Tag Archives: Medieval

Medieval Mondays: Alhambra

Plans, Elevations, Sections and details of the Alhambra: From drawings taken on the spot in 1834.

This is one of those rare books that will be placed in a capsule for the future along with Monalisa and Klimts’ if the civilization is about to end.  Its cultural importance and documentation that follows military precision are the key factors as to why this book is forever in our special collection.

It covers the design and details of the Alhambra fortress and palace complex in Spain. This is a two-volume publication, with complete translations of the Arabic inscriptions and historical notice of the kings of Granada, Spain. It also consists of a detailed history from the conquest of the city by Arabs to the expulsion of the Moors. The second volume consists of detailed lithographs by Owen Jones and Jules Goury.

More importantly this is a book about friendship.  In 1834, after staying in Granada for 6 months, Jules fell victim to Cholera while documenting this book. Devastated by the loss, Ar. Jones took over to the publication of the project and further archived the palace.  Impressions of every ornament is meticulously taken either in plaster or unsized paper. These casts have been tremendously important for preparing drawings for this publication.

Plan of the Alhambra
Plan of the Alhambra

The site plan of the Alhambra shows the most significant spaces in the palace like the Court of Lions, Court of the Fish pond and the Hall of the Two sisters.

The Court of Lions

 This perfect portion of the palace is a parallelogram surrounded by portico with small pavilions at each end. This space consists of a hundred and twenty-eight columns. Due to the restoration works undergone by the court from time to time, the walls are defaced with several layers of whitewashing, beneath which it is still possible to see traces of the original coloring.

Details in the Court of Lions
Details in the Court of Lions

Court of the Fish Pond

Court of Fish pond
Court of Fish pond

This lithograph shows the view of the Fishpond from the Hall of the bark

Hall of the two sisters

This is a view taken from the Hall of the Two Sisters, looking towards the garden and a portion of the corridor which separates the Ventana from the Hall. “The lattice window gives light to the upper corridor, leading to the apartments appropriated to the women. It was through these lattices that the dark-eyed beauties of the Hareem viewed the splendid fetes in the hall below, in which they could only participate as distant spectators.”

The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.
The intricate details in the Hall of the two sisters.


The most common pattern that crops up in several halls are the interlacing lines done in plaster. It is remarkable both for their variety of designs and for the simple means by which they are produced. They are formed by two principles exhibited in the diagram.

"Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents"-Britanicca encyclopedia.
“Because the fret is one of the simplest and most natural of decorative forms, it is one of the most widely spread, found from early times in most art forms and on all continents”-Britanicca encyclopedia.

To review this massive book, make an appointment with our special collections department of Architecture and Planning Library.

New Books at the Architecture and Planning Library: Gothic Vaults

Schröck, Katja and David Wendland, eds. Traces of Making: Shape, Design, and Construction of Late Gothic Vaults. Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2014.

KIC ImageI was super excited to see the arrival of this book, though I was not anticipating it. While I have something of love-hate relationship with Late Medieval Architecture (Gothic), I do think the lines created by the vaulting patterns during this period are some of the most beautiful in architecture. Ethan Matt Kavaler’s work, Renaissance Gothic is a great resource, if all you call to mind is Amiens, Reims, and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge when you hear “Gothic.” I am particularly speaking of the the vaults of Vlaislav Hall by Benedikt Ried in Prague, St. Annen, Annaberg, or prismatic vaults (represented on the cover of Traces of Making).

Traces of Making is a collection of articles in German and English that consider the process, design, and evidence of vault making. The papers were presented at a conference in 2012. The research combines engagement with the vaults through both observation and making. The editors explain:

Working from the built object, we saw that it was possible to deduce which decisions were made in course of the design and how these were implemented in the construction of the building. Yet, the traces that we can recover from existing structures can only be truly understood by reflecting on and reproducing construction process- whether mentally or actually and materially, by using models or reproducing the construction in part or in its entirety. (pg. 8)

The work is also well illustrated with many of the illustrations speaking directly to construction and process.

Little Churches of France

Albert A. Chadwick. Little Churches of France: Their Origin; Their Characteristics; Their Periods. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1930.

I was curious which churches in France would be described as “little”. Santa Sabina, an Early Christian church in Rome, is often described as such. To be sure, compared to St. Peter’s or other cathedrals, it is indeed a little church. I had always imagined Santa Sabina to be little like a small country church. I was shocked at the size when I saw it the first time. Since then I always take “little” with a grain of salt.

It was not the size of the churches documented by Chadwick that surprised me but rather the diversity. Chadwick writes in his introduction:

It must not be assumed from this that France has not her fair share of charming, small, parochial churches. They are there in large numbers and of greater variety than in England, but they are difficult to find. The average Frenchman cannot tell you where to look for them; he will answer your query vaguely, “I do not know; perhaps in Burgundy.” This is because they lie largely in the villages off the beaten tracks- and the French railroads and motor roads have a happy faculty of passing such villages by. (pg. 1)

Perhaps I am not supposed to admit this, but I did not recognize a single church in Chadwick’s collection. To be fair, medieval French architecture is not in  my wheelhouse, though I expected to know at least a handful of the plates. While Chadwick’s introduction is quite broad and general and his use of the terms “primitive Romanesque” and “primitive Gothic” is problematic, the collection of plates is quite remarkable. If one is so inclined to broaden their knowledge of French medieval and Renaissance architecture, spending some time with these plates is a must.


Viollet-le-Duc and Michel Jordy. The City of Carcassonne and A Visitor’s Guide. Paris: Albert Morancé, [n.d.]. Jean-Pierre Panouillé et al. The City of Carcassonne. [Paris]: Caisse nationale des monuments historiques et des sites, Ministère de la culture, c1984.

Today I broke into new call number territory in Special Collections: Medieval France. I discovered a small guide book to Carcassonne, which is on the list of places that I have not visited but would like to do so. It thus struck a cord. I was surprised to discover that the book had been written by Viollet-le-Duc. I had not realized that he had led the restoration of the fortification. UNESCO highlights Viollet-le-Duc’s importance as culturally significant to the monument: In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation (UNESCO, “Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/345/, accessed July 31, 2014).

Viollet-le-Duc wrote the historical narrative of the site. His account is very much that of a military history as it relates to construction and destruction. Michel Jordy provides a brief description of the major architectural features of Carcassonne– the towers, the gates, the castle, and church. Jordy writes in the conclusion: This summary description of the City of Carcassonne may perhaps bring out the value of these remains, their interest and importance from preserving them from decay. I doubt whether there be elsewhere in Europe as complete and formidable an ensemble of 6th, 12th and 13th century defensive works, a more interesting subject of study, a situation more picturesque (pg. 29). While I was disappointed that Viollet-le-Duc did not discuss the restoration process, I understand that the authors’ purpose was rather to impress upon the visitors the historical and architectural significance of the site itself.

The library also posses in the lending collection a more recent guide book of Carcassonne, The City of Carcassonne, with more detailed information including a brief overview of the restoration and diagrams of the evolution of the site from the sixth century B.C. through the thirteenth century. Both UNESCO and Stephen Murray’s Mapping Gothic France have more extensive images of the site.