Islamic Art Scholar Traces Havana’s Mozarabic Influences


Dr. Alka Patel (University of California-Irvine) is a scholar of 12th- to 18th-century art and architectural history of South Asia, focusing on the region’s Islamic influences and its connections with Iran and Central Asia. As Miryam Haarlammert (Cuban Art News) reports, Patel’s interest in Cuba sprang from her study of Muslim communities in southern Spain and northern Africa and their diasporic movements. In pursuing the consequences of such historical events as the “Reconquest” and Inquisition in Spain, Patel landed—literally and figuratively—in Cuba. See excerpts here with a link to the full article below:

Based on her research on the island in 2003, Patel contributed an archive of approximately 600 architectural photographs to ARTstor, a nonprofit digital library of more than 1.6 million images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences that is available to educators, scholars, and curators in 46 countries. Patel’s photographs reveal patterns, designs, and architectural forms that transcend regions and religions, and have been valued by many different societies for their singularity and beauty.

Here, Patel shares and comments on 7 photographs from her collection, touching on key design motifs, building styles, craft practices, and cultural exchanges that have left their marks on the built environment in Havana.

Tell us about Los Jardines de la Tropical in Havana. What are we seeing in this photo?

Los Jardines de la Tropical is really intriguing. It’s garden folly—a type of pleasure garden, if you will—as well as a beer garden and place of leisure, which opened in the early 20th century. Until the 1960s, it was a spot for drinking, dancing, billiards, and other pursuits. Today, it’s a popular dance hall and concert venue on the outskirts of Havana, attracting locals and tourists alike.

The interior area of this particular salon space is also quite interesting. The designers really tried to replicate the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, down to the epigraphic details. The architects—from the noted North American firm McKim, Mead, and White—did their research. They copied parts of the Alhambra and created a pastiche, so there are rooms, or parts of rooms, that were chosen for their decorative motifs and serve as the kernel of an entire hallway or salon.

The structure is an excellent example of an architectural folly, but it’s probably much more accurate than the present-day Alhambra. That structure in southern Spain is now colorless white stucco, while La Tropical’s salon is polychrome—garishly, to our contemporary eyes—like the Alhambra was originally. It’s in keeping with the maurophilia—the fascination with medieval Spanish and northern African cultures—that filtered through the West in the early 20th century. [. . .]

[Photo above (by Alka Patel, Courtesy ARTstor Alka Patel Archive) shows the interior of Jardines de la Tropical (Beer Garden).]

For full article, see

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