18.3 C
Friday, September 29, 2023
    HomeNewsAustralia‘Gothic’ architects brought Islamic world to Europe

    ‘Gothic’ architects brought Islamic world to Europe

    - Advertisement -
    Early Syrian churches, notably the 5th century Qalb Lozeh in Idlib, used many features that were replicated at Notre-Dame. (Wikimedia Commons)


    Too many people conceive the world in terms of civilizational silos. The West, whatever that means, is for many the apogee of mankind’s cultural achievements, in contrast with places like Africa, which is viewed as an uncivilized cultural blob rather than a rich and diverse array of peoples and histories. As for the Islamic world, the key word is “threat.” Any spread of its civilization undermines Judeo-Christian values, whatever they are. Islam must be kept out of Europe, as if it had never been present or contributed to its culture.

    Such blinkered ignorance is not confined to far-right and uber-nationalist groups. In art historian Sir Kenneth Clarke’s much-lauded 1969 TV series “Civilisation” and the accompanying book, the author succeeds in imagining civilization as an almost totally Western European product. He makes no reference to influences from the Middle East, despite its clear and obvious impact. And, according to a 2019 poll, most Americans do not realize they use Arabic numerals and do not want them taught in US schools.

    Just imagine how such narrow-minded souls view the latest book demonstrating how much Europe borrowed and benefited from Islamic civilization and the advances it made. Diana Darke outlines in great detail in “Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe” how European Gothic architecture had its roots in the Near East. What fueled her desire to write the book was the fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris last year and the way the building was widely described as being a beacon of French culture, with no appreciation that its roots were far from entirely European. Darke highlights how early Syrian churches, notably the 5th century Qalb Lozeh in Idlib, used many features that were replicated at Notre-Dame centuries later.

    Most of the key features of what is so misleadingly termed “Gothic” architecture did not come from Europe. On top of that, Gothic is an absurd term that should be dropped, given that the Goths were more known for destruction than construction and certainly were not in the business of designing pointed arches, ribbed vaulting or domes. All of these features and more could, on the other hand, be found on early Christian and Islamic buildings centuries before they were seen in Europe.

    This is no new realization, as the author is at pains to point out. The great architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Christopher Wren, was clear. He said: “Modern Gothic… is distinguished by the lightness of its work, by the excessive boldness of its elevations, and of its sections; by the delicacy, profusion, and extravagant fancy of its ornaments… it can only be attributed to the Moors; or what is the same thing, to the Arabians or Saracens.” Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi was influenced by the great Islamic scientist Ibn Al-Haytham (965-1040), who many see as the father of modern optics. Brunelleschi’s double dome at Florence cathedral — a feature developed earlier by the Seljuk Turks — was the first of its kind in Europe. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was the largest cathedral in the world for centuries and influenced Michelangelo and Wren, among others. Antoni Gaudi, in designing his masterpiece the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, was open about how he borrowed from Islamic architecture.

    Take perhaps the most celebrated feature of Gothic architecture — the pointed arch. These featured at the highly powerful abbeys of Monte Cassino and then Cluny in the 12th century, from where their use spread swiftly across Europe. But the earliest known use of the pointed arch was at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built in 691-2.

    Stained glass windows also originated in modern-day Syria but came to adorn Notre-Dame and other cathedrals in Europe. Colored glass was used on the Dome of the Rock and also the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The earliest known example of colored glass in Europe was at La Mezquita de Cordoba (Spain was the prime entry point for many architectural and other innovations from the Islamic world).

    Aside from the pointed arch, architectural imports to Europe included the double dome, rose windows, cloisters, vaulting, ablaq (the use of alternate stone colors), and even windmills, which were first used in Persia more than 500 years before arriving in Europe. These features are widely on display for those who look, from Venice — a city more oriental than European — to Burgos, Chartres, Notre-Dame, St. Paul’s and even the Palace of Westminster.

    European architecture owes a huge debt to the Islamic world that goes largely unacknowledged. Spain and Portugal, in particular, endeavor to bury their Islamic past. The cultural appropriation is stunning. You can visit La Mezquita and be excused for not knowing it was a mosque. Arabic guides were nonexistent both there and at the Alhambra in Granada when I last visited.

    Early Syrian churches used many features that were replicated at Notre-Dame centuries later.

    Chris Doyle

    But this is not the key point. Science never belongs to one civilization or empire. Great strides forward are made through borrowing and building on others’ discoveries. Islamic architecture borrowed heavily from its Byzantine and early Christian forbears. Notre-Dame is not rooted in French architecture but the cumulative advances across the then-known world.

    This offers a vital lesson for the present, not least as certain countries try to nationalize attempts to produce a coronavirus vaccine and monopolize the credit. All the greatest technological and scientific achievements of the past occurred when open minds sought knowledge from every avenue and collaborated. It is closed societies that fail time and time again. It is time to learn some lessons from our shared history.

    • Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Twitter: @Doylech


    - Advertisement -


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Keep exploring...

    Complete Guide to Eid Prayer: Rituals, Cleanliness, Process, and More

    Eid Prayer is a significant festival in Islam, marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. One of the most important aspects...

    Eid Al-Fitr: A Comprehensive Guide to Recommended Acts on the Day of Celebration

    Eid Al-Fitr, often referred to as "Eid," is one of the most significant and joyous festivals in the Islamic calendar. It marks the end...

    Related Stories

    Uttar Pradesh Teacher Arrested for Alleged Communal Incident in Classroom

    In a recent development, the Uttar Pradesh Police apprehended a schoolteacher on Thursday for...

    Inspiring Journey: Guinean Student’s Epic Bike Ride to Secure a Spot at a Top Islamic University

    In a remarkable display of determination, Mamadou Safaiou Barry, a young Guinean student, embarked...

    12th Islamic World Ministers of Culture Conference Endorses Doha Declaration to Revitalize Cultural Endeavors

    Under the distinguished patronage of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani,...

    Agong Urges Muslims to Embrace Prophet Muhammad’s Virtues on Maulidur Rasul

    In a heartfelt address on Maulidur Rasul, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa...

    Assessing Nehru’s Impact on the Plight of Indian Muslims

    Pratinav Anil's latest literary endeavor, "Another India: The Making of the World's Largest Muslim...

    President Wickremesinghe Encourages Unity Among Muslims to Address National Challenges

    In a special address commemorating Milad-un-Nabi, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called upon the Muslim...

    Iran Expresses Outrage Over Holy Qur’an Desecration in Netherlands

    In an official statement released on Thursday, the spokesperson for Iran's Ministry of Foreign...

    India’s Treatment of Muslims: A Concerning Pattern of Alienation

    In his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul...

    Explore More Articles

    Welcome to the enlightening realm of our Islamic Articles Page – a digital sanctuary where knowledge, spirituality, and the rich tapestry of Islamic culture converge. In an era where information flows ceaselessly and the world seems to spin faster each day, our platform stands as a steadfast beacon of wisdom and reflection.