hidden europe 27

Hintes of the east: Islamic architecture in Europe

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Palazzo Ducale symbolised the heart of Venetian power in the Mediterranean. Its open and highly decorative design is full of Islamic influcences (photo © David Bailey / dreamstime.com).


We review Islamic influences in architecture across Europe, and find eastern traces in a few unexpected spots. Along the way we take a look at early mosques in Britain.

Everyone expects to find a feast of Islamic architecture in parts of Spain and the Balkans. But what of other regions of Europe? hidden europe looks for some hints of Arabia in European communities that have a less obvious Ottoman or Moorish cultural legacy. It is a journey that starts in Venice.

To arrive in Venice by boat is truly special. Better not on one of the fast catamarans from Istria which bump wildly over the Adriatic, but rather something more sedate. On a good day the little boats of Alilaguna are wonderful. The run in from the airport on Alilaguna’s blue route is happily slow. A stop at Murano, and an hour after leaving Marco Polo airport the boat rounds Santa Elena for a classic view up the Canale di San Marco.

However long the journey to Venice, be it a voyage over the Mediterranean or merely the humble shuttle boat in from the airport, there is something magical, almost spiritual, about arriving in the very heart of the city by boat. La Serenissima is a city of the sea, a place that has her back to continental Europe, so to give Venice her due, she must be approached by boat.

On the left the striking campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore, while to the right vaporetti nudge a series of busy piers around San Zaccaria. Venice is a city of mobile horizons, a place where illusion and reality play cat and mouse with each other. Viewed from some angles, and particular in the soft haze of a Venetian summer morning, the domes of San Marco seem deliciously exotic. This is a city which, more than any other on the Adriatic, has something of the spirit of Byzantium and the Levant.