Depictions of Mecca

Mecca tile (c. 1650, Iznik or Kütahya, Turkey)

Mecca tile

British Museum 2009,6039.1

Tiles depicting the sanctuary at Mecca were made at the ceramic workshops of Iznik or Kütahya, during the Ottoman era from the mid-17th century. They show the sanctuary and its key locations in diagrammatic form and are often labelled. The tiles were made to be placed in mosques on the qibla wall facing the direction of Mecca, or were acquired by individuals perhaps as a memento of their Hajj.

This tile glazed in turquoise clearly displays the name of its owner, Shihab al-Din Efendi. The four schools of Islamic law are drawn and labelled around the Ka‘ba: Shafi‘i (top), Maliki (left), Hanifi (right) and Hanbali (base). These were named after four famous jurists recognised as orthodox by Sunni Muslims. They were represented at Mecca by distinguished scholars (known as Imams) from each of the schools.

The Sanctuary at Mecca (17th - 18th century, probably Mecca)

The Sanctuary at Mecca

Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, MSS 745.1 (© Nour Foundation. Courtesy of the Khalili Family Trust)

Depictions of the Meccan sanctuary are often two-dimensional diagrams with the main locations drawn and labelled. This painting is likely to have been a section from a Hajj certificate. It was probably made by Indian craftsmen living in Mecca, who may have made certificates and guidebooks as souvenir items. Features such as the shapes of the domes show an Indian influence. At the centre is the Ka‘ba, with the Black Stone projecting out of one corner. Around the Ka‘ba are a number of other sites of religious significance. These include the Maqam Ibrahim (Abraham), the well of Zamzam and the four schools of Islamic law which each have their own pavilions: Maliki, Hanafi, Hanbali and Shafi‘i. The six minarets point towards the centre

Nautical atlas of Ahmad al-Sharafi al-Safaqusi (979, Tunis)

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Bodleian Library, Marsh 294 fol. 4v

Al-Sharafi belonged to a family of cartographers living in Sfax in Tunisia. This map drawing on paper shows a series of cities or regions in groups of three within mihrabs (the niche within a mosque facing the direction of Mecca) in a ring around the Ka‘ba: for example, Baghdad, Kufa and Basra in Iraq (at 8 o’clock), and al-Nuba, al-Maghasir and Takrun in Africa on the opposite side. These placings were not scientifically computed. In the centre are the Ka‘ba, the Maqam Ibrahim (Abraham) and the well of Zamzam. In Maghribi script, the text above the map reads: ‘A circle for ascertaining the right direction towards Mecca for each country and a guide for facing Mecca’, and below: "God the Exalted says in the text of his wise book, and wherever you are face towards it [the Ka‘ba]".

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