Moorish Revival architecture is still flourishing in every corner of Manhattan: Structures from Chinatown to the Upper East Side carry the characteristic ogee arches and muqarnas. What is this architectural style, and how have New York buildings harnessed its unique beauty?
New York is a relatively young city, so its Moorish Revival architecture is just that––a revival. True Moorish style is one of a few variations on Islamic architecture, specifically Berber-Islamic and Hispano-Islamic styles from North Africa and Islamic Iberia (also called al-Andalus). Its signature arches, decorative calligraphy, and ornate tiling can still be seen around Spain and Portugal in structures such as the Paderne Castle or the Mosque-Cathedral at Córdoba.
But the 19th-century European fascination with the East brought the Moorish out of Spain and into European castles and gardens, most notably the Vorontsov Palace in Crimea. In 1832, Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra spread the fascination with Andalusia to the antebellum U.S. In fact, one of PT Barnum’s grand homes––the Iranistan mansion in Bridgeport, CT–– featured the style beautifully before being destroyed by fire only ten years after its construction. Moorish smoking rooms then became fashionable in post-Civil War America. As the style spread throughout the mid-19th century, it swelled in popularity––particularly for theaters and synagogues, and particularly in Manhattan.
Here are 5 examples in Manhattan of this style of architecture: