In the nineteenth century, the preliminary eurocentric terms; Saracenic, Mohammedan, Moorish and Oriental architecture became one, Islamic architecture. The influences it had on other styles of architecture grew even more and made an evident difference in the Historical, Cultural and Religious buildings and artefacts. This influential growth was also extended to non-Muslim regions like Venice (Italy), Granada (Spain) and much more.
In this extended abstract, I will be thoroughly discussing with vivid theoretical substance, the influences Islamic architecture had on the Venetian architecture. The reason I chose this topic was to mainly prove the impact it has made in architectural development. The aim is to show a strong link unveiling the impact the vernacular architecture of the Islamic world had on Venetian soil. To achieve this, a structural assessment will be done on different buildings in Venice, Italy; identifying the various Islamic forms that has been utilized over the years. Also, I will investigate into the history connecting both worlds to give a vivid understanding of the influence. The Venetian architecture is a fusion of Moorish from Al-Andalus, a variation of Islamic architecture; and Byzantine architecture from Constantinople. In the fourteenth century, these two helped shape the style of architecture that sits on the Venetian soil today.
The Crystal Rock is a very fine piece of rock which belongs to Al-Aziz Billah of the Fatimid period. It was used as a vessel for communion wine in the church and was added to the collection in the treasury of St Marks. These appropriations were made because these were obviously such beautiful and fine pieces of craftsmanship. This subject cannot be investigated without looking into the crusades which is a delicate area to study. Nonetheless, the Venetians didn’t really want crusades because they wanted the good relationship they had with their Muslim trading partners protected. After the triumph over the Byzantine world, the Venetians who had been an offshore colony of Byzantium gradually began to express their independence.
In 830, with the Byzantine empire shrinking and the Western empire growing powerful. All of Spain, North Africa, Asia and many more areas at this time were ruled by Muslim Caliphate of various kinds. Chronologically, it started in the year 828, when two Venetian merchants smuggled the relics of St Mark from its burial place in Alexandria and moved it to Venice. This was where the church then (which is a cathedral now) was built to house the body. Alexandria, which was part of the Islamic world then and the fact that they were able to smuggle it up proves that their presence in Alexandria was not all that surprising. There were already merchants stationed there. The Doge at the time, had investments in ship voyages and had eastern goods stored in his house. Leading families in Venice were not land owners as in most European countries at the time. Most of them were merchants and had a very mercantile mentality. Objects were coming from the Islamic world and were regarded as precious items that they were often put into the treasury of St Marks and disguised as Christian objects by being mounted in some form of Byzantine style.
They did this by beginning to assert connections with Egypt. This was partly because they obviously had the body of St Mark in their custody who had been martyred in Alexandria. Also, they were developing very important trading routes with Egypt. In the 13th century, Venice became very well established as an important commercial power, importing oriental goods from the eastern Mediterranean to sell on in Venice. After forging a dynamic relationship with its Islamic trading partners, mainly the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria; the Ottomans of Turkey; and the Safavids of Iran, the same galleys that imported spices, soap, cotton and industrial supplies; exported silks, glass, velvets, luxurious carpets, porcelain, gilded book bindings, illustrated manuscripts, and inlaid metalwork. The artistic consequences of this relationship were felt for nearly over a thousand years.
Thinking about how trading affected the style of architecture, in 1297, the Venetian merchants oligarchy ( middle class of wealthy merchants) made a decree and listed the families who were allowed to take part in government. This decree was to give them a right to vote as they did not have a say in government. These privileges were given to get people more active in government because they were having trouble getting enough people active in doing the job of running the country. This meant that they needed more space for far larger numbers in the Doges palace (palace of the elected ruler) in the centre of the city. In 1341, they decided to rebuild the main front towards the water and the room for the great council to meet. Analysing this building you can see some things that suggest some interesting connections with the eastern Mediterranean.
Despite the palaces solomonic imagery, it still has some Islamic architectural influences. The Mamluk sultans of this period were very powerful, sophisticated and rich. The venetians trading with Egypt knew very well that this image of dominance conveyed by the Mamluks of sultan was something rather desirable. The Doges palace has similar aspects of it that could be said was influenced by the mosque. This consists of the pointed arches at the bottom, but in the mosques case within the smaller windows above and a row of crenellations at the top. It’s almost like the venetians were trying to acquire the imagery of the Mamluk Sultanate. Also, the diamond patterns on the upper walls are incredibly common on buildings in Central Asia at the time. This is a period were the silk trading route was incredibly important, hence, a lot of direct knowledge of these sort of buildings.
During this time of the trade with the Islamic world, they tried to make St Marks look more Islamic on the outside. St Marks had been buried in Egypt, so they looked and studied burial structures in Egypt such as the view of the City of the Dead in Cairo and tried to make the domes of St Marks look more like them. The original domes were initially very low, almost flat on the outside. They were then given these enormously tall super structures over the top to resemble the kind of burial structure they felt St Mark would have had, had he been in Egypt. They felt it was appropriate for him. The domes of St Marks are quite tall and steep and topped with what is seen to be a ribbed lantern. This structure isn’t seen anywhere throughout the west. This style recalls Minarets found across the Middle East.
This masterpiece employs some elements of Islamic architecture. Fig 5.1 shows a facade of the lower loggia, middle balcony and upper balcony; with the middle and upper balcony making use of quatrefoils and balustrade to partially close the space. The similarities in the two pictures above are the inflected arches which prove the Islamic influence. The arches of the facades windows give the building a perceptive Islamic feel. While the arrangement and narrow form of the windows were extracted from Byzantine precedents, the inflected nature has always been of Islamic inspiration.
My method of research based on this essay was chronological. In order to fully understand why and how those building acquired those Islamic forms, I had to trace it back to the source which was trading. This led to begin the essay with a history of the trade between the venetians and the Islamic world, which explained how goods and materials were imported and then utilized. It can be said that the utilisation of these materials along with the trips made by the merchants to the countries with Islamic buildings and artefacts brought about the change in the style of architecture.
I then studied a few buildings in Venice today and compared them to structures that display vernacular architecture in the Islamic world, identifying the similarities, hence, its inspiration.
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b28OKGImVuA [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].
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