Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe

07 October 2020

A thought-provoking discussion, chaired by Venetia Porter, Curator of Islamic & Contemporary Middle East Art at the British Museum (currently on furlough), with Scott Redford, Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology at SOAS, and Diana Darke, author of this new book.

Described by The Guardian as “exhilarating and meticulously researched”, the book has created something of a stir, roundly attacked on social media by alt-right groups for whom European architecture represents ‘the pinnacle of civilisation’.

The book uncovers the long yet often overlooked history of architectural ‘borrowing’, revealing the Arab and Islamic roots of Europe’s architectural heritage. Ideas and styles are traced as they passed from vibrant Middle Eastern centres like Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo, entering Europe via gateways like Muslim Spain, Sicily and Venice through the movement of pilgrims, bishops, merchants and medieval Crusaders. It is a rich tale of cultural exchange, shedding new light on the backstory of some of Europe’s iconic landmarks.

About the speakers:

Diana Darke is a Middle East cultural expert and Syria specialist who has lived and worked in the Middle East and Turkey for over 30 years, with both government and commercial sectors. She graduated in Arabic from Oxford University, holds an MA in Islamic Art & Archaeology from SOAS and is the author of many books including My House in Damascus and The Merchant of Syria.

Venetia Porter is a curator (currently on furlough) of Islamic and Contemporary Middle East art at the British Museum where she has been since 1989. Among her exhibitions are Word into Art (2006) and Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam (2012) and she was lead curator for the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World which opened in October 2018. Recent publications include Thea Porter’s scrapbook (Unicorn Press 2019) and Reflections: contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa with Natasha Morris and Charles Tripp, is published by British Museum Press in November 2020.

Scott Redford is Nasser D. Khalili Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology at SOAS. He’s a medievalist, working on the art, archaeology, and architecture of the eastern Mediterranean in the period of the Crusades. Current writing projects include edited volumes on the architecture and history of Rumkale/Hromkla/Qal’at al-Rum and the archaeology of Kinet Höyük, both sites in south east Turkey.

Webinar recordings

Watch the webinar on our YouTube channel or listen to the podcast.