There is a clear faith-based division in the Mediterranean region today. The north, from Portugal to Greece, is mostly Christian. The south, from Morocco to Egypt, is mostly Muslim. The east, which includes Turkey and the countries of the so-called Levant, is largely Muslim with sizable pockets of Christians and Jews. Europe purged itself of Islam centuries ago and has sought to uphold a monoreligious culture ever since; the Islamic side has rarely uprooted its native Christian populations, although it has not always treated them fairly.

The division was not as neat in medieval times. The two sides intermingled in ways that render any projection of the present split into the past difficult to sustain. Christians were numerous in the Islamic countries, and Europe had Islamic dominions in all of its southern edges. We are all familiar with the cultural achievements of the Muslims (the Moors of yesteryear) in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal), which emerged over seven centuries. Some of us are also aware that Sicily was part of the Islamic world for three centuries (from the ninth to the end of eleventh century), although almost all Islamic traces there have long been erased. Few, however, know that parts of the Italian peninsula, especially the heel of the geographic boot known as Puglia, witnessed a sustained Islamic presence for long stretches from the ninth to the thirteenth century.

Only hints of these settlements appear in written sources, and even less in architectural remains, so thorough has been the eradication of any reference to Islam or Muslims since the medieval period. It was not until the late nineteenth century that a new generation of Orientalists, notably the Sicilian historian Michele Amari (1806–89), began to dig into the history of Islam in medieval Italy and to uncover textual references hidden in plain sight in well-known (and sometime obscure) treatises.1 Later scholars added archaeological research and evidence from building techniques, ornamental details, and reused fragments from destroyed Islamic monuments all over the region, especially Sicily and northern Puglia, to their source material.2

This is where Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier aims to make a contribution with her Islamic Elements in the Architecture of Puglia. An art historian whose previous publications focused on masters of the Italian Renaissance, the author deploys an impressive survey of Pugliese late medieval and later monuments and a keen eye for architectural and artistic details to make the case for a robust Islamic influence on the architecture of (northern) Puglia long after the Muslims themselves had been deracinated. Her main example is Lucera, today a small town, the site of an unusual and cruel experiment in population engineering initiated by the celebrated Holy Roman Emperor, king of Sicily, Italy, Germany, and Jerusalem, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194–1250).

Facing resistance and potential rebellion by the remaining Muslims in Sicily more than a century after its conquest by the Normans, Frederick II decided to banish them all to southern Italy in 1220. A large number of the expelled (estimated to be between twenty thousand and sixty thousand) were forcibly settled in Lucera, to the dismay of the local Christian population. Muslims expelled from Sicily built an urban compound complete with a congregational mosque, madrasas, houses, markets, and a castle with a palace inside for the emperor. However, this Muslim community did not survive for long in Lucera. Living precariously under Manfred, Frederick's son and heir as king of Sicily, and later under Charles I of Anjou, Manfred's vanquisher and successor, the city was finally eliminated in 1289 by Charles II. It was destroyed and the bulk of its population was slaughtered or sold into slavery.

In her chapters 5 and 6, Joost-Gaugier questions the degree of the destruction. Through a stylistic and visual analysis of the new cathedral of Lucera, built in record time (1300–1302) on the site of the main mosque, she convincingly argues that, contrary to boastful claims, the mosque was not razed to the ground before Christian construction began. Thus, not only did the cathedral's architecture diverge from the expected Gothic model, but it also incorporated distinctly Islamic elements, such as the minaret base and the main façade of the supposedly destroyed mosque. Continuing her architectural detective work in chapters 6 and 7, Joost-Gaugier asserts that at least three other early churches in Lucera, built in the aftermath of the Muslims' annihilation, and many other buildings with towers or domes in the city and its immediate rural vicinity were originally Islamic. She reads the survival of these distinguishing elements, truncated, displaced, or recovered between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, as signs of “appreciation” for Islamic architecture. Such an assessment sounds farfetched to this reviewer given the fervor with which the Muslims were decimated. Instead, it is more plausible that the total destruction of the Muslim settlement was a tale invented by the Angevins to draw attention away from their exploitation of their opponents' structures, which they converted into churches by introducing slight and inexpensive stylistic modifications.

In chapters 8 and 9, Joost-Gaugier examines churches and mansions in various towns across northern Puglia and suggests Islamic origin, influence, or continuity as justification for many of their structural or ornamental details. Some connections are straightforward: the interlacing arches in the cathedrals of Giovinazzo and Molfetta, the suspended double arch in the cathedral of Troia, and the decorated timber beams in the ceiling of the cathedral of Bitonto. Others are more tenuous or require the postulation of intermediate stages between Islamic origins and current forms, a connection that Joost-Gaugier does not pursue. This is the case, for instance, regarding the impressive and enigmatic octagonal Castel del Monte, built by Frederick II, and the pseudo-muqarnas cornices in Lucera. Still other links may refer to the rich architectural tradition of Byzantium, which enjoyed many channels of communication with Puglia that Joost-Gaugier ignores.

In fact, Joost-Gaugier is so fixated on her main argument that she not only overlooks possible Byzantine influence in many details, such as cushioned voussoirs and floral motifs, but also neglects to explain historical incongruences in more solid Islamic attributions. Chief among these are how to account for the appearance of Islamic elements that were developed after the eradication of the Islamic presence in Puglia and how to explain obviously deliberate deviations from putative Islamic models in many of the examples discussed. This is a conceptual rather than a historical problem, for the author treats Islamic architecture as an unchanging and insular monolithic tradition frozen in time. The reality is far from this outdated ideal-type construct: as many scholars have demonstrated, Islamic architecture evolved over time, adapting new forms and motifs and discarding or modifying others. Islamic architecture also interacted with various neighboring traditions in different ways and produced numerous hybrid traditions (a term that does not appear in this book), like the Seljuk and post-Seljuk architecture of Anatolia, the Tughluqid architecture of India, the architecture of post-reconquista in Al-Andalus, and the Norman and Angevin architecture of Sicily and Puglia.

The book's historical sections, extending from chapter 1 through chapter 4 and shifting from a broad overview of the land and its ancient history to a focus on the medieval period in Puglia up to the end of the Muslim presence, suffer from a number of problems in style and substance. One is sloppiness in the treatment of the complex interrelations between Muslims and Christians in Sicily. Many paragraphs meander around their central topic while others are marred by baffling use of conjunctive adverbs. The text would have benefited from better editing and fact-checking. Second, for a book on an Islamic topic today, it is archaic, and pejorative, to use “Moorish” and “Saracen” where the simpler “Muslim,” “Arab,” or “North African” would be more accurate and current (see pp. 19, 25, 43, 44, 57). A whiff of bias pervades the description of Islamic and Christian occupations of Puglia: the Muslims “sacked,” “menaced,” and “invaded,” while the Christians “settled,” “established,” and “dominated”—thus Christians are portrayed as the rightful owners of the land long before that question was conclusively resolved. The Islamic presence in Sicily too is described in a confusing way (see p. 43), leading the reader to think that the Muslims were invading a Norman and later a Germanic territory, rather than the other way around.3

Thankfully, these weaknesses do not undermine the relevance of the second and more substantive part of the book, which deals with the architectural and ornamental analysis of Pugliese monuments. To be sure, such weaknesses still slip in every now and then: assertions regarding the abhorrence of figural images, or the notion of the octagon symbolizing heaven (50), or the use of columns for decorative rather than structural purposes (200). None of these are accepted by Islamic art historians today, and removing them would not have diminished the strength of the arguments here about the penetration of Islamic influence into various aspects of post-Islamic Pugliese architecture. The author could have further benefited from recent scholarship on the post-Islamic Norman architecture of Sicily (twelfth and thirteenth centuries), which explores the adaptation and transformation of Islamic architecture in an environment whose later occupants were intent on eliminating all traces of that earlier polity and culture.4

Notes

1.

Michele Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, 2 vols. (Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1856); Michele Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, 2nd ed., rev., 3 vols (Catania: Romeo Prampolini, 1933–39).

2.

Sarah C. Davis-Secord, “Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy in Recent Historiographical Perspective,” History Compass 8, no. 1 (2010), 61–87; Leonard C. Chiarelli, A History of Muslim Sicily (Santa Venera, Malta: Midsea Books, 2011).

3.

For discussion of these relations, see Julie Anne Taylor, “Muslim–Christian Relations in Medieval Southern Italy,” Muslim World 97 (2007), 190–99; Julie Anne Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003).

4.

See Jeremy Johns, “The Norman Kings of Sicily and the Fatimid Caliphate,” Anglo-Norman Studies 15 (1993), 133–59; Karen C. Britt, “Roger II of Sicily: Rex, Basileus, and Khalif? Identity, Politics, and Propaganda in the Cappella Palatina,” Mediterranean Studies 16 (2007), 21–45.