Moorish architecture was a blend of many different architectural styles. The Moors themselves were ethnically North African Berbers as well as Syrian Arabs. From Syria, they brought unique architectural elements such as decorative calligraphy inscriptions and plant motifs.
From the Iberian Visigoths, whom the Moors subdued when they conquered the peninsula, the Moors took the horseshoe arch and made it into one of the most often used elements of Moorish architecture. Moors also borrowed significantly from North African architecture as well as from other contemporary west European cultures such as the Franks.
One of the key features of the Moorish architecture was the horseshoe arch which the Moors borrowed from Visigoth architecture. The Moors developed the arch into various forms, often using beautiful ornamentation for the outlook of the arches. These arches were frequently used in the palaces, mosques and other structures erected by the Moors.
Wide bands of raised brick decorations were typically used to adorn the arches, often using multi-coloured bricks. Decorative calligraphic inscriptions were another common feature of Moorish architecture. Such inscriptions were frequently used to embellish the walls and doorways of different buildings. They were most commonly used in mosques.
Plant motifs depicting inscriptions of plants, flowers and other scenes from the nature were also a regular feature in Moorish architecture. The transportation of water into the gardens and rooms of Moorish buildings was also a unique feature of Moorish architecture. Complex irrigation canals were constructed by the Moors to ensure supply of clean water into their buildings. This was epitomised in the warm baths that were constructed by the Moors at many locations around Iberia.
One of the most notable features of Moorish architecture was its skilled use of geometry not only in the construction of the buildings but also in embellishing their interiors. Moors created a large variety of geometric designs and patterns using materials such as plaster, wood, tile and marble. These designs were often used to adorn the interiors of Moorish buildings. Such designs were also often made into colourful mosaics with few of them extant today.
The interior structure of Moorish buildings usually included certain typical elements. These included a vast courtyard around which the rest of the building was fashioned. Most Moorish buildings included gardens, fountains and more than one courtyard. A large number of rooms were then built around the courtyard, most of them opening directly into the gardens. Arches and pillars were one of the most commonly recurring features of Moorish interiors. The materials most commonly used in constructing the interior included adobe brick, clay, marble and tiles of different colours.
While early Moorish architecture was more eclectic in its outlook, later Moorish architecture was more heavily influenced by North African architecture. Consequently, Moorish architecture in the later period was plainer in comparison. It was during this period that the use of raised brick bands for decoration became more common while rounded arches were made into more pointed architectural elements.