The secret behind the ornamentation
There is hardly any other feature that has become so characteristic of a region's style as the colourful tiles that define "typical" Spain.
The richness of form, the floral ornamentation and the abundance of colour are magnificent and seem to cast a spell over the beholder. Wherein lies the magic of this aesthetic? According to tradition, the Prophet had forbidden depictions of figures, with the result that the masters of Islamic architecture developed into masters of ornamentation with highly complex patterns. Designing and laying these patterns without mistakes is almost impossible with only basic tools, i.e. compasses and measuring rods.
The secret of the design was discovered by two physicists, Peter Lu from Harvard University and Paul Steinhardt from Princeton University. During a visit to Uzbekistan, Lu had noticed rather by chance that the fascinating patterns of the Darb-e-Imam shrine seemed to be based on a just a few components. He followed up on this discovery and found out that the patterns are based on so-called "Girih tiles". "Girih" means "knot" in Persian. This refers to a set of five tiles: the central piece is a decagon, which is accompanied by a hexagon, a pentagon, a rhombus and a bow tie or hourglass. Starting from the decagon, complex patterns can be created using these Girih tiles.
Identical lines on each of these tiles become an infinite pattern. Persian architects took this art form to the extreme from the 12th century onwards by combining Girih tiles in two scales, in which the larger pattern repeated itself on a smaller scale. This created patterns with a clear structure, but which are not symmetrical!