Art and Design

Islamic pattern

The Arab Room at Cardiff Castle is a tribute to Islamic pattern by the Victorian architect William Burges. Ancient Islamic architects loved pattern and developed complicated geometry and symmetry. They repeated, rotated and reflected shapes so that no shape dominated and the pattern seemed to go on forever like the heavens. The greatest examples are the palaces of the Alhambra in Spain built in the 14th and 15th centuries. William Burges built the Arab Room at Cardiff Castle around 1880.

© Jvhertum [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

William Burges used Islamic ideas in his own way. Like rooms at the Alhambra, his room was square at floor level and stepped up to an octagonal ceiling at the top. But many elements he included were not Islamic, for example Victorian-style flower patterns and birds.

© Meagling [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]


You will need a whiteboard or other screens.


  • Look carefully at the picture and at the close-up of the ceiling.
  • How many birds are in the middle?
  • How many points does the star in the middle have?
  • How many lines of symmetry are there in the middle star?
  • Do the lines of symmetry go further out than the star?
  • Do the birds fit the symmetry exactly?
  • How many round domes are there?
  • How many times does the pattern inside the domes repeat?
  • How many lines of symmetry can you find across the domes?
  • What repeat patterns can you identify?