Umayyad architecture represents the birth of the first Islamic architectural tradition, one that adapted features from preceding vocabularies, including those of the Sassanians and Byzantium, to the needs and aspirations of the young Islamic state.
The Umayyads used stone extensively in their architecture as this material abounds in Greater Syria, where most of their surviving buildings are located. Brick is also used frequently, often in combination with stone. Mosaic is used widely as a surface cover for both floors and walls. Stucco is used as a decorative-surface sheathing material, and becomes particularly widespread during the later Umayyad period. Wood is used as a construction material, primarily for roofs and domes, and also as a decorative material for elements such as doors and panels. Re-used Roman and Byzantine elements, such as column shafts and capitals, are commonly incorporated into Umayyad buildings.
The hypostyle mosque, which in its basic form may be traced back to the House and Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina, and which was the primary mosque type during the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, provides the prototype planning arrangement for Umayyad mosques, and continues to predominate in a number of later Islamic architectural traditions. This mosque type usually consists of a columned hall in which the columns may be multiplied along an orthogonal grid, and has an adjacent courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. In some cases, the hypostyle arrangement is combined with a central nave leading to the mihrab
, thus showing connection with the Byzantine church basilica plan. The minaret, mihrab
, and minbar
make their first appearance in the religious architecture of the period, with the minaret usually having a square section. A relatively small dome also appears over the area in front of the mihrab.
The arch in Umayyad architecture is primarily round in shape, although the pointed arch, which becomes predominant in later periods, makes a limited appearance.
Umayyad palaces are often built around a central courtyard, and the larger palaces have a series of living units surrounding the courtyard. In turn, these are arranged around smaller courtyards. In addition to living units, a number of palaces include a mosque and a bath complex.
Natural and stylised vegetal as well as geometric decorative motifs are common in the religious architecture of the Umayyads, and are executed in various materials, including mosaic, stucco, and stone. Representations of buildings and pastoral scenes are also found in religious architecture. Secular buildings include painted and sculpted representations of living creatures, both human and animal. Most importantly, Umayyad architecture introduces the use of calligraphy, including Qur'anic verses and dedicatory phrases, as an integral part of the decorative programme. This becomes a prominent feature in almost all later architectural traditions of the Islamic world.
Elements such as the hypostyle-mosque plan provide continuity with pre-Umayyad early Islamic traditions. Otherwise, Umayyad architecture shows influences from Byzantine models, especially during the early Umayyad period. This is evident in the incorporation of stone, mosaic decoration and motifs of classical derivation. During the later Umayyad period, Sassanian models from Iran become increasingly widespread, as evident in the use of brick as a construction and decorative material and in the use of stucco decoration.