Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Olga Bush


This paper studies the interrelationship between textiles, architecture and poetry in the Alhambra, the palatial complex of the Nasrids, the last Muslim dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula. Poetic figures likening architecture to textiles in parietal inscriptions, which I will call “textile metaphors,” are the crux of this interrelationship. I limit discussion to a single example from the epigraphy of the Alhambra: a poem inscribed in the interior of the Qalahurra al-jadıda, a tower-palace in the palatial complex. The focal point is the term muwashsha, common to the vocabulary of textile design and literary form, which is further employed here to describe architectural decoration.

The poetry, I propose, serves to articulate the aesthetic principles that underlie the design and perception of both the architectural decoration and luxury textiles. I also refer to the frequent use of inscriptions on Muslim textiles, where poetry likewise gives voice to aesthetics. I will then consider two groups of silk textiles associated with the Nasrid court workshop, in comparison with the decoration of the tower-palace, including its poetic inscriptions. The Qalahurra al-jadıda stands as a concrete example of the integrated aesthetic experience of diverse, but harmonious media.

Although the Alhambra may be unique in the complexity of the triangular relationship between architecture, poetic texts and textiles, I conclude more generally that the interrelationship between media was a principal element of the aesthetics of medieval Muslim courts, and, therefore, that consideration of that integration is crucial to the understanding of Muslim textiles.