The Forgotten Craftsmen Who Built Europe's Medieval Monuments

November 2024 9781805260974 480pp, 150 colour illustrations
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Available as an eBook
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Who really built Europe’s finest Romanesque monuments? Abbots and bishops presiding over holy sites receive mentions aplenty throughout history, while their highly skilled creators remain anonymous. But the buildings speak for themselves.

In this groundbreaking book, Middle East cultural historian Diana Darke explores the evidence embedded in medieval monasteries, churches and castles across Europe, from Mont Saint-Michel and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Durham Cathedral and the Basilica of Santiago de Compostela. Tracing the origins of key decorative and architectural innovations during this pre-Gothic period—acknowledged as the essential foundation of all future European construction styles—she sheds new light on the mystery masons, carpenters and sculptors behind these masterpieces.

Her discoveries are dramatic. At a time when Christendom lacked such expertise, Muslim craftsmen, with their advanced understanding of geometry and complex ornamentation styles, dominated the high-end construction industry in Islamic Spain, Sicily and North Africa, spreading their knowledge and techniques across Western Europe. Challenging Euro-centric assumptions about the continent’s built heritage, Darke uncovers the profound influence of the Islamic world in ‘Christian’ Europe, and argues that ‘Romanesque’ architecture, a fiction first invented by nineteenth-century French art historians, should be recognised as what it truly is: Islamesque.


Diana Darke has spent four decades in the Middle East. Her books include Islamesque and Stealing from the Saracens (both published by Hurst), My House in Damascus and The Ottomans. A non-resident scholar at Washington DC’s Middle East Institute, she holds degrees in Arabic and in Islamic Art and Architecture.

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