The Stolen Design: The Notre Dame
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
Notre Dame de Paris or “Our Lady of Paris,” is Europe’s finest example of gothic architecture. Despite the cathedrals European identity, parts of its design was strongly shaped by Islamic architecture. Historians say the French’s most prized possession copied Islamic architecture from Cairo and Syria.
The Islamic Influence: From Heart of the Almond to Our Lady of Paris
The twin tower design of the dame was originally from a church that was built in Idlib, northwest Syria during the 5th century. This church stands on a hill and is called the Qalb Lozeh, translating to Heart of the Almond. It sits in a dead city, amid other Byzantine stonework dating back to 4th and 6th centuries. An important feature in gothic architecture or Gothicism is the gothic arch. The design of the arch was first seen in the the oldest and largest mosque in the world, Ibn Tulun Mosque. It is located in Old Cairo and dates back to 897 A.D.
The design was brought to Europe in the 12 century by Frankish crusaders and has flourished rapidly, appearing in other medieval cathedrals like the Amiens (France), Basilica of Saint-Denis (France), and Santa Maria del Fiore (Italy), and Westminster Abbey. It was first used in Europe in the construction of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in 1071.
The arch has evolved under Muslim rule as science and math flourished, while advanced geometry and laws of statics were used in creating intricate designs and architecture. The arch was soon nicknamed the Moorish arch and was used in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus and then later in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The design of the arch traveled to Sicily, Italy by Amalfi merchants and has influenced architecture there.
The gantry of the arch originated from Islamic architecture and has influenced European Gothicism. The gothic arch differs as it is more pointed and larger in size. The Muslim influence on Notre Dame is in fact very strong and historians prefer to use the terms, ‘copied’ or ‘borrowed’ rather than ‘influenced’ just to show that the idea of buildings being entirely European is tainted.
The Muslim influence in the Notre Dame is strong and historians prefer to use the term copied or borrowed then influenced to show that the idea of buildings being entirely European is tainted. Christopher Wren, a renowned English architect, born in 1632, and known for his notable work in designing more than 50 churches in London, the most famous being St Paul’s cathedral, stated that the Goths…
“were rather destroyers than builders: I think it should with more reason be called the Saracen (Arab Muslim) style”
Besides the famous gothic arch there is the prominent feature of the Notre dame, the spire which was also influenced by the Muslim architecture. The first spire appeared in the 8th century Umayyad Mosque. The spire, otherwise known as the minert, was constructed taller so the entire town or city can hear the muezzin or the call to prayer.
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