Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The birthplace of Gothic architecture

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 5, 2014

Armenian architecture

Armenian Church Architecture

The history of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture begins with Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, and almost simultaneously the construction of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin at the beginning of the fourth century. Although the church has since undergone at least two major reconstructions, its foundations indicate the centralized plan, crowned with a conical dome, that later became the classic design of Armenian church architecture.

The triumph of Armenian architecture, nonetheless, is at Ani, an ancient city which, during the tenth century, became a royal capital, and, consequently, the largest and richest city in Armenia. The Cathedral of Ani, completed in 1001, was the masterpiece of the architect Trdat, the same architect who repaired the dome of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople after a devastating earthquake.

Armenian architecture, and particularly the Cathedral of Ani, holds an important place in medieval architecture, suggesting in many ways what was to come later in Romanesque and Gothic styles of western Europe. Other jewels of Armenian architecture are the Holy Cross Church on the island of Aghtamar, St. Hripsime Church in Vagharshapat, the Cathedral of Marmashen near Gyumri (pictured above), as well as the monasteries at Keghart, Sanahin, and Haghbat.

There are two distinctive features of Armenian church architecture. The first is the use of double-intersecting arches to span the interior space, eliminating the need for the supporting columns familiar in other types of churches. In early Armenian churches, these arches were stone; though in more contemporary construction, including that of St. Vartan Cathedral in New York, steel has been used. The second feature is the pyramidal dome, supported by a drum, which is supported in turn by intersecting arches.

—Adapted from The Consecration of a Cathedral by Arthur X. Tuohy

Armenian church architecture

Gothic architecture

Gothic architecture

“Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic (dei Gotthi).” Florentine historiographer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) was the first to label the architecture of preceding centuries “Gothic,” in reference to the Nordic tribes that overran the Roman empire in the sixth century.

Vasari implied that this architecture was debased, especially compared to that of his own time, which had revived the forms of classical antiquity. Long since rid of derogatory connotations, the label is now used to characterize an art form based on the pointed arch, which emerged around Paris in the middle of the twelfth century, was practiced throughout Europe, and lingered in some regions well into the sixteenth century.

Gothic architecture is the architecture of the late medieval period, characterised by use of the pointed arch. Other features common to Gothic architecture are the rib vault, buttresses, including flying buttresses; large windows which are often grouped, or have tracery; rose windows, towers, spires and pinnacles; and ornate façades.

In Gothic architecture, ogives are the intersecting transverse ribs of arches that establish the surface of a Gothic vault. An ogive or ogival arch is a pointed, “Gothic” arch, drawn with compasses as outlined above, or with arcs of an ellipse as described. A very narrow, steeply pointed ogive arch is sometimes called a “lancet arch”.

The most common form is an equilateral arch, where the radius is the same as the width. In the later Flamboyant Gothic style, an “ogee arch”, an arch with a pointed head, like S-shaped curves, became prevalent.

Originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century, Gothic architecture was known during the period as Opus Francigenum (“French work”) with the term Gothic first appearing during the latter part of the Renaissance.

Its characteristics include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress. Gothic architecture is most familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and churches of Europe. It is also the architecture of many castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and to a less prominent extent, private dwellings.

It is in the great churches and cathedrals and in a number of civic buildings that the Gothic style was expressed most powerfully, its characteristics lending themselves to appeals to the emotions, whether springing from faith or from civic pride.

A great number of ecclesiastical buildings remain from this period, of which even the smallest are often structures of architectural distinction while many of the larger churches are considered priceless works of art and are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. For this reason a study of Gothic architecture is largely a study of cathedrals and churches.

A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th-century England, spread through 19th-century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century.

The beginning

One of the defining characteristics of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. Arches of a similar type were used in the Near East in pre-Islamic as well as Islamic architecture before they were structurally employed in medieval architecture.

It is thought by some architectural historians that this was the inspiration for the use of the pointed arch in France, in otherwise Romanesque buildings, as at Autun Cathedral, but contrary to the diffusionist theory, it appears that there was simultaneously a structural evolution towards the pointed arch, for the purpose of vaulting spaces of irregular plan, or to bring transverse vaults to the same height as diagonal vaults.

This latter occurs at Durham Cathedral in the nave aisles in 1093. Pointed arches also occur extensively in Romanesque decorative blind arcading, where semi-circular arches overlap each other in a simple decorative pattern, and the points are accidental to the design.

The pointed arch, one of the defining attributes of Gothic, was earlier incorporated into Islamic architecture following the Islamic conquests of Roman Syria and the Sassanid Empire in the Seventh Century.

The pointed arch and its precursors had been employed in Late Roman and Sassanian architecture; within the Roman context, evidenced in early church building in Syria and occasional secular structures, like the Roman Karamagara Bridge; in Sassanid architecture, in the parabolic and pointed arches employed in palace and sacred construction.

The Monastery of Echmiadzin

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Armenian church sets a style

Saudi Aramco World : Ani

Gregory the Illuminator, national saint and patron of Armenia, gets credit not only for converting the pagan king Tiridates and thereupon the whole kingdom to Christianity, but also for building a church whose influence was profound. A small building constructed of stone in about 301, it was important because of its placement–it marked as sacred the location that today holds a magnificent monastery, one regarded as the religious center of Armenia.

The Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Armenian: Էջմիածնի Մայր Տաճար, Ēǰmiatsni Mayr Tačar) is the Mother Church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, located in the city of Vagharshapat, Armenia. According to most scholars, it was the first cathedral (but not the first church) built in ancient Armenia, and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.

The original church was built in the early 4th century—between 301 and 303 according to tradition—by Armenia’s patron saint Gregory the Illuminator, following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III. It replaced a preexisting temple, symbolizing the conversion from paganism to Christianity.

The Monastery of Echmiadzin includes the magnificent cathedral, built in about 480 on the site of Gregory’s smaller church. The core of the current building was built in 483/4 by Vahan Mamikonian after the cathedral was severely damaged in a Persian invasion. From its foundation till the second half of the 5th century, Etchmiadzin was the seat of the Catholicos, head of the Armenian Church.

The cathedral is also the central building of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, “the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Church”, which besides the cathedral includes a number of buildings, most prominent of which is the Pontifical Residence (Veharan), the official seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians. The entire complex is sometimes referred to as Monastery of Etchmiadzin.

Although never losing its significance, the cathedral subsequently suffered centuries of virtual neglect. In 1441 it was restored as catholicosate and remains as such to this day. It is the biggest and oldest church still standing in Armenia, and its construction, with a central domed roof atop a square building, set the pattern for numerous churches in Armenia and elsewhere, many of which have survived for centuries.

The basic domed-cube style is usually expanded into a cruciform shape, with rounded additions or apses extending from each of the four walls of the interior square building. The dome structure was known elsewhere long before Christianity came to Armenia, but it was nevertheless perfected there, and its widespread use by Armenian church-builders influenced structures from Russia to Western Europe to the New World.

Etchmiadzin was plundered by Shah Abbas I of Persia in 1604, when relics and stones were taken out of the cathedral in an effort to undermine Armenians’ attachment to their land. Since then the cathedral has undergone a number of renovations.

The belfry, which is shorter than the dome, was added in the latter half of the 17th century and in 1868 a sacristy was constructed at the cathedral’s east end. Today, it incorporates styles of different periods of Armenian architecture. Diminished during the early Soviet period, Etchmiadzin revived again in the second half of the 20th century, and under independent Armenia.

During archaeological excavations at the cathedral in 1955-56 and 1959, led by architectural historian Alexander Sahinian, remains of the original 4th-century building were discovered—including two levels of pillar bases below the current ones and a narrower altar apse under the present one.

Based on these findings, Sahinian asserted that the original church had been a three-naved vaulted basilica, similar to the basilicas of Tekor, Ashtarak and Aparan (Kasakh). However, other scholars have rejected Sahinian’s view. Among them, Suren Yeremian and Armen Khatchatrian held that the original church had been in the form of a rectangle with a dome supported by four pillars.

Stepan Mnatsakanian suggested that the original building had been a “canopy erected on a cross [plan],” while architecture researcher Vahagn Grigoryan suggests an “extreme view,” according to which the cathedral has been essentially in the same form as it is today.

As the main spiritual center of most Armenians worldwide, Etchmiadzin has been an important location in Armenia not only religiously, but also politically, economically and culturally. A major pilgrimage site, it is one of the most visited places in the country. Along with several important early medieval churches located nearby, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.

Armenia’s early architects didn’t exactly invent the dome, but they certainly perfected it, and its use in church construction spread as Christianity did, throughout the world. Although the kingdom of Armenia was divided and parceled out long ago, the result of an endless series of brutal conquests, many smaller churches with their Armenian-style domes and plus-sign construction still stand, on land that is mostly Muslim now.

Cathedral of Ani and Hagia Sophia

Cathedral of Ani

Hagia Sophia

Trdat the Architect

In 961, Ashot III, known as Ashot III the Merciful (Աշոտ Գ. Ողորմած) and acknowledged by foreign rulers as the Shahanshah (king of kings) of Mets Hayk’ (Greater Armenia), moved his capital from Kars to the great city of Ani where he assembled new palaces and rebuilt the walls.

From 992 to 1058 what is now the Armenian Patriarchy or Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia (full name the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia) was relocated to the Arkina district in the suburbs of Ani, where the cathedral stands.

The Catholicosate was moved to the Argina district in the suburbs of Ani where Trdat the Architect (Armenian: Տրդատ ճարտարապետ, circa 940s – 1020; Latin: Tiridates) completed the building of the Catholicosal palace, the Mother Cathedral of Ani (Armenian: Անիի Մայր Տաճար Anii Mayr Tačar), also known as Surp Asdvadzadzin (church of the Holy Mother of God), in 1001.

The Cathedral of Ani started to be constructed in the year 989 under King Smbat II and was completed “by order of my husband” under the patronage of the wife of King Gagik I, Queen Katranide. The cathedral was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and is one of the architectural masterpieces of Armenia. Ani was also the diminutive name of ancient Armenian goddess Anahit who was seen as the mother-protector of Armenia.

This cathedral offers an example of a cruciform domed church within a rectangular plan, though both the dome and the drum supporting it are now missing, having collapsed in an earthquake in 1319. A further earthquake in 1988 caused the collapse of the north-west corner, and weakened all the west side.

The design of the cathedral was the work of Trdat, the chief architect of the Bagratuni kings of Armenia, whose tenth-century monuments by some European historians of architecture, beginning with Josef Strzygowski, have been argued to be the forerunners of European Gothic architecture which came to Europe several centuries later, in the 12th – 14th centuries, and the most celebrated architect of medieval Armenia.

The interior contains several progressive features (such as the use of pointed arches and clustered piers) that give to it the appearance of Gothic architecture (a style which the Ani cathedral predates by several centuries). All the structures at Ani are constructed using the local volcanic basalt, a sort of tufa stone. It is easily carved and comes in a variety of vibrant colors, from creamy yellow, to rose-red, to jet black.

Trdat was active in Armenia before and after his reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya), a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey.

After the great earthquake of 25 October 989, which collapsed the Western dome arch, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian architect Trdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Argina, to direct the repairs. He erected it again and reinforced the fallen dome arch, and rebuilt the west side of the dome with 15 dome ribs. The extent of the damage required six years of repair and reconstruction; the church was re-opened on 13 May 994.

As the contemporary Armenian historian Stepanos Taronetsi (Asoghik) commented: Even [Hagia] Sophia, the cathedral, was torn to pieces from top to bottom. On account of this, many skillful workers among the Greeks tried repeatedly to reconstruct it. The architect and stonemason Trdat of the Armenians also happened to be there, presented a plan, and with wise understanding prepared a model, and began to undertake the initial construction, so that [the church] was rebuilt more handsomely than before.

At the end of the reconstruction, the church’s decorations were renovated, including the additions of paintings of four immense cherubs, a new depiction of Christ on the dome, and on the apse a new depiction of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus between the apostles Peter and Paul. On the great side arches were painted the prophets and the teachers of the church.

In his book De caerimoniis aulae Byzantinae (“Book of Ceremonies”), Emperor Constantine VII (913–919) wrote a detailed account of the ceremonies held in the Hagia Sophia by the emperor and the patriarch.

Trdat is also believed to have designed or supervised the construction of Surb Nshan (Holy Sign, completed in 991), the oldest structure at Haghpat Monastery.

The city of Ani

The city of Ani

Kars Ani Ruins, a City Of Churches-Eastern Turkey

VirtualANI – Everything about the Deserted Armenian City of Ani

Ani travel guide – Wikitravel

Ani (Armenian: Անի; Greek: Ἄνιον Anion; Latin: Abnicum) is a ruined medieval Armenian city-site situated in the Turkish province of Kars, near the border with Armenia. At its height, Ani had a population of 100,000–200,000 people and was the rival of Constantinople, Baghdad and Damascus. Long ago renowned for its splendor and magnificence, Ani was abandoned and largely forgotten in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Ani did not lie along any previously important trade routes, but because of its size, power, and wealth it became an important trading hub. Its primary trading partners were the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Arabs, as well as smaller nations in southern Russia and Central Asia.

Armenian chroniclers such as Yeghishe and Ghazar Parpetsi first mentioned Ani in the 5th century AD. They described it as a strong fortress built on a hilltop and a possession of the Armenian Kamsarakan dynasty.

The city took its name from the Armenian fortress-city and pagan center of Ani-Kamakh located in the region of Daranaghi in Upper Armenia. Ani was also previously known as Khnamk (Խնամք), although historians are uncertain as to why it was called so.

Johann Heinrich Hübschmann, a German philologist and linguist who studied the Armenian language, suggested that the word may have come from the Armenian word “khnamel” (խնամել), an infinitive which means “to take care of”.

Today the fragments of Ani stand in poetic desolation on a great cliff on the frontier between Turkey and Russia. In the ghostly silence, cold winds howl through empty arches and ruffle the mane of a single stone lion that has stood guard for centuries over the remnants of ancient Armenia’s fleeting glory.

Few people have visited Ani recently—for military reasons the frontier region has been more or less closed to visitors for about 20 years. Many have never heard of it at all. Yet Ani was a thriving community as early as the first century, served as a buffer between the Byzantine Empire and the Baghdad Caliphate and, as a center of Christianity, was graced with so many churches that it was named the “city of a thousand and one churches.”

To tell the story of Ani is to tell the story of Armenia—that unfortunately obscure mountain kingdom whose chief role for many centuries was to offer a battlefield to the warring armies of Byzantium and Persia. In the ninth century, however, during a 200-year period when the Arabs were in power, Armenia began to emerge as an independent kingdom ruled by a great local dynasty called the Bagratids.

The Bagratids, according to tradition, traced their ancestry back to David and Bathsheba and called the Virgin Mary their cousin. They came to power on the slopes of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark supposedly came to rest, and established themselves as leaders over many rival rulers in the valleys and mountains of Armenia. In the 10th century they ousted the Arabs and ushered in what was to be Armenia’s short-lived golden age.

One of the first kings in the Bagratid line, King Ashot the Meateater, bought Ani for Armenia in the first half of the ninth century. It is a strategically placed city on one of the trade routes running from present-day Iran to the Black Sea. In the 10th century, when wars between the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire made the trade route along the Euphrates unsafe for caravans, the route via Ani became vital. From the sudden increase in income the Bagratids were able, during the reigns of only three kings, to turn a simple fortress into a splendid royal residence and a small village into the capital of a kingdom.

In 922 the Arabs, recognizing the new importance of the Bagratid kingdom as a buffer state between Baghdad and Byzantium, conferred on Ashot II, the “Iron King,” the magnificent title of Shahanshah, “King of Kings.” Successful and rich, the Bagratids enlarged their city to an area of about 4,000 acres, built a series of outer walls to protect it and spanned the Arpa-Chai River with bridges’ to help the caravans plodding between Trebizond and the East.

These few glorious years, however, were all there were. With Gagik I, who reigned from 990 to 1020, completed the Great Cathedral and established the seat of the Patriarchus in Ani, Armenia reached its zenith. After that, decay set in—a decay that was never arrested. In 1045 Ani surrendered to the Byzantines, after the next king, Gagik II, was tricked into visiting Constantinople and detained there, and at the instigation of pro-Byzantine elements among its population. A Greek governor was installed in the city.

Gagik II was deposed by the Byzantines who decided, in 1044, to take over Armenia as a buffer against the Seljuk Turks. And 20 years later, under Sultan Alp Arslan, the Turks swarmed over Ani after a 25-day siege and massacred everyone in sight. The few survivors fled and by 1071 the Kingdom of Armenia was no more. Ani itself suffered through successive waves of Georgian and Shaddadid rulers, revived for a time during the rise of the Trebizond Empire, but succumbed finally in 1239 to the Tartars of Genghis Khan and to an earthquake 80 years later.

Like the ruins of all great cities, Ani today is a sad and silent place. In winter, the stark wind-and-snow winter of Turkey’s high mountains, it suggests somehow that man, not nature, has destroyed it; it looks rather like a village in France after the shelling had stopped and the troops had moved on.

What is left of Ani—some crumbling walls and towers and the soaring walls of the churches—occupies a triangle of rock nearly 4,000 feet high and overlooking the gorge that separates Turkey from what today is Armenia. On two sides cliffs drop off to ravines and on the third the remains of a massive wall, 40 to 50 feet high in places, cut the city off from the flat tableland of a plateau.

Armenian architecture

Within the walls and near the cliffs are the shells of two churches. One is the Great Cathedral and the other is the Church of Saint Gregory’ the Illuminator. On the west side is the Chapel of Saint Gregory of Apughaments. Together they make up an impressive reminder that if the political impact of Armenia was slight its contribution to architecture was not.

Armenian architecture is something of an enigma. It has its own virtues and its own character, to be sure, but in addition it may well have been the original model for Gothic architecture. That, at least, is the theory of the redoubtable Joseph Strzygowski (March 7, 1862 – January 2, 1941), who believed that Armenian architecture had an empire far greater and more durable than the political domain of the Bagratids—extending as far afield as north Italy and into the high renaissance evolution of the Gothic style.

Strzygowski was a Polish-Austrian art historian known for his theories promoting influences from the art of the Near East on European art, for example that of Early Christian Armenian architecture on the early Medieval architecture of Europe, outlined in his his two-volume, Die Baukunst der Armenier und Europa (1918) (The architecture of the Armenians and Europe), in which he claimed to have traced the origins of Gothic architecture to Armenia. He is considered a member of the Vienna School of Art History.

Mr. Strzygowski, in 1918, put forth the view that it was the Armenians who first solved the problem of putting a dome over a square space. There are two ways: first, by the use of the squinche—a triangular-shaped section of a dome which fills up the comer of the square and so transforms it into a circle; second, by the pendentive—a small arch spanning the corner of the square, and so converting it into an octagon, onto which the circular base of the dome could be conveniently fitted.

The pendentive found great favor throughout Europe and Asia. When the possibility of placing a dome over a square had been realized, a variety of alternative elaborations became possible to architects. The square, for instance, could be extended in one or more of four directions, permitting a plan of much greater interest and significance than a mere rectangle, and leading at last to the basilican and cruciform plans, and sometimes a synthesis of all three. And the pendentive, according to Mr. Strzygowski, was developed by the Armenians.

At Ani there is ample evidence that in the Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator the Armenians at least used the pendentive. This church is perched on the side of a cliff, which breaks away by a series of black crags to the murmuring river curving through a gloomy ravine of gray rock to the south of the city where it is joined by the Alaja Chai (Valley of Flowers).

For the church, with its echoes of a golden age of style, romance and faith, it is a romantic location. The striking conical dome stands out against distant Mount Ararat reaching for the sky. Its unbroken walls are decorated with delicate, beautifully sculptured arches and doubled columns and with stone tracery of birds and flowers.

Inside, dramatic frescoes, 700 years old but as fresh as flowers, cover the nave, apse, the ceilings and all the walls with scenes from the Bible and accompanying legends in Greek. The apse is to the east end of the nave, a trend apparently started by the Armenians and said to be based on the pre-Christian sun cult beliefs of the people. Above the nave, on four piers, sits the dome, lit by a circle of windows that throws light onto the small arches spanning the corners of the square. It is a perfect example of the pendentive.

Nearby, in the Great Cathedral there is more evidence of a different kind: the presence in the cathedral of the pointed arches and clustered piers considered to be one of the hallmarks of Western Gothic architecture.

The cathedral will surprise any traveler. The extreme simplicity of design lends it a particularly stately kind of beauty: four almost unbroken walls of delicate rose-pink stone; false arcades rising almost to the roof and embracing niches on three walls; the tall arches of the arcades curving gracefully to form a delicate horseshoe.

The design of the cathedral is on a cruciform plan, with a dome over the central crossing, and a three-apsed east end. The dome is supported by four massive piers of coupled pillars with plain capitals and spanned by bold pointed arches. At either end of the building stand four similar piers, a pair at the entrance and one on each side of the apse—all “Gothic” features designed by the Armenian architect, Tiridates (who also designed the present dome of the Santa Sophia in Istanbul) in 989-1001, more than 100 years before the style made its first appearance in Western Europe.

At the same time the cathedral was under construction, it is believed that King Gagik built the Chapel of St. Gregory of Apughaments on the west side of the city. The chapel, a circular building with a drum-shaped dome and a conical roof, rises above the ravine of the Alaja Chai in full view of the city.

Like the cathedral, it blends elements of Armenian and “Gothic” art. Its twelve-sided base, of which six sides are recessed, has niches framed by ornamental arches with classical cornices and oriental motifs. Although the inside diameter is not more than about 30 feet, an impression of space and height is created, for the rather plain exterior conceals the six-lobed interior and a dome of great depth. This chapel is, in many ways, similar to that of the Holy Savior, standing like a broken eggshell on the other side of the city.

Despite the evidence in Ani itself and other parts of ancient Armenia, Mr. Strzygowski’s theory has not gone unchallenged: one source, for example, argues that since there are earlier examples elsewhere in the Middle East, Armenia’s claim to developing the placement of the dome on a square is unfounded. But all hypotheses aside, the ruins of Ani are still indisputably works of manifest beauty and variety which, despite the ravages of man and seven centuries of silent cold winds, still reflect the glory of their builders’ short-lived golden age.

Saracenic Theory

Islamic influence on Western Architecture

Christopher Wren and the Muslim Origin of Gothic Architecture

Sir Christopher Michael Wren PRS (20 October 1632 – 25 February 1723) is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history. He was accorded responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710.

Wren’s respect for Muslim architecture is displayed in his adoption of numerous Muslim architectural solutions within his designs. In his greatest ever project, the Cathedral of St. Paul, London, the Muslim influence can be easily traced.

Christopher Wren appreciated the beauty of architecture in Ottoman and Moorish mosques, which he researched thoroughly. With his experience and talent he discovered the imprints of Muslim architecture in western architecture, which was referred to as the Gothic.

After deep investigation into various structural and decorative elements of this art, Wren became convinced of the Muslim roots of the Gothic, establishing the so called “Saracenic Theory”. He firmly believed that both historical facts and physical characteristics of this style pointed to a Muslim origin.

Certainly, in those parts of the Western Mediterranean subject to Islamic control or influence, rich regional variants arose, fusing Romanesque and later Gothic traditions with Islamic decorative forms, as seen, for example, in Monreale and Cefalù Cathedrals, the Alcázar of Seville, and Teruel Cathedral.

Increasing military and cultural contacts with the Muslim world, including the Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily in 1090, the Crusades, beginning 1096, and the Islamic presence in Spain, may have influenced Medieval Europe’s adoption of the pointed arch, although this hypothesis remains controversial.

A symbiosis of techniques and ways of understanding architecture resuling from Muslim and Christian cultures living side by side emerged as an architectural style in the 12th century. Mudéjar did not involve the creation of new shapes or structures (unlike Gothic or Romanesque), but was the reinterpretation of Western cultural styles through Islamic influences.


Aljafería Palace. Saragossa © Turespaña


Mudejar art: Islamic architecture and art in Hispanic kingdoms

Mudejar Architecture of Aragon

The word Mudéjar is a Medieval Spanish corruption of the Arabic word Mudajjan, meaning “tamed”, in a reference to the Muslims who submitted to the rule of the Christian kings. It is the name given to individual Moors or Muslims of Al-Andalus who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista but were not converted to Christianity, unlike Moriscos who had converted.

It also denotes a style of Iberian architecture and decoration, particularly of Aragon and Castile, of the 12th to 16th centuries, strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship. Oriented mostly in the Aragon and Castile regions in Spain, the Mudéjar architecture style is one of the strongest example of Islam influence on architecture. In erecting Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance buildings, builders used elements of Islamic art and often achieved striking results. Its influence survived into the 17th century.

The Mudéjar style, a symbiosis of techniques and ways of understanding architecture resulting from Muslim and Christian cultures living side by side, emerged as an architectural style in the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula.

The Umayyad conquest of Hispania is the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over Hispania largely extending from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigothic Kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Córdoba under Abd-ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of Muslim ruled Iberia, or al-Andalus (756-788). The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Islamic rule into Europe.

Forces commanded by Tariq ibn Ziyad disembarked in early 711 at Gibraltar at the head of an army consisting of Berber Northwest Africans and Arabs. He campaigned his way northward after the decisive Battle of Guadalete against the usurper Roderic. By 717, the Berber-Arabs had crossed the Pyrénées onto Septimania and Provence (734).

The Islamic invasion of Gaul followed the Islamic conquest of Hispania by the Muslim Commander Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711. During the 8th century Muslim armies conquered the region of Septimania, the last remnant of the Visigothic Kingdom.

The Umayyad conquest was stopped at the Battle of Toulouse in 721, but they sporadically raided Southern Gaul as far as Avignon, Lyon, and Autun. After the 732 Battle of Tours-Poitiers, the Franks checked Aquitanian sovereignty, and reasserted their authority over Burgundy, but only later in 759 did they manage to take the Mediterranean region of Septimania, due to Andalusi neglect and local Gothic disaffection.

The Islamic conquest of Spain beginning in 711 began the merging of Gothic and Islamic art. Historians argue that the Spanish Reconquest began (718-722) with the Battle of Covadonga.

During the Spanish Reconquest, Christians practiced tolerance and allowed the Moors to remain in Spain. Spain was the center of the Mudejar style. Mudejar art is exclusive to Spain because of the unique convergence of Arabic and European cultures.

The Fall of Granada during the Spanish Reconquest marked the end of Islamic rule in Spain. The Fall of Granada also marked the decline of influence of Mudejar art in the Iberian Peninsula. The reconquest of Spain by the Christians slowed the development of Mudejar Art.

Portugal also has examples of Mudéjar art and architecture, although the examples are fewer and the style simpler in decoration than in neighbouring Spain. Latin America also has examples of Mudéjar art and architecture, for example in Coro a World Heritage Site in Venezuela. Another example of the style in Latin America is the Monastery of San Francisco in Lima, Peru.

It is characterised by the use of brick as the main material. Mudéjar did not involve the creation of new shapes or structures (unlike Gothic or Romanesque), but the reinterpretation of Western cultural styles through Islamic influences. Mudejar art was influenced by ancient Arabic scripts, Kufic and Naskhi, which follow repetitive rhythmic patterns.

The dominant geometrical character, distinctly Islamic, emerged conspicuously in the accessory crafts using less expensive materials: elaborate tilework, brickwork, wood carving, plaster carving, and ornamental metals. To enliven the planar surfaces of wall and floor, Mudéjar style developed complicated tiling patterns that have never been surpassed in sophistication.

Even after Muslims were no longer employed in architecture, many of the elements they had introduced continued to be incorporated into Spanish architecture, thereby giving it a distinctive appearance. The term Mudejar style was first coined in 1859 by José Amador de los Ríos, an Andalusian historian and archeologist.

Historians agree that the Mudéjar style developed in Sahagún, León, as an adaptation of architectural and ornamental motifs (especially through decoration with plasterwork and brick). Mudéjar extended to the rest of the Kingdom of León, Toledo, Ávila, Segovia, etc., giving rise to what has been called brick Romanesque style. Centers of Mudéjar art are found in other cities, such as Toro, Cuéllar, Arévalo and Madrigal de las Altas Torres.

It became most highly developed mainly in Aragon, especially in Teruel (although also in Zaragoza, Utebo, Tauste, Daroca, Calatayud, etc.) During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, many imposing Mudéjar-style towers were built in the city of Teruel, changing the aspect of the city. This distinction has survived to the present day.

Mudéjar led to a fusion between the incipient Gothic style and the Muslim influences that had been integrated with late Romanesque. A particularly fine Mudéjar example is the Casa de Pilatos, built in the early 16th century at Seville.

Seville includes many other examples of Mudéjar style. The Alcázar of Seville is considered one of the greatest surviving examples of the style. The Alcázar expresses Gothic and Renaissance styles, as well as Mudéjar.

The Palace originally began as a Moorish fort. Pedro of Castile continued the Islamic architectural style when he had the palace expanded. The parish church of Santa Catalina (pictured) was built in the 14th century over an old mosque.

Gothic Architecture and Persian Origins

Of Aryan Origin(s), Western Canon(s), and Iranian Modernity

Gothic Architecture and Persian Origins


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