How Was Latin American Architecture Inspired by Islam?

The neo-Arabic aesthetic known as ‘Alhambrismo’ flourished across a wide range of geographies in Latin America.

When one thinks of Islamic architectural influence around the world, rarely does Latin America spring to mind.

Back in 2018, an exhibition in Jordan titled ‘Alhambras: Neo-Arabic Architecture in Latin America’ highlighted how Latin American architecture was inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Granada and other Andalusian styles in various buildings that were erected during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Alhambra palace-fortress complex was built in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid rulers of Spain and is considered the pinnacle of Islamic architecture on the Iberian peninsula.

Spain’s colonial conquest of Latin America would subsequently bring these Moorish Andalusian influences into contact with the vast geographies of the region, in particular the ‘Mudejar’ style, which draws upon Muslim and Christian cultural designs that emerged in the 12th century in the Aragon region of north-eastern Spain.

According to Rafael Lopez Guzman, a professor of art history at the University of Grenada, the proliferation of Andalusian influence could be traced to the world trade fairs in the 19th century, which became a testing ground for architectural experimentation.

In particular, it was the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris where the presence of Moorish architecture would have the greatest repercussions.

“Along with pavilions of obvious Egyptian, Ottoman and Persian inspiration and the construction of the Palais de l’Electricite with its Oriental interior, highlights included ‘Andalusia in the time of the Moors,’ a space that featured elements of the Alhambra, the Sacromonte district of Granada, and the palaces and the Giralda of Seville,” Guzman said.

From Mexico to Argentina, various architectural landmarks that still stand to this day depict neo-Arab influences on nearly 170 institutional, private and leisure buildings.

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