Stealing from the Saracens – a long-overlooked cultural exchange

Rowan Moore in The Guardian:

In 2019, a survey asked 3,624 Americans if Arabic numerals should be taught in school. An affronted 56% – and 72% of Republican respondents – said no. Only 29% said yes. The nos didn’t seem to know that Arabic numerals are the things they type with the keypads of their phones.

Something similar has happened with architecture. You can read titans of art history such as Kenneth Clark or Nikolaus Pevsner, who took upon themselves the task of defining European civilisation, and barely find a mention of the Great Mosque of Córdoba or the Alhambra in Granada – extraordinary and important works of architecture that are unarguably located in Europe. It’s a breathtaking omission. Acccording to Diana Darke, the thing called “gothic”, versions of which (Notre-Dame, Houses of Parliament) have been claimed as the national style of several northern European countries, which theorists such as John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin saw as quintessentially Christian, is deeply indebted to Arab and Muslim builders in the centuries following the life of Muhammad.

Pointed arches, ribbed vaults, spires, campaniles, rose windows, certain types of dome construction, variants of stained glass, the machicolations of castles, twin-towered cathedral fronts, possibly the cloister – all can be traced, says Darke, to older buildings in the Middle East and southern Spain. She argues that the trefoil arch – a three-lobed shape often used on churches as a symbol of the Trinity – is also Arab in origin. Through a hilariously mistaken belief that the Muslim Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was Solomon’s Temple, a number of churches copied it.

More here.