Why Did Muslim Architecture Incorporate Roman And Byzantine Elements

Perspectives From Expert Architects

The synthesis of Muslim architecture through the use of Roman and Byzantine elements has been a widely discussed topic among architectural historians and experts. One such expert, Professor Karim Djarmouni, provides insight into the concept of “cross cultural dialogue” between different Islamic cities and the incorporation of their respective histories and architectural styles. According to Professor Djarmouni, this concept explains how these cities communicated with each other, thus resulting in the exchange of architectural elements and decoration between them. He states that this practice was widespread, thus contributing to the “mosaic nature” of Muslim architecture that is distinctly visible to this day.
The incorporation of Roman and Byzantine elements into Islamic architecture is attributed to the development of the Islamic faith during the 8th century when it began to extend outside the Arabian Peninsula. Arnavaz Mistry, professor at Harvard University’s Fine Arts Graduate Program, highlights the impact of Islamic forces on European and Byzantine methods of architecture, for example, the introduction of the open courtyard with a central fountain and other features that blend East and West in terms of design.

Analysis of The Incorporation of Roman and Byzantine Elements

The fusion of Roman and Byzantine elements into Islamic architecture aims to create a sense of continuity, reflecting the successive generations of rulers, dynasties, and their respective cultures. This is evident in the use of mosaic designs and columns inspired by the Roman Empire, and the lavish ornamental detail present in Byzantine architecture. Such elements are visible in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, and the Giralda in Spain, both of which illustrate the continuity of blending architectural styles in the construction of Islamic buildings.
The incorporation of Roman and Byzantine elements into Islamic architecture was also reflective of the power and prestige of Islamic rulers in the past. This is evidenced by the stonework and carving techniques used in the construction of the Taj Mahal, which was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal further exemplifies the relationship between architecture and the changing political climate. Additionally, the symbolic and religious connotations of these elements can be seen in the use of calligraphy in Islamic buildings and monuments, and the symbolic representations of planets and stars that adorn their walls.

Questioning the Legitimacy of Elements Used in Islamic Architecture

Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the use of Roman and Byzantine elements in Islamic architecture. Critics argue that although such elements are aesthetically pleasing, they do not reflect the purity of the Islamic faith. Moreover, some argue that the use of Roman and Byzantine elements in Islamic architecture is “cultural appropriation”, and in a sense, encourages the blurring of the traditional boundaries and lines that separate different faiths and cultures.

Environmental Impact of Islamic Architecture

Another key factor to consider is the environmental impact of Islamic architecture. Islamic architecture promotes the energy efficiency of buildings, utilizing structures and shapes that reduce solar exposure and excess heat loss. For example, some structures feature sloping roofs and wide overhangs that provide shade and reduce the need for artificial cooling. In addition, the use of natural, local materials, such as timber, stone and clay, further increases the sustainability of Islamic architecture.

Impact of Technology in Achieving Islamic Architecture

In the modern era, advances in technology have enabled the development of more efficient and innovative approaches to architecture. The emergence of computer-aided design (CAD) and visualization tools have facilitated the conceptualization and construction of Islamic architecture in a manner that is both cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing.


In conclusion, the incorporation of Roman and Byzantine elements in Islamic architecture is reflective of the long-standing relationships between different cultures and religions, and has contributed to the creation of iconic, timeless works of art. Through the use of sustainable materials and the advancing technology of the modern era, Islamic architecture is becoming more efficient and ecologically friendly. Thus, Islamic architecture is continuing to develop, creating numerous opportunities for the blending of cultures and fostering of greater understanding between different faiths and people.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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