Category Archives: Buildings

Exploring the archaeology of the built environment.

The Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque-University of Fez by Zakaria Enzminger

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Buildings within a human context can have multiple functions. These constructions can be viewed as statements of power, authority, wealth or timelessness of individuals or institutions. However, it is also necessary to acknowledge the practical aspects of the building in its common or private usage, as well as the statement it makes about the people to whom it applies. In our studies on the growing and developing urban character of the various Islamic empires, the mosque as a necessary addition to preexisting settlements or a central feature of newly established urban centers has been  at the fore. It functioned as a place of gathering for believers to fulfill their religious obligations, as a medium for rulers to address and reinforce their relation to their subjects, as well as a statement of the dominance of Islam as the official religion. For the purpose of this inquiry, I will be looking at the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and Madrasa of Fez as an expression of the origins of the city of Fez, and as the center of scholastic Islam for centuries to come, attracting scholars and students from across the Mediterranean.

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Quasyr ‘Amra and the Umayyad bathhouse (Jordan) by Ian Randall

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In the dusty Balqa region of eastern Jordan there sits a modest structure of roughly hewn stone, set until the early part of the 20th century amidst a charming grove of terebinth and pistachio trees. Now starkly surrounded by gravel, dust, and a visitor’s center, the building appears unusual unless you are familiar with the type (Figures 1 & 2). It consists of a large hall, some fourteen by ten and a half meters, capped by three longitudinal barrel vaults (Figure 3 & 4). Directly off this hall at a right angle are three more, significantly smaller rooms, with an additional room beyond the last, only accessible from the outside. The second and third rooms beyond the hall have deep depressions in their floors.  Beyond its construction, which is clearly designed for a specific purpose, the feature of this building that has attracted the attention of scholars, from its first discovery for the West by the colorful adventurer/academic Alois Musil in 1896, is its vibrant wall paintings, 450 m2 of dancers, entertainers, mythological scenes, hunters, builders, naked women, and kings (Figures 5, 6, & 7).

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Madina al-Zahra (Spain) by Serena Alwani

The palace-city of Madina al-Zahra in Spain was built in 936 CE under the Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman III in a hillside at the base of the Sierra Morena. This location, some distance from Cordoba in a lush and well-watered landscape, lends to the complex being functionally more diverse and self-sufficient than its predecessors. Though excavations at the site began in 1910, still only about 10 percent has been properly explored. It is a significant site as one of few royal palace-cities that were not built over in later years (Ruggles 2002 pp. 53).

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Hagia Sophia by Zohra Kalani


The Hagia Sophia is by far one of the most astounding beacons of art and architecture in history. Its walls have seen the reigns of some of the strongest empires of the past, and this rich political and religious history resonates to this day. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia has been a precious gem in the world of architecture. Located in modern-day Istanbul, it is situated at the crossroads of two powerful empires, the Byzantines and the Ottomans. It is the grand representation of two great faiths, and now serves a secular purpose in educating its visitors about the rich history it contains.

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Mapping across time and space Project #2 Doric Temples

Group #2: Doric Temples

(Aubree Moore, Liam Casey, Alexandra DeFrancesco, Sophie Cohen, and Grace Cinderella)

Please click here to see the TimeMapper visualization of Doric Temples

In this project, our group was responsible for mapping the location of Doric temples built by ancient Greek cultures, as well as determining the timeframe in which these temples were built. We discovered that contrary to what is commonly believed, Athens was not the main location in which Doric temples were found. Many of the earliest Doric temples were actually located in regions outside of Athens, with some appearing as far away as Sicily. The Temple of Apollo at Thermon and Temple of Hera at Pasteum demonstrate how some cities outside of Athens served as leading forces of artistic expression and monument building beginning in the Archaic period.

The Archaic Temple of Apollo at Thermon served as a prime example of an Ancient Greek Doric temple. Multicolored ceramic metopes decorated with mythical scenes, such as Perseus grasping the head of Medusa and a hunter thought to represent Heracles, adorned the top of the temple, signifying the universal prevalence of mythological figures in Ancient Greek cult.[1] The metopes at Thermon are the earliest known remnants of this art form, which appeared in many other Doric temples as a component of the frieze — demonstrating the influence that this temple presumably had on other Greek Doric temples across the Eastern Mediterranean.[2] The temple also later served as a location for the assembly of Aetolian League and was therefore an important center of political activity within Thermon, the focal point of political and religious activity within Aetolia.[3] The Temple of Apollo at Thermon indicates the significance of Doric temples located outside of Athens, perhaps even suggesting that this temple, and others of this period, may have influenced the monumental temples of Athens – Athens may not have been the first to represent the designs we have come to know as Doric.

The Temple of Hera at Pestaeum was one of the most interesting temples of the Doric style and the development of that style. The temple contains some characteristics that are not commonly seen in Doric temples such as a different method of spacing the columns on the front and the incorporation of Ionic characteristics. The temple was also one of the first sites to have certain features which later became common to the Doric style: the entasis and the use of interaxial measurement as the basis for the measurement of the whole temple. [4] The Temple of Hera at Pestaeum serves as a powerful example of the artistic development of the Doric style that took place outside of Athens. Many of the features used in the temple were incorporated into later Doric temples and it is clear that many later architects took inspiration directly from the temples design. Much like the Temple of Apollo at Thermon, the Temple of Hera at Pasteum also indicates the significance of the Doric style and monumental architecture outside of Athens and reinforces the notion that Athens was not the original and only developer of the Doric style.

Although our time-mapper project mainly focuses regions other than Athens, it is important to consider Athens in the discussion of Doric temples. Looking at one, if not the most, famous temple the Parthenon in Athens, modern scholars as well as the general public are constantly reminded of this architectural style. That being said, the temples mentioned our time map highlight that these temples, although less known, are equally as important in the discussion of Doric style and should not be overlooked.

[1] James Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 160; J.H. Croon, “Artemis Thermia and Apollo Thermios (With an Excursus on the Oetean Heracles-Cult),” Mnemosyne 9, no. 3 (1956): 206.

[2] R. M. Cook, “The Archetypal Doric Temple,” The Annual of the British School at Athens 65 (1970): 17-18.

[3] Whitley, 160; Croon, “Artemis Thermia and Apollo Thermios (With an Excursus on the Oetean Heracles-Cult),” 205.

[4] Symeonoglou, Sarantis . “The Doric Temples of Paestum.” Journal of Aesthetic Education. no. 1 (1985): 49-66. (accessed March 31, 2014).

Mapping across time and space Project #1 The Buildings of Delphi

Group #1: The Buildings of Delphi

(Logan Bonney, Angela Cao, Mario Gionnazzo, Abigail Moses, Ashley Urrutia)

Please click here to see the TimeMapper Visualization of the Buildings of Delphi

Nestled in a bucolic valley of the Greek countryside, the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi was an important pan-Hellenic site. Before the sanctuary was dedicated to Apollo, it was dedicated to Ge, mother earth. Delphi housed many significant temples, treasuries, and monuments kept by some of the most prominent city states of the Greek world. The site housed the influential oracle Pythia, whose prophetic declarations were sought by influential leaders before they made important decisions like going to war. Delphi was also the site of the Pythian Games, wherein a year-long truce among the cities allowed the Amphictyonic League to focus on preparing for the games.

Due to its status as a hub of Greek religious and political gatherings, Delphi acted as a stage upon which rival powers displayed their might through lavish gifts to Apollo and the construction of grand monuments, temples, and treasuries. These structures, built to advertise the wealth of their donor cities, reflected the competition that existed amongst the cities.  They also represented competitions among the Gods.  The style, position, dedicator, and who it was dedicated to showcased the diachronic changing of power and politics in the Aegean.  For example, in the building of treasuries Greek powers jostled for prime real estate within the sanctuary to win Apollo’s favor and display their power and wealth in the most conspicuous locations. Areas along the sacred way were coveted, and rival polities constructed their treasuries close to one another, begging comparison with their neighbors. The city state of Thebes built its treasury opposite of a group of Spartan statues on the other side of the sanctuary. The Thebans intended for their large, simply crafted treasury to be compared with the lavish spartan statues near the sanctuaries gates. The Siphnian Treasury was built next to the Sikyonian on a natural incline of the terrain so that it looked over its neighbor and could be seen from outside of the sanctuary. Since there was limited space, treasuries were relatively small, causing there to be little differentiation in the size of each structure. Since polities were unable to construct treasuries which were physically bigger than their neighbors they displayed their wealth and power through ornate column groupings and elaborate metopes. In some cases treasuries were intentionally built with austere facades to represent the no-frills piety of their donor state.

The Timemapper software showed how the buildings fit together and allowed a more comprehensive look at the progression of the site from the Geometric through the Hellenistic periods.  We found the most helpful feature was the temporal separation of the buildings, which allowed us to look at phases of the site.  This is contrasted with maps, which don’t have the fluidity necessary to model changing political rivalries.  Utilizing the software, we could see building patterns and trends such as the rise of military dedications in the first half of the fifth century, which we could then tie to the Persian wars and showed the changing nature of Greekness and the tension between polis and larger alliances.


Michael Scott, Delphi and Olympia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Delphi. Coastal Carolina University Ashes2Art, n.d. Web. <>.

Vandenberg, Philipp. Mysteries of the Oracles: The Last Secrets of Antiquity. London: Tauris   Parke Paperbacks, 2007.