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Influence of Trade, Power and Religion on Architecture Around the World

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 4752 words Published: 18th May 2020

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1. Introduction


1.1. Aims of Study

The following essay aims to explore and investigate the main influences of architecture across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas during the time period 600 AD. It will highlight significant events, analyse the relationship between these spaces with reference to mainly religion, power and trade, as well as climate and human activity while also making reference to one public and one private building in each continent comparing similarities and differences. This is done to see whether the spread of architecture in different parts of the world can be linked

2. Africa

In the early 600’s, large parts of Northern Africa

were conquered from the Byzantine by Muslim

Arabs and thus began the Rise of the Islamic

Empire in Africa bringing with it religion and law.

The Islamic Empire spread throughout Africa by

means of trade. Swahili emerged as an

Arab/Bantu-African hybrid language.

North Africa was fundamentally shaped by the

coming of Islam and the migration of large

numbers of Arab people, therefore the

architecture was significantly influenced by Islam.

Islamic architecture comprises of a wide range of

religious and secular styles from the foundation of

Islam to the present day. These styles influence

the design and construction of buildings and

structures in Islamic culture. Recognizable Islamic

architectural styles emerged soon after Prophet

Muhammad’s time. These buildings were inspired

by Islam with the addition of localized adaptations

and inspiration of the former Sassanid and

Byzantine models, the Germanic Visigoths in

Spain also made a big contribution to Islamic

Architecture. Often in English, the vocabulary used to describe public baths, fountains and domestic architecture are derived from Arabic phrases.




2.1. Public Building


Great Mosque of Kairouan

The Great Mosque of Kairouan also known as the

Figure 1 Cross Section of the Great Mosque of Khairouan

Masjid (Mosque) of Uqba was built in the year 670

by the Sahabi (friend of the Prophet Muhammad)

Uqba-bin-Nafe who was a military general. He

began the Islamic conquest of present-day Algeria

and Morocco. Kairouan was used as his base to

mount operations. The Masjid became a

Madressah (centre of learning) for Islamic and

Quranic learning. It attracted Muslims from all

around the world. The Masjid has a surface area

of 9000 square meters and is considered as a

model for Masjids in the western Islamic World.

2.2. Private Building

Figure 2 Adobe Multi-storey townhouse

Adobe Brick Compounds

The compounds were a mix of Sudano-Sahelian

architecture. They were built using mudbricks and

adobe plaster, thus the name Adobe Brick.

Wooden-log beams that jut out the face of the

buildings were used as supports for larger

buildings such as Mosques and Palaces. These

beams also acted as scaffolding for reworking

which was done regularly and involved the entire


Sudanese compounds were characterised by the

several cone roofs. This was a primarily urban

building style.


3. Europe

The time period 600AD is also knows as the Dark

Ages or the Middle Ages. It refers to the time

period between the Fall of the Roman Empire, the

Italian Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.

The Byzantine Empire was the continuation of the

Roman Empire in the eastern parts of the

Mediterranean where Greek was the vernacular.

During the Dark Ages, the Ancient Greek and

Roman civilizations (Byzantium) were remarkably

advanced and contributed immensely to human

progress, notably in the areas of science,

government, philosophy and Architecture.

The emperor Constantine who was the ruler of the

Byzantine Empire declared Constantinople

(modern day Istanbul) the new Rome and placed

in the major trade routes for Europe and Asia.

Christianity as a religion was the dominant influence of architectural style and

Byzantine architects constructed numerous

religious buildings. (Visual-arts-cork.com, 2019)


3.1.Public Building

Figure 3 Hagia Sophia before Islamic Conquer

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is a former Greek orthodox

church (Construction of the 3rd church began in

537). It served as a cathedral and seat of the

Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was later

converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under

the Latin Empire.

With the Rise of the Islamic Empire, Byzantine

was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks

and the Church was converted to a Masjid. With

Sketch of a Minaret, Auhors own work

the conversion of the church into a Masjid,

Minarets (turret from which people are called to

prayer) were added to the original building,

Christian relics were removed and a minbar

(pulpit from which a sermon is delivered) and

mihrab (niche in a wall to indicate the direction in

which prayers should be performed) were

constructed. These additions significantly changed

the use of the building and its identity.













3.2. Private Building

The Great Palace of Constantinople

The Palace is also known as The Sacred Palace

and is the Byzantium equivalent to the Palatine in

Rome. The Great Palace of Constantinople was the

primary residence for Emperors and the centre of

imperial administration for over 800 years.

The Palace is located in Constantine (Old

Istanbul/Modern Turkey). It overlooks the Sea of

Marmara to the south-east. It is a complex of

buildings and gardens situated on a 600x500m

terraced site.

Later on in History, specifically the year 1453

when Mehmed II entered Constantine, he found

the palace abandoned and in ruins. Mehmed

allegedly whispered, “The spider spins his web in

Figure 4 Arial View of The Great Palace

the Palace of the Caesars, An owl hoots in the

towers of Afrasiyab.” (Ferdowsi)

During the Ottoman era, much of the palace was

demolished and was initially turned into housing

and a number of small Masjids.

4. Asia

“Between the fall of the Han dynasty in 220 CE and

the year 600, more than thirty dynasties,

kingdoms, and states rose and fell on the eastern

side of the Asian continent. The founders and

rulers of those dynasties represented the

spectrum of people in North, East, and Central

Asia. Nearly all of them built palaces, altars,

temples, tombs, and cities, and almost without

exception, the architecture was grounded in the

building tradition of China.” (Steinhardt, 2014)

China used the silk road as the inventors of silk in

the early ages, they became extremely wealthy

transporting luxury goods along the silk road.

4.1. Public Building

The Great Wall of China

The Great wall of China was rebuilt in the early

600’s which was funded through the trade of silk

via the silk route. The Great Wall of China was

constructed along an east to west line. The

structure is a series of fortifications built using

Figure 5 The great Wall of China

stone, brick, tamped earth, and wood.

The main purpose behind the Great Wall was to

protect Chinese states and empires against raids

and invasions. Other purposes of the Great Wall

included border control, encouraging trade and the

control of immigration/emigration.

4.2. Private Building

Domestic Houses

Sketch of a Pergoda, authors own work

In early China, most of the people who could not afford to live in fancy houses lived in small houses made out of mudbrick, with only a room and a dirt floor (the the way most people in the Roman Empire, West

Asia and Africa lived). Wealthier people could

afford fancier homes and built temples and


Ancient Chinese architecture was built according to

strict rules of design that made Chinese buildings

follow the ideas of Taoism (philosophy and belief

that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and world

view) and other Chinese philosophies. The first

design idea was that buildings should be long and

low. The roof would be held up by columns and

should seem to be floating. The second design idea

was influenced by symmetry and balance just as

the fundamentals of Taoism.

A drastic change in Chinese architecture was

influenced by religion when Buddhism first came to

China from India. Buddhists began building

pagodas (tiered tower with multiple eaves) to keep

sacred things. These pagodas were inspired by

Indian buildings called stupas (hemispherical

structure containing religious relics).

In the early 600’s, under the Sui Dynasty, the

ideas of symmetry and balance once again became

important in Architecture and the principle of

Taoism was brought back. (Ruiz, 2013)

5. North America

The time period 600AD falls under the Pre-

Columbian Era in North American history. The Pre-

Columbian era is classified under five stages;

namely, Archaic period, Climate Stabilized,

Woodland period, Formative period and the Classic


The Woodland period (1000BC – 800AD) refers to

the large sites between the Archaic period and the

Mississippian cultures, this periods involved

development such as tools made of bone and

stone, making of textiles and shelters.

The specialization of crafts and metallurgy also

took place around 600AD and is known as the

Classic period.

5.1. Cahokia

Figure 6 Cahokia

Cahokia was the most important centre for the

people known today as Mississippians. Their

settlements ranged across the Midwest, Eastern

and Southern United States. In its peak, Cahokia

was the largest urban centre and was

subsequently larger than any American city until

the 1780’s.

Cahokia was situated in a strategic trade position

near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri

and Illinois river. It maintained trade links with

communities near the Great Lakes to the North

and the Gulf Coast to the South. They traded in

exotic items such as copper, Mill Creek chert and

whelk shells. (Crystalinks.com, n.d.)

5.2. Public Building

Monks Mound at Cahokia

Monks mound is the largest pre-Columbian

earthwork in America. (Crystalinks.com, n.d.) Its size averages 30m high,

291m long and 236m wide. The base of Monks

mound is roughly the same size as the Great

Pyramid at Giza.

The platform mound was constructed almost

entirely of basket transported soil and clay. The

flattened top and construction method caused it to

retain rainwater within the structure and over the

years, this has caused slumping.

The Grand Plaza is a large open area that spreads

out beyond Monks mound, this was a public area

used by residences of Cahokia. Beyond Monks

mound as many as 120 private mounds stood at

varying distances from the city centre.

5.3. Private Building

Sketch of Mound Structures, authors own work

Cahokia Mounds

Cahokia consisted of approximately 120 private

mounds. Private mounds were constructed in the

same way as Monks mound but at a much smaller


Earthen mounds were constructed for residential,

ceremonial and burial purposes.

The basic structure of a mound was that it was either flat-topped

pyramids, cones with flat or rounded tops or

elongated ridges but in some cases, mounds took

on unusual shapes, such as the outline of

significant animals. (Crystalinks.com, n.d.)

6. South America

South America has been inhabited for

approximately 20 000 years by hunters and

gatherers who began developing agriculture

around 4000BC. The first permanent agricultural

settlements appeared about 3500BC in coastal

river valleys.

Inhabitants of South America during 600AD

included the Moche, Nazca, Tiahuanaco, Huari and

Pachacmac tribes.

The Huari people excelled both agriculturally and

with trade between the other small villages in Peru

at the time. On the coast of South America, the

Tiahuanaco people started to rise with its war

parties and tactics. Nazca and Moche were

coexisting civilizations in the Andes Mountain area

of the Americas. The civilization of Moche was

limited in communicating with the Ica-Nazca

areas. Both of these civilizations collapsed in the

year of 700.


6.1. Moche

The Peru state became known as ‘Moche’ due to

the civilization which founded it. It lies

at the foot of the Cerro Blanco mountain and

once covered an area of 300 hectares. It has

urban housing, plazas, storehouses, and

workshop buildings, as well as an impressive

monuments which include two massive adobe

brick pyramid-like mounds. The multiple levels,

access ramps, and slanted roofing are typical

traits featured in Moche architecture and this monument

is impressive as it is in its original state. (Cartwright, 2014)


6.2. Public Building

Huaca del Sol

The Huaca del Sol temple is an adobe brick temple

built by the Moche civilization on the North Coast

of Peru.

The Huaca del Sol was built using approximately

130 million adobe bricks and was the largest pre-

Columbian structures built in the Americas. It was

composed of four main levels and was expanded

and rebuilt by different rulers over time. Markings

on the brickwork suggest that over 100 different

communities contributed to the building of the



6.3. Private Building

Figure 7 Huaca del Sol

Moche Adobe Brick Compounds

“Monumental Moche architecture is characterized

by large adobe (mud brick) pyramids with

platforms. They often decorated the pyramids and

temples with friezes depicting Moche deities.

Tombs of the rulers were placed inside the

pyramids with elaborate ceremonies which are

depicted on the Moche pottery.

Residential areas were located adjacent to the major

pyramids and in the smaller towns up and down

the river valleys.” (Ojibwa, 2011)


7. Cross Analysis and Conclusion

The history of architecture traces the changes and

influences through various religions, traditions,

regions and styles.

From the above research, one can say that the

influence of architecture was spread mainly

through trade and power.

The Silk Road is a network of trade and cultural

transmission routes connecting Asia, Europe and

Africa. It linked traders, merchants, pilgrims,

monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers from

China and India to the Mediterranean Sea during

various periods of time.

Trade was a significant factor in the developing of

civilizations along the silk route. Through this,

architecture developed and adapted.

Architecture was largely influenced by the spread

of religion which was spread through trade. With

the exchange along the silk route, religions were

Figure 8 Map of the Silk Route

introduced into different parts of the world where

they once did not exist. Islam, Christianity and

Buddhism were among the religions which were

spread vastly and made significant impacts on the

architectural styles in each region.

One can see the Islamic influence of Architecture

from the Middle East adapted in the Adobe Brick

Masjids as well as in the Hagia Sophia in Turkey.

Further along in history, the Taj Mahal in India was

built and once again, one can see the adaptation

of Islamic architecture in India. Moving from India

into China, with the spread of Buddhism, one can

see the influence of Indian architecture in the

pagodas that were built as Buddhist shrines.

Power also played a huge role in adaptations and

styles of architecture. The Hagia Sophia is an

excellent example of a building that was adapted

through power.

Much like the inhabitants of Africa, we see that

tribes in South America also used the adobe brick

method of construction. Adobe is the world’s oldest

manufactured building materials. Its use spans all

parts of the globe and crosses many cultures. In

an architectural context, the word adobe means,

sun-dried mud brick or a structure built from such

bricks. More generally, “adobe” is used as a term

for the mud used to make these bricks. The word

derives through the Spanish language from several

Arabic terms meaning “mix” or “smooth.”

The derivation of the word adobe hints at the

influence of Arab/Islamic architecture in the Middle

East and its spread to Africa.

During the period 600AD, contact between Africa

and the Americas had not yet been made, yet we

see similar construction methods developed in

these different parts of the world. This can suggest

that development of Architecture is universally

known guideline and civilizations made use of what

they had to construct their buildings.

In conclusion, religion, power and trade played

important roles in the development, adaptation

and spread of architecture. The Islamic empire

was a dominating force within this time and

brought forward law, philosophy, theology and

architecture. Although, the Byzantine empire was

conquered, they also played a large part in the

development of early architecture.

Architecture in the Americas was fairly similar. The

communities were large and thrived.


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