Byzantine Influences on Islamic Architecture
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Published: Thu, 14 Jun 2018
The current definition of globalization incorporates the significant idealism that one’s culture supersedes that of another, regardless of any potential beneficial amalgamation. Throughout history, the idea of conquer, and more directly, the annihilation of governmental bodies and social stratification has led to the exponential growth of social resources. It is therefore, through the inclusion these alternate, yet significant diversities that growth has been most efficiently affected. One significant assimilation was that of the Byzantine architecture into the future construction of Islamic magnates. While the disintegration of Byzantine society cannot be entirely accredited to the work of the Islamic forces, it is through constant attempts at occupation and tireless warfare, coupled with the foresight of Islamic leadership to reintegrate many of the highly effective design maxims into their architecture, that the structures that remain today occupy such religious indemnification among followers. Truly, the Byzantine influence in not only early, but modern Islamic architecture has shaped not only the ceiling of religious piety, but the ideology of a charismatic and well-preserved religious force.
The Byzantine Empire itself may easily be defined as a cultural melting pot, or more definitively, the globalized integration of religious and cultural views, centralized around one spectacular city: Constantinople. It is through the re-integration of revitalized world views that throughout the rein of this Empire, substantial cultural and societal gains were enacted. These gains include the remarkable architectural advances which greatly influenced the future surrounding areas and reverent incorporation of byzantine architectural masterpieces into their framework. Not to be excluded, the Roman and Greek influences within Byzantine architecture engineered significant structures, so inspiring and well defined that they would become structural affecters even to this day. Most notably, the advances towards structural engineering as well as iconography would influence religious societies for many future generations.
The definitive Byzantine structure may be characterized by a uniquely architectured high dome, including theological depictions ornately carved which often represented the religious icons of the era. The re-definition of the church foundation which occurred during this timeframe eliminated the reliance on a boxed structure with four walls and incorporated structurally definitive six to eight cornered buildings which would also serve to support the dome itself. Additionally, and especially integral to future Islamic interpretation, the use of Corinthinan capitals, or remaining Roman text carved into stone and placed within the structure of the building for aesthetic purposes, would determine future scriptural formations and lettering on the outside of mosques and buildings.
While the Byzantine’s themselves were primarily Christian, and especially during the first ruler’s reign, persecuted non-christian residents, often to the death, the influence that their architecture, as well as their cultural devotion would have on future Islamic nations is highly visible in many of their structures. Timely in it’s historical prescedence, the life of Mohammed would drastically influence this empire, as Muslim forces gained strength and began to attack southern Byzantine territories. “Byzantine energies focused almost entirely to the east and to the south. The western countries, the Europe that Byzantium at one time looked to for their identity and history, began to steadily fade from their horizon.” In spite of the Islamic forces, Byzantine architecture represents the preservation of Roman influence which continues to affect building design to this day.
The integration of Byzantine architecture into Islamic religious structures continues to affect modern building design in this region of the world. One of the similarities between the Byzantine (Christian Majority) and Islamic societies was the lack of iconographic interpretations. Both religions severely preached the elimination of religions depictions through idolatry or stone iconography. In this format, the singular representation of religious devotion would come form the incorporation of religious words and text that would line the walls or pillars in this mosque. Additionally, the minimization of exterior flourish would encourage entrance into the spiritual dwelling. The influence of this technique of exterior minimalization, while re-defined interior actualization would greatly affect modern construction. “The multitude of decorative treatments of surfaces in Islamic architecture, the use of almost every conceivable technique and the development of a rich repertory of designs — from geometric to abstract shapes to full-scale floral patterns, from minutely executed inscriptions in a full variety of calligraphic styles to the monumental single words that serve as both religious images and decoration — is without parallel in the architecture of the non-Muslim world.” Reverence beneath ornately decorated structures would encourage religious piety, and incorporate the devotion of the follower through his affectation from the surrounding architecture.
Further notable incorporations of Byzantine architecture include the utilization of mosaic forms, the amalgamation of colorful tile or stone to represent an image with religious significance, the high dome structure supported by multiple pillars or bases, and an extensive palate pastel and complementary colors which would flood the interior of the structure itself. In spite of the mediated exterior flair, the re-introduction of color and style into the interior of the structures themselves can be much attributed to Byzantium influence.
Utilizing marble and mosaic, coupled with centuries of preservation, the Mosque of Damascus was effectively created as a second Mecca, or identified within the Islamic religion as a powerful venue of absolute worship. The unique history of this structure incorporates the identification with the Byzantine ruling religion, as “after the Islamic conquest of Damascus in 661, during the reign of the first Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, the Muslims shared the church with the Christians. The Muslims prayed in the eastern section of the ancient temple structure and the Christians in the western side.” The Byzantines, a predominately Christian society, were willing to share this area of significance with the Islamic followers due to the highly divine identification which was incumbent within the location to both cultures. This diversification of venue, paired with the influence of Byzantine architects, led the caliph to construct a building which has endured calamity while edifying the necessity of piety through the ornate calligraphical representations and integration of inspiring color and mosaic.
Additionally, the multiple pillared structure, as well as many arches and octagonal foundation clearly represents significant influence from the Byzantine era to the Islamic interpretation. Articles from the Koran have been requisitioned to the support structures of the domed ceiling as devotees may kneel and raise their eyes to remember the sacred text above them. There is a distinct lack of man or animalistic influence, as the iconography is specifically relegated to the religious features non-idolatrated. Finally, the amazing mosaic which surrounds the entire building, coupled with the engraved marble offers direct insight into the influence of Byzantine predecessors.
Example 2: Dome of the Rock
Currently, one of the most important structures in Islamic religion, the Dome of the Rock, represents a venue of extreme importance and, venerated by the Muslims, it is where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.” This simple belief has served as an instrumental catapult for many different wars and battles which evolved around the structure and location of the site. Essentially, this is a monumental domed structure created by Abdul Malik ibn Marwan in approximately 685 AD. The Byzantine influence may be immediately recognized through the multiple arches, the pillars inscribed with Koranic text, and the mosaic colorization which highlights both the exterior and interior of this remarkable structure. Additionally, the layout featuring extensive foundation and lack of religious iconography represents the direct Roman influence on the Byzantine architects. In fact, this structure continues to be represented, not as an Islamic specific creation, but as a mimic to a most remarkable work in Syria known as the Cathedral of Bosra, created during a time of Roman rule. And, as previously identified, it was through Roman integration and inspiration that the transcendence of architecture framed the Byzantine empire.
Easily identified through didactic calligraphy, spectacular mosaic, and highly inspirational domed structures, the Islamic identification with Byzantine influence has offered society a unique example of cultural assimilation without full scale disintegration. Representatively, the Roman influence throughout the globe has offered some of the most remarkable architectural features, including dam and aqueduct construction, in addition to modern buildings and bridges. Through tri-cultural amalgamation, the Islamic Caliphs were able to integrate the most effective traits of this Byzantine interpretation and redirect those features into their own religious facilities. The bright colored, highly regimented structures remain today as a reminder of necessitated devotion for followers; they are the essential proponents of spiritual migration, and the constant belligerent behavior surrounding their maintenance offers unique perspective into a cultural clash regarding the choice of architectural foundation. The beauty and multi-cultural integration of these structures and architecture, however, is ultimately essential to preserve, as the historical implications of pre-capitalist globalization offers direct insight into the highly devout nature of mankind’s spiritual and cultural plight, the effect of which has far reaching determinations into the future.
Kuban, Dogan. Moslem Religious Architecture: Development of Religious Architecture in Later Periods. New York, NY: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997.
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