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First Crusade Art and Architecture Essay (Critical Writing)



The First Crusade which took place between 1096 and 1099 was an expedition of western Christian military personnel to reclaim their holy lands that had been taken by Muslims after conquering Levant. It commenced in 1095 when Pope Urban called people in response to an appeal that had been made by Byzantine Emperor (Gabrieli 41).

He had requested the Western people to assist him in fighting the Turks who were propelling invasions. From this initial goal, there arose another goal of recapturing Jerusalem from the hands of Islam which became the main goal. This essay will focus on First Crusade art and architecture.

The Genesis of the First Crusade

Following the conquest of England by the Normans, England and France became even stronger as compared to the time of Charlemagne. Their kings and queens started laying strategies of conquering the Mediterranean and improving the Roman Empire. They were particularly interested in capturing Jerusalem which was referred to as the city of Jesus Christ (Hillenbrand 54).

The city was under the rule of Islamic Fatimids but Normans wanted to take it from them. In 1095 AD, a famous speech was given by Pope Urban at Clermont, Southern France. In his speech, he made a clarion call for people to get armed and move on to reclaim Jerusalem from the Fatimids. People ranging from small children to adults unanimously agreed hearkened to the call and they all wanted to go and fight.

The enthusiasm was so high that a number of groups started their journey to Jerusalem way before the main group was constituted. They were strongly convicted that once they were in Jerusalem, God would destroy the doors of Jerusalem hence there was no need for them to have weapons or to get involved in any fight.

Some of the people in the groups did not even bother to carry money for themselves. On the way, majority discovered that the journey was not as easy as they had expected and most of them died before they got to their destination. One group deemed the journey to Jerusalem to go and fight the Fatimids as an impossible mission hence they decided to stop In Germany where they started fighting the Jews. Many Jews were robbed of their property by the crusaders and killed for the simple reason that they were not Christians

Styles of Art during First Crusade

During the period of the First Crusade, different styles of art were produced by the Crusaders. During this period, there are two artistic appearances that were most popular. The first one is Romanesque while the other one is Gothic.

The military Crusaders were not actively involved in matters concerning art and most of their artistic impressions were destroyed after the collapse of their kingdoms hence very few survive today. One of the most sterling art styles associated with the Crusaders is the Crusader castles which were admired for their beauty. They came up with Byzantine methods of fortifying their cities with castles which were the largest ever witnessed.

There was a great artistic influence of the Crusaders from the places they captured towards the end of 11th century. Byzantine Art and the Islamic Art were the most popular art styles found in Crusader states although there were other forms of indigenous art.

The indigenous forms of art were incorporated with the other forms of art that the Crusaders acquired from Europe. Crusader art just like the historical background of the Crusader kingdoms is categorized into two or three periods. The first period was during the first crusade which led to the bloody recapture of Jerusalem and other Northern states.

Art and Architecture during the First Crusade

In the Byzantine Empire, art and architecture started developing as early as the fifth century. First Crusade architecture is characterized by many square based domes, spires, round arches and mosaics which were made of glass. The art and architecture designs started in Constantinople and spread in the Christian world until Constantinople was taken by Turks.

The most outstanding art during the First Crusade is the dome which was used in covering plans for tombs and churches with square and polygon shapes. The placing of a large number of domes in one building is contrasted with Romanesque design which basically involved use of vaulted roofs. There is no clear separation between Byzantine Art and Early Christian art.

Byzantine Concrete and Brickwork

Initially, construction using bricks was used by the Romans but it was adopted by the Byzantines in the First Crusade. The mixture of concrete and brickwork was finished first before being allowed to settle then slabs of marble were added. This use of independent component parts is a style of architecture that was used by the Byzantines. Brickwork was in addition used for decorating external caprices and internal decoration where it covered mosaic and marble decorations.

The Byzantines used a lot of effort in preparing bricks which were used in military and home architecture (Gabrieli 366).The normal bricks made by Byzantines during the First Crusade were similar to those of Romans with similar dimensions and size. The general application of bricks made it necessary for great care to be exercised during the preparation of mortar which comprised of sand and lime.

The decorations in external facades were determined by the patterns of facing bricks. The arrangement of the bricks was not always horizontal but at times it took the form of meander frets. The Byzantines also tried to beautify the exterior parts of bricks that were rough by applying stone bands and other arches used in decoration. The walls of the buildings were covered with sheets of marble in the inside mixed with domes.


The dome which was mostly used traditionally in the East turned to be an important architecture component among the Byzantines in the First Crusade. This was a combination of construction of domes and the classical columnar art. Different types of domes were put on square compartments in the form of pendetives as opposed to their use in Roman Architecture where they were only used in circular or structures with the shape of a polygon.

Domes were mostly constructed using bricks or light stones like pumice. It is believed that domes among the Byzantines were constructed in the absence of centering or support by using enormous flat bricks. In the lower part of the domes is where windows were placed. The Byzantine churches during the First Crusade were characterized by small domes surrounding a central big dome. This made the vaults and domes clearly seen from the external hence the Byzantine style of art has an exterior which is very close to the interior.

Early Christian art influences

Early Christian art is said to have emerged owing to the importance that was attached to images in the culture of Romans. As Christianity continued to get new members, many Christians new the importance of images from their past cultural inclinations hence they were willing to continue with their culture.

For example, the Romans changed some of their cultural activities such as cremation to inhumation. As a result, Romans started having tombs carved from marble to bury their dead. Those who converted to Christianity wanted the same for their people hence this became a great influence of early Christian art.

Geological factors are also said to have had an indirect influence on early Christian art and architecture. The remains of Roman buildings were a source of materials for early Christian architecture (Madden 25).This had a great influence on both the construction and the decorative aspects. Columns and various features of architecture were converted into the emergent Basilican churches.

Another influence of early Christian art is the religious history. Christianity was the inspiring force behind some of the greatest architectural constructions. The purpose of churches for Christians was to have a place to shelter after making prayers. This led to various places being adopted for worship. Consequently, there was disappearance of pagan temples before churches started being constructed.


The First Crusade is one of the most remarkable historical events which have remained in record for the longest period of time. The Crusaders succeeded in capturing Jerusalem together with other cities located near the Mediterranean coast. They made settlements in their new land and became kings of Jerusalem.

This made the First Crusade a big success for the Europeans and a failure for the Fatimids. Apart from the success of the Crusades, art and architecture are important aspects of the First Crusade. This period was characterized by architectural designs such as domes concrete, brickwork and sculptures.

Works Cited

Gabrieli, Francesco. Arab historians of the Crusades. California: University of California Press, 1984.Print

Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000.Print

Madden, Thomas. The new concise history of the Crusades. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.Print

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