Doing Business in the Middle East:
Islamic and Oriental Arts:
Introducing a world of beautiful doors
For centuries, Islamic geometrical patterns (IGPs) have been used as decorative elements on walls, ceilings, doors, domes and minarets. Ancient practitioners of this craft used traditional methods of measurement to create dazzling geometric compositions, mostly based on repeating a single pattern. The outcome is breathtaking in its beauty and awe-inspiring in its execution.
Due to the complexity of these magnificent patterns, many experts proffered differing opinions about why they were so geometrically perfect and balanced. Some experts thought that the eight-pointed star, formed by two overlapping squares, is the basis of many Islamic patterns and thus why it is used repeatedly. But others, such as Roger Burrows in his book “The Arabs”, imagine that the use of the Abjad system to store coded messages in Islamic geometric designs is the true basis of these beautiful Islamic geometric patterns.
The Abjad system is a type of writing system where each symbol always or usually stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel, allowing messages to appear only to those who know of and can decipher the system.
On the one hand, some scholars have attempted to link them to mathematics that originated in Arab culture, especially our pioneering exploration of algebra and trigonometry. “There is a fantastic book called The Sense of Unity that covers everything you want to know about the importance of numerology in Arab culture,” says Achva Benzinberg Stein, an award-winning landscape architect who designed the flamboyantly tiled Moroccan courtyard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recently reopened galleries for Islamic art; she also wrote Morocco: Courtyards and Gardens (Monacelli Press, 2007). Geometric patterns, Stein continues, also embody “the idea of negative and positive space, just like in the Tao. Most people don’t see these patterns in that way, but for every negative there is a positive. You start at a point and extend it, top to bottom.”
As we just mentioned, Islamic and oriental arts are very well known for their beauty and precision. However what’s not very well known is how is its effect on the economic situation of its makers and the number of people it used to employ directly or indirectly.
Rough estimates shows that it is used to employ hundreds of thousands of medium income workers at the beginning of last century; nowadays it barely employs a fraction of this workforce, although they do earn higher salaries than their ancestors by working as ‘professional artisans’.
The fabrication of oriental doors is a real profession and can be an extremely successful business. Doors can cost from hundreds of dollars with few weeks of work, to prices that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, with a few months of intricate work required. Such high quality doors are celebrated the world over as a fine art doors.
Islamic and oriental arts are very well known for their beauty and precision.
These remarkable doors were used as a branding and marketing tool of the oriental, Islamic and Arab cities, giving each its special “Door Print”, much akin to a fingerprint. One such example is the city of Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia.
In Islamic and Arab countries, ancient cities are often represented by their amazing doors. These doors not show only the greatness of a city and its way of welcoming tourists, merchants or business people, but reflects also a deep rooted culture of natural instinct for self-protection from strangers. They also represent a certain strength, illuminating the culture and professionalism of its industries.
They express these sentiments by showing the art of details and the perfectionism in their very creation. Colours are chosen to reflect the joy and openness the city has behind its closed doors, while not neglecting to show their strength and innate sense of differentiation.
This can been seen clearly by the different types of Islamic geometric patterns used; however, not all doors have special patterns, some are made of simple wood or metal but can be just as grand, imposing and memorable. Many of these Islamic oriental-styled doors are not only used by Muslims, but by Christians such as in the churches of Jerusalem and Damascus.
This “door culture” did not stop at the exterior, walled areas of a city but went further inside. A door’s look and shape reflects the social status of the family who live behind the door. It can even show a little of their character, exhibiting their social ranking within their neighbourhood and the community at large, for all to see. This is most obvious in the material, quality and degree of colours used. Detailed external ‘door furniture’ (as it is called) show even more of the grandeur of the owner of the house. Some go even further when they finish off the piece of art with a specially commissioned door handle, for example in the form of a lion or eagle head. This door is not only simply the threshold of the house, but can give a visitor an idea of who or what is hidden behind – and what they might expect to experience.
Doors are still used nowadays to show the status of a specific architectural structure, as in the example of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the largest in Africa and third largest in the world. Its 210m high minaret (highest in the world) almost touches the sky, with the muezzin call to prayer intermingling with the roar of the waves of the ocean, its gigantesque silver doors reflect the uniqueness of its interior decoration.
Materials often used to make such doors include:
• wood (imported and Local)
• gold (plated and pure)
• silver (plated and pure)
No matter the decoration or geometric Islamic pattern, each door differs from another, whether that is its height and width, one sided or double sided. However most of them enjoy an arch-shaped design, which is after another Islamic art signature.
The fabrication of oriental doors is a real profession and can be an extremely successful business.
The diverse nature of Islamic and oriental doors ranges from the luxurious modern doors in Dubai to the ancient ones in Fez and Marrakech; to the most beautiful blue with black metal doors in Tunis, to those embossed and decorated with impressive colours in Iran; simple wooden, low budget but colourful doors in Yemen to the spectacular golden doors at the Al Hambra in Granada, Spain; From the doors of Jerusalem and Cairo to the splendid mosques of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
There remains a dwindling group of revered artisans who continue manufacture these sumptuous doors in Casablanca and Fez in Morocco, Tunisia, Iran and Turkey. This industry continues to produce such masterpieces that provide the correct balance of strength and precision in its products. It would be a shame for this skill to die out.
So the next time you enter through a door, take time to look at its shape. If you are lucky enough to be stepping through an Islamic, oriental door, take your time and enjoy the beauty of the workmanship. If you are lucky, you might even find a hidden message in the patterns.