Visitors around the world have travelled to Europe to see the tall spires and stained glass windows of the continent’s Gothic cathedrals: in Cologne, Chartres, Milan, Florence, York and Paris. The trappings of Gothic architecture have become shorthand for “medieval Europe”.
Yet in Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe (Hurst: 2020), Diana Darke investigates the Islamic origins of Gothic architecture, tracing its history through pre-Islamic Syria through the Islamic empires to the tall European cathedrals between the 12th and 17th centuries. The book sold out on its first day of sale, in part due to its review in The Guardian, which called the book "an exhilarating, meticulously researched book that sheds light on centuries of borrowing."
In this interivew, Diana Darke and I talk about the origins of what we consider to be “Gothic architecture”, how those styles came to Europe, how this history of cultural and intellectual exchange may have gotten lost, and what we miss when we code something as fully “European”, fully “Islamic”, or fully any kind of culture.
Diana Darke is an Arabist and cultural expert who has lived and worked in the Middle East for over thirty years. Among her better-known books are The Merchant of Syria: A History of Survival and My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis.
You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, where you can find its review of Stealing from the Saracens. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.