How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe

Wren acknowledges the European debt to what he calls ‘Saracen’ architecture twelve times…he explains how his study of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals had led him to believe that Gothic architecture was a style invented by the Arabs, imported by the returning Crusaders, and before that via Muslim Spain. ‘Such buildings,’ he concludes, ‘have been vulgarly called Modern Gothick, but their true appellation is Arabic, Saracenic, or Moresque.’

The Golden Age

The House of Wisdom, founded by the caliph al-Mamun, became the world’s centre of learning. Whereas Alexandria had been the previous intellectual capital, with Greek and Roman manuscripts written on locally sourced papyrus, Baghdad become the new chaperone of philosophical and scientific inquiry, with conversion of all documents into Arabic, scribed on locally manufactured paper. One of the early assimilations that occurred at the House of Wisdom was the adoption of Hindu numerals (1–9) as well as the base-ten system and the concept of “zero.” An Arabic system of expressing abstract formulas (to the consternation of high school students everywhere) was introduced by al-Khwarizmi, which he termed al jabr, or algebra.