Lecture 6. Eastern Influences on the Architecture of Western Europe

Christian Europe expected the world to end in the year 1000. When that fateful year passed, a century and a half of church building (with attendant sculpture and painting) followed, on a scale and of sophistication not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1814, Thomas Rickman coined for the architecture of this period the term “Romanesque,” that is to say, “like the Romans.” The term colored the perception of architectural historians studying that period. They focused on architectural elements indebted to the legacy of ancient Rome, displaying a sort of cultural blindness to the rich array of motifs and structural systems learned or adapted from different architectural traditions. More recently, scholars of this period pointed out the evident similarities among the churches built in this period and the architecture of regions surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean. They balked, however, at including Islamic architeture among those influencing the architecture of Christian Europe. While they acknowledged the influence of the East, they strove to artificially circumscribe that influence to the legacy of early Christian churches in Syria, or Armenian churches from the seventh-century onwards.i An examination of the architecture produced in Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries reveals instead a wide array of architectural influences from the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, including and especially Islamic architecture.

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Lecture Notes