The early gothic period was characterised by a myriad of art and architecture and flourished across Europe during the late middle ages and the high middle ages. Gothic architecture evolved to become the Renaissance architecture from what was previously known as the Romanesque architecture originating from France. Cathedrals and churches were mainly the ones that adopted this form of art and architecture especially in the 16th century with the main aim of expressing wealth, power and religious faith. Two examples are the Façade of the East Gate of Mezquita from Cordoba Spain that begun in 961 to 965 and the West Façade of Laon Cathedral from Laon France that begun in 1190 to 1200 (Khoury 82). The two structures were built in different ages and eras, however, the two bear different aspects and also similar historical, artistic, and symbolic inferences.
The Façade of the East Gate of Mezquita is alternatively referred to as the Great Mosque of Cordoba with an ecclesiastical inference ‘Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. It is a Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Assumption of the Virgin Mary located in Andalusia Spain. It is one of the oddest structures since the ruling of the Muslims in Al-Andlus in the eight century and was converted into a church in 572. Later the church was converted to a mosque by the first Islamic dynasty that ruled Damascus between 661 and 750 (Bloom n.p). The architecture of the church would be of vast interest from the review of the artistic, religious and cultural essence that was attached. The architectural design incorporated choice capitals with Roman columns whereby some of the laid down columns were already in a gothic design and others came as presents from governors from various provinces of Iberia.
On the other hand, Laon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church that was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is located in Laon, Aisne France. The diocese was officially established towards the end of the 5th century by archbishop Remigius from Reims. Through regimes and revolts the church was destroyed and thus, the current Cathedral in Laon dates between 12th and the 13th centuries. It represents the early Gothic style in architecture whose origin was France. The Gothic aspect can be attributed to the exact time that it was built (Bloom n.p). The architectural design’s inspiration can be traced to the Basilica of Saint-Denis that had been completed half a century earlier. The construction of the cathedral started with the choir section that was done between the 1160 and 1170 and the entire erection of the transept arms was finished by 1180.
The Gothic representations are quite visible in both the Laon Cathedral and the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Towers were a great architectural representation in the gothic architecture for which both churches boast highly notable towers. The Great Mosque of Cordoba has flanked out walls, a tall minaret and watch towers. Consequently, in 1236, King Ferdinand III conquered Cordoba and converted the mosque to a catholic church and as time passed, Kings that took over added more Christian features. For instance, King Henry II converted the minaret of the mosque into a bell tower. Similarly, the Laon Cathedral was re-modified in the 19th century so as to re-enforce the towers and keep them firm preventing them from collapsing (O’Reilly n.p). The Laon Cathedral has five towers compared to the intended seven towers. The towers were designed by Villard de Honnecourt who utilized true measure aspect from geometry to depict a gothic perspective.
Stained and Coloured Glasses
Gothic architecture was also characterized by use of stained and coloured glasses. The stained glasses were a form of artistic expression and an authentic touch of gothic architecture. The Cathedral of Cordoba has expressive and prominent features that can be attributed to the gothic architecture. It has colourful screens of wood, arcades, minarets and coloured glasses. The coloured glasses comprise of crucial aspects in the appearance of the church and this can easily be associated to the medieval and gothic approach. Similarly, the Laon Cathedral has symbolic and representational stained glasses. Over time, structural changes were done to accommodate different ideals but the medieval windows that were left intact among them are three lancet windows (O’Reilly n.p). The windows have a Christian inference about the life of Mary and Jesus whereas other windows depict a historical allusion of Theophilus of Adana. The coloured windows and stained glasses were applied as part of the architectural design and a medieval approach in the gothic designs.
Rib Vault Design
The Rib Vault is another aspect of similarity in the architectural presentation of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and Laon Cathedral. The Romanesque architecture faced a shortcoming in that their barrel vaults seemed weak due to excessive weight of the structure. However, gothic architecture provided a solution by coming up with an innovation of the rib vault. The Mosque of Cordoba is among the oldest structures to utilize the rib vault and the architectural idea was later broadly used. The Laon Cathedral is also among the earliest structures to have utilized the rib vaults. For instance, during the construction of the Laon Cathedral the rib vaults were utilized in four compartments that were considered to cover wider spans and also were easier to construct. Having been the predominant architectural design, the rib vault structures were therefore utilized in both the Cathedral of Cordoba and the Laon Cathedral.
The height of the structures is also an important aspect to consider as a crucial similarity between the Laon Cathedral and the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Gothic architecture boasted a display for height in structures in regard of the proportion and the width. The two cathedrals span a high elevation with flying buttresses that allowed for better distribution of the weight from the roof to the outside walls. Gothic architecture, adopted the flying buttress so as to support the church’s walls through other external counter-supports (Sauerländer 37). Gothic designers and architects turned the flying buttresses into works of fine art and the buttresses became part of decorations. The result of the architectural changes in the bid to increase support from the outer supports, the walls turned out higher and thinner. The appearance of the two cathedrals shows a height considerably thinner and higher as per the gothic architectural design and thus enforces the deduction that the two were built based on similar principles.
Utilization of sculptures is one of the main differences that can be traced between Laon Cathedral and the Mosque of Cordoba. This can be attributed to the origin of the buildings and the history that surround the two. The exterior and interior finishing done on cathedrals especially the ones in France was predominantly full of sculptures, religious themes and decorations. The sculptures were carefully assigned symbolic meanings such as representation of paradise, hell, demons, and sometimes the life of Christ and other disciples among a myriad of other significations. The Laon Cathedral being in France and having been originally adopted by the French, the architectural design was inclined towards a sculptural dominated expression (O’Reilly n.p). On the other hand, the Mosque of Cordoba is devoid of sculptures. One of the key reasons behind this is because the architectural design is mainly attributed to Islamic emperors. Islam oppose the idea of pictorial and sculptural representations, therefore, most of the decorations in the Mosque of Cordoba are done in mosaics, tile works and calligraphy.
Design and plan
The plan of the architectural design provides another basis for the differences to be considered between the Laon Cathedral and the Mosque of Cordoba. The plan from which the Laon Cathedral was drawn is more inclined towards an ancient Roman Basilica. The model combined a court house and a public market from which the Romanesque Cathedral was also drawn. The design illustrates a Latin cross with the entrance in the west end which is also the area that the congregation occupies. The design having been based on Christian precepts shows a core difference between the two structures, a Latin cross is a symbol in the Christian doctrines (Sauerländer 35). On the other hand, Mosque of Cordoba is designed in more of a rectangular shape and does not adopt the cross-structure like that of Laon Cathedral. The mosque faces South and the Mihrab points in the direction of Mecca. The Mihrab is the sanctuary qilba and it is believed that the direction that the mosque faces could have been influenced by the terrain or the Great Mosque of Damascus in Syria.
The layout of the structure especially the doors provide another significant architectural twitch between the two historic structures. The Mosque of Cordoba has 9 outer gates and 11 doors on the inside with all the doors leading to aisles inside the mosque. The number of doors is of high significance among the Islamic religion and thus the reason behind the architectural design. To the contrary, doors are not of much significance among the French architects, this explains why the Laon Cathedral has lesser number of doors compared to the Mosque of Cordoba (Bony n.p). Presently, the Chapel has twin doors for entry whereby the doors on the south side open to the cathedral’s chapter house and cloister whereas the north doors open to the episcopal palace. Therefore, despite the architectural designs having been borrowed from gothic aspects, they varied greatly in other aspects due to the differing religious and political forces that were at play.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Laon Cathedral are perfect architectural illustrations showing a wide range of similarities and differences. The gothic architectural approach in the two establishments had a major impact and resulted in the historical marvels despite having gone through multiple changes across the centuries. The Laon Cathedral boasts a bigger proportion of Romanesque approach whereas the Mosque of Cordoba boasts more of an Islamic medieval structural appearance. Religious diversities and political regimes greatly influenced the difference in the architectural outcome of the two structures. However, gothic influence remains a predominant inspiration and revelation in the Laon Cathedral and the Mosque of Cordoba.
Khoury, Nuha NN. “The meaning of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in the tenth century.” Muqarnas (1996): 80-98.
Bloom, Jonathan M. “The revival of early Islamic architecture by the Umayyads of Spain.” The Medieval Mediterranean: Cross-Cultural Contacts, ed. Marilyn J. Chiat and Kathryn L. Reyerson (St. Cloud, Minn.: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1988) (1988).
O’Reilly, Elizabeth Boyle. How France built her cathedrals. READ BOOKS, 2009.
Bony, Jean. French Gothic Architecture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. No. 20. Univ of California Press, 1983.
Sauerländer, Willibald. “Sculpture on Early Gothic Churches: The State of Research and Open Questions.” Gesta 9.2 (1970): 32-48.
The facade of the east gate of Mezquita from Cordoba Spain and he West facade of Laon Cathedral from Laon France