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Islamic Gardens and Palaces in the West: Archaeological Evidence and Architectural Interpretation

Felix Arnold, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Fellow 2014–2015, Spring

My stay at Dumbarton Oaks was particularly productive. I spent most of my time writing a book, now titled Residences of Caliphs, Sultans and Emirs: An Architectural History of Islamic Palaces in the Western Mediterranean. The aim of the book is to trace the evolution of Islamic palace architecture—and, by implication, garden architecture—in Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Sicily from the eighth to the nineteenth century. In the course of writing the book, I was able to clarify the role of different concepts of space in the architectural design of the palaces, as well as the relationship between palace architecture and interpretations of rulership. I was also able to delineate more clearly the differences between the Islamic architecture I dealt with on the one hand and the Gothic and Renaissance architecture on the other. Oxford University Press has expressed interest in publishing the book. A particularly inspiring aspect of my stay has been the exchange of ideas with the other fellows and the staff of Dumbarton Oaks. Among the most visible signs of these discussions was the development of a reconstruction of the Maya site Rastrojón together with Jorge Ramos, as well as the comparison of the tenth-century palaces at Córdoba and Constantinople, which I presented together with Niels Gaul at a roundtable discussion.