Study – Islamic Influences on the Western Architecture

I have been playing a game called Assassin’s Creed II which is set in Renaissance Italy, as I lead my character through the canals of Venice and the towers of Tuscany, visiting landmarks such as the St. Mark’s Basilica and the Pallazo Ducale I can’t help but think about the similarities in the architecture of the Renaissance Italy (particularly Gothic architecture) and the Islamic Architecture.

I have had studied a bit of the influences of Islam on the Western civilization and I have already done a bit on the subject (Islamic influence on Christian Art) but for this topic we look on the influence of Islamic architecture, particularly to the Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

A little bit of history – Islam and the Western World of the European states were at war, multiple crusades were fought since the turn of the first millenia over the control of the Holy Lands and went on until around the 11th Century. During this battles, inevitably the people of each side would travel from their origin to the foreign lands and subsequently bringing their own cultures, tradition and art over.

The East brought a multitude of ideas in the academic field as well as architectural methods and art into the western world. A few examples that I noticed are –

  1. Arches – one theory of the pointed arches of the Gothic architecture are influenced by the Islamic arches, and this theory might be prove very plausible. In fact, the Gothic style of architecture were once called Saracenic. To quote Thomas Warton, an English Historian in the 18th Century- “The more I saw of this peculiar style, the more I became convinced that the Gothic was derived from it, with a certain mixture of Byzantine (…) the origin of this Gotho-Saracenic style may be traced to the manners and habits of the Saracens” To compare, simply looking at the arches of early mosques for example the Ibn Tulun Mosque and the arcades of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, one can easily understand why the theory came to be.

    Author User:Nino Barbieri .The Doge's Palace in Venice Italy. Note the arches, which derived from the shape of Islamic one
  2. Domes – The Renaissance saw the usage of Domes in architecture, especially in special buildings such as churches. One good example is the St. Mark Basilica with its multiple domes. The plan of the church itself follows Byzantine example with mosaics seeming to be recreated by Byzantine artisans. Domes, as you would probably known by now, appeared in the Islamic architecture in the 7th Century with the building of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is possible that the Western world utilizes domes, learning the techniques used to built them from their Eastern counterparts.
    Author Nino Barbieri. The Dome of St. Mark Basilica in Venice, Italy.


  3. Decorations and Visual Arts – In the Renaissance there was an appreciation of  intricate scroll-work and vegetal motifs ; Arabesques in today’s understanding. They could be influenced by Roman and Byzantine art, however Islamic influences were possible as well. Mosaics were also widely utilized mainly in the form of glittering gold mosaics and figures very similar to Roman and byzantine, but Islamic geometric designs were also used, however less complex than the original Islamic counterparts. The geometric design mosaics used in the Renaissance looks very similar to the Syrian designs., but the repetition of the design were simpler, such as the eight pointed star and cross design, or the ubiquitous six-pointed stars. Also, the alternating strips of colour on the arches and walls of the buildings were similar to the ones in the Great Mosque of Cordoba  .

    Author - Jean-Christophe BENOIST. The Facade of Santa Maria del Fiore, showcasing geometric pattern elements as well as alternating colour strips.

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #47 – Islamic Fountains

I am still struggling with picture uploading issue of Do I have to  really compress the images to a miniscule proportions? I will try to troubleshoot again and hope that it will be fixed soon.

In the meanwhile, let’s start the year with a brand new Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post (which, I haven’t done in quite a while.) This time we will take a look into the art and architecture of Islamic fountains, and  examine a few famous fountains throughout the Islamic World.

Fountains in the Islamic world is ubiquitous. Usually placed in a public place such as mosques or chosen spots in the city streets, fountains play a role of offering the faithful a place for ritual ablutions before prayers as well as providing drinking and washing spot for the public. It is also utilized in private places such as homes and palaces where fountains are a feature in gardens, often centrally placed. It is also used in private spaces for cooling the air, providing drinking water and offers the pleasant sound of water splashing.

It is known that Ancient Persian developed a system of transporting water into underground channels that feeds underground canal which subsequently brought water for drinking, irrigation, bathing as well as water features such as fountains. This idea and the techniques used by the Ancient Persian was then used by the conquering Muslims in the 7th Century, also taking the traditional Garden designs and fountains. By the 9th Century the ideas and technologies were improved and Muslims studied Ancient Roman and Greek methods and techniques for the transporting of water that includes fountains and pools. Since then the ideas of gardens, pools and fountains spread throughout the Islamic world and metamorphosed into different forms.

Following are a few famous examples of Islamic Fountains –

The Court of the Lions and the famous fountain from where the name of the court was taken. (This picture shows the fountain being repaired and restored, and the statues removed presumably for restoration work)) The garden features a fountain of large vasque held up by twelve lion statues. Water rises from above the basin and flows out of the lions’ mouths, irrigating the four canals of the garden. This is an example a plan taken from the design of a Persian garden ; a pool or fountain in the middle of a cross-shaped canals.

The walkways, garden and pools of the Taj Mahal, seen on top of the platform on which the mausoleum stood. Like the Court of the Lion’s fountain, This garden is also based on the design of Persian Garden, only on a much larger scale. You can see the four canals making the four arms of the cross, and a fountain in the middle.

The Fountain of Qasim Pasha on the Temple Mount site in Jerusalem. built during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent of the the Ottoman Empire, the fountain serves as a drinking fountain and a place for ritual ablution. This is an example of Ottoman style fountain albeit it is plain and unadorned, perhaps due to because it is a humble place for ablution. However the general profile of the structure of octagonal shape, a canopy roof and a small dome above is a consistent feature of Ottoman fountains.

A fountain in the Mosque of Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco. The western North African countries, particularly Morocco, are famed with the beauty of the Zellige tiles, and it is no surprise that they would be used in one of the country’s grandest and beautiful mosque. This fountain perhaps serves as drinking fountain or just an ornamental one, since the mosque provides a separate ablution area for the faithful.

A fountain in the Palace of Azem (Qasr Azem) in Damascus, Syria. Fountains in Syria, Egypt and the surrounding east coast of Meditteranean countries commonly are octagonal basins with a fountain spout in the middle. It is often made of stone, particularly marble, and decorated with mosaics of tiles and mother-of-pearls common to the area.