An essential element of the Muslim cities were the baths, which fulfilled the double service of hygiene and recreation. They were, like the Roman baths, places of meeting and entertainment; they represented the clubs and casinos for men and women. Life in the East would be intolerable without hamam* or baths, places for discussion and gossiping. This is why they were public buildings, sometimes built with great luxury. They usually had a pool in the center and were covered by a dome with a skylight. They had rooms for parties and weddings, which Eastern peoples tend to celebrate in these places. Another type of buildings essential in Muslim countries still to these days are the caravansers or caravanserais*, accommodations for the caravans of pilgrims and merchants. They were usually constituted by a large courtyard with stables, bedrooms and the mandatory mosque. The Eastern colossal bazaars, like a covered street, were also typical buildings of Islamic towns, as well as hospitals and leprosariums, which once had to be kept with great care.
In all Muslim countries, communication and public works were extremely primitive; Islam did not need administration and recreation buildings, nor circuses or theaters; but, on the other hand, hydraulic works used to be of extraordinary cleverness. In the rivers of Spain many current irrigation ditches and dams come from the time of the Arabs. They restored the old Roman bridges and built new magnificent ones, like the bridge in Córdoba. In Egypt, the Nilometer, a clever construction that serves to measure the flood of the Nile, is also the work of Muslims.
The Arabs were also masters of the art of fortification; the crusaders learned from them many of the stratagems for the defense of castles and cities that were later applied in Western countries. Most of the terminology used in the military constructions of the Middle Ages is Arabic in origin, such as battlements, barbican, etc. In the East there are still magnificent Arab fortifications in good condition, such as the Aleppo castle. In the frontiers of Persia other immense fortresses built by the Mongol sultans are still standing. In North Africa, walled Arab cities also abound. The fortifications of Marrakech and Rabat were built in the 12th century by the Almoravids, with large square towers interrupting the wall continuity.
The gates of Arab cities tend to be flanked by towers, like the Byzantine fortifications. Good examples are the Fez gates built by the Almohads (such as the famous Bab-Chorfa), the Tlemcen and the Chellah gates, an ancient citadel near Rabat built by the Merinids. These gates open sometimes in an angle of the wall, like the Gate of the Sun in Toledo. All have a long covered passage to defend the entrance. Other times a double wall with a second door was built next to the main gate; some others the gate cannot be crossed in a straight line, so you have to walk in an angle once or twice. Frequently, the gate is reduced to a large arch or monumental framed liwan*.
Caravanserai: A roadside inn where travelers (caravaners) could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe, especially along the Silk Road.
Hammam: A Turkish bath or a type of public bathing associated with the culture of the Ottoman Empire and more widely the Islamic world. The buildings are similar to the thermae (Roman baths).
Liwan: A long narrow-fronted hall or vaulted portal that is often open to the outside. Mats and carpets are typically spread along the length of the floor of the liwan, and the mattresses and cushions along the length of the walls make up the diwan or divan seating area.
Medina quarter: (Al-madīnah al-qadīmah or “the old city”). A distinct city section found in a number of North African and Maltese cities. The medina is typically walled, with many narrow and maze-like streets. The word “medina” (Arabic: madīnah) itself simply means “city” or “town” in modern-day Arabic.