ARCH 221 Report: The Trumph of Christ – The Mediterranean in The Early Middle Ages

In the first half of the seventh century, Islamic culture occurred. In the century after the death of the prophet  Muhammad, his Arab followers spread his teachings through Egypt and Africa, as far west as Spain, and as far east as Sassanid Persia. Because of their rapid expansion and the paucity of the earlier artistic heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslims derived their unique style from synthesizing the arts of the Byzantines, the Copts, the Romans, and the Sassanids. The great strength of Islamic art as a whole lies in its ability to synthesize native design elements with imported ones.

The fifth and eighth centuries was called as the Dark Ages, when Western civilization was decimated throgh onslaught of Germans and Muslims. With long-distance trade stifled, so the story went, the oldRoman cities became defaunct. As far as what was being built in the West between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Charlemagnei we should not expect to see the same continued scale or the same mechanized efficiency and production that governed Roman building operations.

The true range of Carolingian architecture comes through in what we know of their monasteries. Carolingian churches show some distinct differences from early Christian churches. The delicate columns that graced the naves of early Christian basilicas gave way to heavier, bulkier piers, providing greater structural strength and allowing for ever-grander churches. Yet the most distinguishing feature of Carolingian architecture is the birth of the westwork, a facade on the western entrance to a church. His capitol at Aachen shows this clearly. Just look at the Palace Chapel. Here we see that the early Christian narthex has been transformed into a single tower-like entrance, called a westwork. Besides building churches, Charlemagne constructed or expanded dozens of monasteries throughout his empire. These monasteries served as religious retreats, centers of scholarship and art and, most importantly, public schools for the learning of literacy and Latin.


The principal Islamic architectural types are: the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace and the Fort. From these four types, the vocabulary of Islamic architecture is derived and used for other buildings such aspublic baths, fountains and domestic architecture.

The earliest architectural monument of Islam that retains most of its original form is the Dome of the Rock (Kubbet-üs-Sahra) in Jerusalem, constructed on the site of the Jewish Second Temple. Muslims believe it to be the spot from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. It has mosaics depicting scrolling vines and flowers, jewels, and crowns in greens, blues, and gold. Similar in some aspects is the later Great Mosque of Damascus  which are known one of the biggest and the oldest mosques and was built by Al Walid over what was originally a Roman temple.


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