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.



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2 responses to “Study – Islamic Influences on the Western Architecture

  1. D

    alot of people say that the islamic architecture didnt influnce the gothic alot but what i know and believe in that the gothic was born from the influnce of the islamic architecture on euorpe .. so which argument is true ??

    • The subject matter is still a very open to discussion, and scholars gave plausible arguments on both side. In my humble opinion, Islamic influences on western architecture (that includes Gothic architecture and sub-styles) were most apparent during the renaissance. This is the period where cultural and political exchanges between both the western and Islamic or Eastern worlds were constant and in turn influence each other. So to me, yes, Islamic architecture may have influenced the Gothic architecture. But as I said, the subject is still very much open for debate. We shall explore this subject again very soon.

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