Module code: ARCH3052
Coursework 1: Extended
tHE INFLUENCES ISLAMIC
ARCHITECTURE HAD ON VENETIAN ARCHITECTURE
STATEMENT OF ORIGINALITY
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1 Introduction. 4
2 Discussion of literature. 5
3 Research method. 9
4 Bibliography. 9
5 List of illustrations. 10
6 Appendix (optional) 10
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.
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 Islamic world’s
cultural impact on Venice
is a very fine piece of rock in Fig. 1 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
The Crystal Rock
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.
Fig. 2 Shows
a map of the trading routes in the medieval Islamic world
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.
Fig 3.1 The
Doges palace facade
Fig 3.2 Qala’un Mosque, Cairo Egypt.
Fig 3.3 Inside Qala’un Mosque
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, as in fig 3.1 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, as in fig 3.3, 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
St Mark’s Basilica
Fig 4.1 St
Marks Basilica, Venice Italy
Fig 4.2 City of the dead, Cairo, Egypt.
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 (as in fig 4.2) 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.
Fig. 5.1 Ca D,oro Facade, Venice
Fig 5.2 Madrasas of Sultan Al-Malik Al-Salih Najm Ad-Din Ayyub
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.
Guides. (2017). The Architecture of Venice: Anything but Italian. Available at:
Accessed 13 Dec. 2017.
S. (2017). Venice’s Principal Muslim Trading Partners: the Mamluks, the
Ottomans, and the Safavids | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The
Metropolitan Museum of Art. online The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vmos/hd_vmos.htm Accessed 13
R. (2010). Venetian vernacular architecture. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, p.66.
D. (2006). Venice and the East. New Haven: Yale University Press.
D. (2017). Khan Academy. online Khan Academy. Available at:
Accessed 13 Dec. 2017.
Architecture. (2017). PDF Nairobi: University of Nairobi, pp.2 – 7. Available
Accessed 13 Dec. 2017.
P. (2012). The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography
and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam (Iranian Shi’ism). I.B. Tauris, p.222.
G. (2008). A Linguistic History of Venice. Italian Studies, 63(2),
of Congress (2017). In Pursuit of Heritage: Tracing Early Elements of
Islamic Architecture. video Available at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b28OKGImVuA Accessed 4 Dec. 2017.
E. and Carboni, S. (2017). Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797 | Essay
| Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art
History. Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vnis/hd_vnis.htm
Accessed 13 Dec. 2017.
N. (n.d.). What is Islamic Architecture anyway? pp.2 – 6.
C. (2017). Moorish Architecture. online National Geographic Society.
Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/moorish-art/ Accessed
13 Dec. 2017.
F. (2012). The Merchants of Venice or a Tale of Two Cities. European State
Aid Law Quarterly, 11(2), pp.503-515.
P. (2008). VENICE AND THE ISLAMIC WORLD 828–1797 BY STEFANO CARBONI
(ED). The Art Book, 15(2), pp.17-18.
Fig 1. The Crystal Rock
Fig. 2 Shows a map of the trading routes in the medieval
Fig 3.1 The Doges palace facade
Fig 3.2 Qala’un Mosque,
Fig 3.3 Inside
Fig 4.1 St Marks Basilica, Venice Italy
5.1 Ca D,oro Facade, Venice
5.2 Madrasas of Sultan Al-Malik Al-Salih Najm Ad-Din Ayyub Minaret