Indian Ocean Islamic Trade and its Impact on Architecture

The ArCHIAM Centre ( at the University of Liverpool, UK has worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture since 2017 to undertake original research and produce high-quality learning/teaching outputs. The material will be of value to a wide spectrum of learners from university entrants to graduates to postgraduates, as well as advanced researchers.

Its latest collaborative project, Indian Ocean Islamic Trade and its Impact on Architecture, has explored an often overlooked but important aspect of Islamic culture in the Indian sub-continent: the maritime trade and its impact on architecture along the Indian Ocean littoral. The spread of Islamic culture relied heavily on trans-national cosmopolitanism that emerged from mainly mercantile exchange along the principal trade routes of the mediaeval and early modern world.

The project has drawn from existing AKTC, AKDN, AKHCP and Archnet resource repositories, as well as research being undertaken by ArCHIAM on the topic. Its outputs include resource databases for textual and visual material, and the production of templates, sample slide presentations and recorded lectures. These elements constitute a consolidated knowledge base, introduced robust new analytical tools and novel methods of visualising data. The project’s final report also outlines the data collection, analysis, structuring and formatting processes and protocols that were adopted to achieve this result that can serve as a guide to other researchers.

The key thematic areas are addressed for each region studied. A template has been developed keeping in mind the ease of use in preparing new lectures based on textual and visual material assembled (Outputs 1 & 2). This is supported by four (4) sample lecture (Output 3), which in turn, are also easily editable and extendable (templates, supported by data sets):

-Lecture 1: "Indian ocean Trade and its Impact on Architecture." Introduction to Indian Ocean Trade.

Trade networks were largely controlled by the Arab and Persian merchants and were vital for the development of coastal cities and ports, such as Calicut, Kilwa Kisiwani, and Hormuz, which served as centres of trade and commerce, as well as hubs for cultural exchange and the spread of religion.

-Lecture 2: " Trade of the Subcontinent of India." Port Cities.

The trade relations of Cambay (Khambhat) with different regions of the word influenced its architectural styles and techniques.

One notable example of this is the Jama Masjid or Friday mosque in Cambay, which was built in the 14th century CE during the reign of Sultan Muzaffar Shah I of the Gujarat Sultanate.

The mosque architecture displays a blend of Indo-Islamic and Persian styles, with intricate ornamentation and calligraphic inscriptions that reflect the influence of the Persian language and culture on the region’s architecture.

-Lecture 3: " The Indian Ocean Trade in the Middle East." Hinterland Trade Centres.

Merchant Neighbourhood, Minzafah, Ibra Oasis, Oman.

Minzafah emerged as a merchant neighbourhood in the inland oasis of Ibra in the eastern region of Oman, as a direct result of Indian Ocean trade.

These merchants benefitted directly from Oman’s growing Indian Ocean trade, especially with East Africa, during the 17th and 18th centuries CE.

Many mansions were constructed with beautiful decorative motifs in waterproof plaster (saruj) and wood. The buildings combined Indian Ocean influences from East Africa to India with local Omani architectural and artistic traditions.

-Lecture 4: "East Africa in the Indian Ocean Trade." Introduction.

Persian and Indian traders and the expansion of trade networks.

Certainly, from the 1st century CE, Indian traders began exploring the East African coast, and established trade relationships with the local populations.

They traded a variety of goods, including spices, textiles and luxury items such as crafted objects, pearls and precious stones.

Similarly, Persian traders also played a significant role in the expansion of trade networks in East Africa. 

They brought with them goods such as ceramics, glassware, and textiles.

Images & Videos
Related Collections