How Religion Shaped our Civilization and Architecture

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Religion has shaped not only Oxford, but civilisation as a whole. For the last 100 years religion has declined significantly but prior to this, religion was the first sense of community. The great theological civilisations of the past, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity have changed the course of history. Each religion consisting of differing social constructions, a set of unique beliefs which therefore establishes its own architectural identity. Every location is unique spiritually, morally, politcally and economically. I have chosen to focus on Religion cultures, both past and present as the elevated appeal of religion, historically, made the church or temple the most expressive and perpetual building situated within a place. I have chosen to explore Oxford, Baghdad and Constantinople. These cities were founded upon religion and education, all establishing early prominent universities. The Al Mustansiriya, 1227 ad, The University of Constantinople, 425 ad, and the University of Oxford, founded in 1096 ad. These cities began life as a nexus, a seed with intertwining roots consisting of a river, canals and crossings for trade, circulation and defence. These features allowed them thrived as political, cultural and commercial centres. The cities all housed important buildings with varied architectural forms, from Baghdad’s mosques and palaces which sat at the heart an axial composition (Jairazbhoy, 2003) , to Constantinoples Hagia Sophia. I will explore how the religions affiliated with a place affect its architectural typology, from its origins to present-time.

Both Bagdhad, Oxford and Constantinople were built around and enlightened by the social construction of each religion. The medieval muslim, European and Asian worlds were theocentric societies. (Hillenbrand, 2000) but how did these religions become so influential? The rise of Islam was very different to the rise of Christianity. Islam was fought by the sword, and the unexpected speed at which these attacks took place can be attributed to the fragility of neighbouring empires during the time. (Piscatori, 2019) These conquests led to the creation of caliphates, islamic states under the leadership of a religous leader, the caliph. Missionary activities were broadend during this time through imams, islamic leaders, who conversed with local inhabitants and accentuated the importance of religous teachings. These conquests spread across large distances from Spain, Eygpt and China. The military nature of the Islamic expansion and the change in place had a catastrophic effect on the typology of Islamic architecture. The first muslim armies, beginning their campaigns from Medina infringed upon the preserves of two prominent ancient civilisations. The armies which travelled north entered strongly hellenised areas with ties to Christian greco-roman civilisation, the subsequent buildings borrowed generously from this, examples being the Dome of the Rock which was completed in 692ad.

The dome houses mosaics, the subjects including trees, flowering plants and buildings. These all acting as a metaphor for paradise. Four portals, each originally with vaulted porches are cardinally faced towards the city of mecca and a cornucopia of vegetable motifs in the form of vine scrolls and trees extrapolate out of vases spreads across the surface. (Hoag, 1963) But although Islamic and western architecture contain a few minor details they remained unwilling to mix together. It was these formative years that formed the islamic architectural typology, organic and inclusive in character. The social constructs of Islam allowed the versatile use of buildings, the simplicity of communal worship allowed it to absorb a wide range of architectural expressions and spread so quickly. (Hillenbrand, 2000) The myriad of differing, foreign architectural forms that were being encountered during conquests such as Zorostration, Jain and Buddhism had no such input on the Christian architecture seen in Europe.

Christianity originated during the Apostolic period inspired by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It began as a Judaic sect in the Roman province of Judea. Jesus’ followers and apostles, the primary desciples of Jesus, are believed to have spread the word of God around the world. . It wasnt unitl Nicene period, 100-325 ad, that the followers were defined as “christians” (Elwell and Comfort, 2008) during the “cradle of Christianity. In the first 3 centuries of the christian church, the practice of christianity was illegal and very few churches were constructed. Christians intially worshipped alongside Jews within synagogues and “house churches”. This was documented by Saint Paul in his first letter to the corinthians, “together with the church in their house”. After the fall of Judaism in 70 AD, Christianity slowly seperated from Judaism and was eventually legalised in 313 by the Edict of Milan. Constantinople I restored the unity of the Roman empire and sponsored the consolidation of the christian church, which would be housed at the new capital of the Roman empire in Constantinople. The social construction and shared idea by the christian community could know be expressed through architecture. Between the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, the golden era, the golden eras of Constantinople, This accentuated the cosThis was originally in the form of a basilica to compliment municipal and monarchical buildings with a nave, aisles and clerestories situated within the space. A notable example being the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran.

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The rise of these religions created two large cities which I have chosen to explore, Constantinoble and Baghdad. Constantinople was founded by Constantinople the great in 324 (Mango, 2004) , on the already existing site of Byzantium. He wanted this new city to become the capital of Rome due to its access routes to the Danube and Euphrates. Constantinople acted as a bridge between Greco-roman models and the urban planning of antiquity to the medieval period. (Magdalino, 2002) The city used a combination of urban planning and concepts known to Hellenisitic and Roman architecture, the use of meditarranean urbanism and Tetrarchic city planning. The city expanded dramatically to encompass the entire peninsula, with main streets and public spaces arranged in relation to the topography. Forums, colonnades and gridded residential areas were protected by two large walls and a moat, the most significant defensive architecture to be seen in the middle ages. The christian churches within the city had replaced all other centres for social gathering. monuments became less important with churches, monasteries and hospitals being built with the interiors being plated with bricks and stone, not just marble seen in classical antiquity. The social construction of the society had shifted from private to public with the unified nature of the early city graudually replaced with the a series of villages interweaving through cities fortified lines.

This became an urban space that was “neither truly urban nor truly suburban” (Magdalino, 2002) The traditional post and lintel style inspired by the Greeks gave way to a new typology of arches, Apses, domes and vaults. The ornaments were becoming more realistic and less naturalistic, these changes stimulated due to the proximity of the city to asia minor and syria, fruitful centres of new artisitc ideas. Architects in constantinople produced churches that successfully combined centralised and bascilica plans having semi domes forming the axis. detailed mosaics and tall domes which heightened the sense of grace and light. The Hagia sophia is an iconic church built during this time, 532-537ad, it made a clear departure from the traditional bascilica layout of a church with a domed interior space of a centrally planned structure.

Baghdad : The city of peace was the largest city in the world in 900ad, The City was run by religous Caliphs who selected the location of the city. The tigris river was a crossing point for many trade routes, much like in Oxford and Constantinople, this created a series of important connections for trade. The first nucleus of Baghdad was the “round city” founded by Abbasid Caliph, Al Mansur in 762 AD. It was strategically positioned on the west of the river tigris. The original plan comprised of a 1 kilometer diameter circular wall, most likely used to symbolise islamic culture. Four gates surrounded the caliphs domed residence and mosque with streets shooting out radially like roots from a seed. Palaces, residences and public spaces such as educational buildings (Madrasa’s), hospitals (Dar Ul Shifa) and mosques coexisted alongside one another. The islamic golden age between the 8th and 14th century was fundamental in the creation of the city (Arnold, 1896) This golden age was rich with cultural, scientific and socio-economic flourishing. This period housed the reign of the Abbasid Caliphate which created the House of Wisdom. where scholars from diverse locations across the empire with differing social contructs gathered to translate and synthesise ancient knowledge into the Arabic language. (Saliba, 1994) This important scientific knowledge of Ancient Greece, Persia and India allowed the ideas from these countries to be absorbed into Islamic society.

However Baghdad was circular in form, with four gates which fabricated a sea of knoweldge, wealth and craftmanship from the likes of china and armenia. important scholars travelled from around the world to think, study and converse within the city. Baghdad became known as the cultural and learning capital of the world, with the first universities being built there, The Mustansiriya Madrasa. The building is one of the few buildings that still stands as an example of Baghdads important role in the evolution of geometric ornament and islamic art. (Tabbaa, 2002) Moreover it is an early example of a madrasa, the theological institution in which all four madhabs, the rites, of the orthodox Islamic law were taught (Archnet. org, n. d. )

The Islamic architectural invention concentrated around two major programmes, the mosque and the palace which were highlighted at the centre of the city. The mosque was the natural expression of the society. The inside space was considered sacred and definite from its surroundings. Due to this, the building enhanced the social construction of the religion, the meaning of words and activities of the believers once inside. The architecture of the Mosque was a definition of the religion and if any change was made to the established creation, the sacred character of the building would have been contorted. (Arkoun, 2002) The characterising features of Isamic architecture remained the same throughout history with familiar visual imagery seen in the architecture , the minaret, dome and mihrab. However, due to Islams reach around the world, a great variety of typologies, resulting from societal and geographical environment of a place. Thus each mosque furnished a reflection of the unique cognitive construction in a particular place, resulting in a diversity in outcome. (Rasdi, 2009)

The mosque was the most intricate and long-lasting structure in the islamic world. It embodied the early playfullness of islamic architecture and subsequently reflected, much like in Christian architecture, the local typologies of the time. It was a shelter and refuge from the turbelent life of the bustling city and the architecture pronounces that divergence. The changed orientation towards mecca and the taking off of ones shoes, a simple measure that symbolises the transition from the worldly to spiritual realm. A covered prayer hall accomodates bow down in unison, the city turns toward one centre like iron fillings attracted by a magnet. The endless cadence of arch and column, articulating the continuous space into identical segments. The palace, on the other hand, employs every resource of architectural symbolism to emphasize the power and authority of the leader with more intricate then any pagan or christian alter.

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