival architecture, and see what elements distinguish it. Then, we'll check out a few prominent examples.

Moorish Revival Architecture

Architecture can be pretty exciting. It can inspire grandeur and confidence, logic and intellectual reflection, or spirituality and hope. Some architecture can also invite a sense of adventure. Imagine walking through an average downtown, turning a corner, and boom! You see a Moroccan palace! At least, that's what the architecture suggests. In the mid-19th century, many people in the Western world became really interested in the aesthetics of the non-Western world. One style to come out of this fascination was the Moorish Revival, which imitated the designs of North African/Spanish Islamic architecture. It was exotic, exciting, and adventurous; everything people of the mid-19th century wanted in a building.

Elements of the Moorish Revival

The Moors were people of Northern Africa who invaded and conquered Spain in the medieval era, introducing Islamic architecture into Europe. So, what exactly makes a building part of the Moorish Revival? Well, like any other revival movement, this is all about decorative elements. Moorish Revival buildings don't emulate the function of Moorish buildings. They just imitate the design elements. So, that's what we're looking for.

One of the most distinctive elements of Moorish Revival architecture is the horseshoe arch, defined by an arch that bulges outwards from the base, forming a curve that looks like a horseshoe. Arches in general are a very common element of Moorish Revival architecture, but not your typical Greek or Roman arches. Moorish arches are rarely a perfect curve and often contain more decorative elements.

We can also look for the presence of circular or onion-shaped domes (generally topped with a pointed spire), a fair amount of color, and a high amount of ornate design. Islamic architecture in general is characterized by intricate and ornate decorative patterns, and in Moorish Revival architecture we frequently find additional ornamentation in the domes, arches, windows, doorways, and eaves.

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation

The best way to appreciate the Moorish Revival style is to look at some concrete examples. One of the most famous surviving examples of this style is the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation building of Brazil, called the Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz in Portuguese, or FIOCRUZ. Check out the image of this building. The windows on each end are horseshoe arches, and obviously arches in general are abundant here. At the top of the building we see circular domes with pointed spires, and the roofs, railings, and archways are ornamented in decorative, Islamic patterns. This structure, built in the early 20th century, is a slightly later example of the Moorish Revival, but is exemplary in many ways.


Fox Theatre of Atlanta, GA

Moving north from Brazil, we can find several examples of the Moorish Revival in the United States as well. In Atlanta, Georgia is the Fox Theatre, also built in the early 20th century. The exterior of this building again shows off the prominent use of arches. The central dome over this building is particularly colorful, accompanied by ornate patterns, and towers on one side resemble Islamic minarets. The inside of this building also contains Moorish Revival aesthetics, including a massive theater modeled after an Arabian courtyard. This room includes plaster walls painted to look like wooden beams, decorative tiles in Islamic patterns, as well as 96 crystal stars in the ceiling.

The Fox Theatre
Fox Theater

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