Political fragmentation and cross-cultural exchange characterize the period from 1000 to 1400 in the eastern Mediterranean. Contributing to the complex sociopolitical scene are armies from the East, such as the Seljuqs, Mongols, and Timurids, and Crusader forces from the West—including eight major Crusades and many smaller expeditions—along with the remnants of Byzantine rule. The establishment of the Mamluk sultanate in the eastern Mediterranean following the defeat of the Mongols in the thirteenth century helps bring stability to the region.
As part of the Fatimid realm, which controls a significant part of the Mediterranean, including Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, and Egypt, Syria experiences prosperity as well as tremendous activity in the arts.
The Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042–55) restores the complex of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the site commemorating the location of Christ’s death and burial.
The First Crusade is waged to recapture previously Christian lands in the eastern Mediterranean under Muslim rule, especially Jerusalem. On July 15, 1099, Crusader forces expel the Fatimid governor from the Holy City, ending more than 450 years of Islamic rule.
In Jerusalem, Crusader architects unify the Calvary chapel (the site of Christ’s crucifixion) and the Byzantine shrine of the Holy Sepulcher. The complex is rebuilt in the tradition of a French-Romanesque pilgrimage church, while incorporating portions of the preexisting Byzantine wall mosaics. Attached to this complex is a major scriptorium for the production of lavish manuscripts strongly influenced by the Byzantine tradition.
Crusader patrons leave their mark on the eastern Mediterranean. In Jerusalem, a Romanesque sculptural program is added to the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif). The Knights Hospitaller erect their own complex in the Gothic tradition. In other newly conquered territories, Crusader fortresses are built, including Castle Montfort and the most notable example, the Krak des Chevaliers (in present-day Syria).
Zengid ruler Nur al-Din commissions hospitals and institutions of higher learning in Aleppo (Maristan, 1148–55; Madrasa al-Shu’aybiya, 1150–51) and Damascus (Maristan, 1154; Madrasa Nuriyya, 1172). Such works are emulated and expanded under later Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers.
Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos conducts a triumphal entry into Antioch. The Crusader prince Renaud, forced to recognize Manuel’s suzerainty, walks alongside Manuel’s horse in the procession. An avid fan of western European culture, Manuel organizes celebrations and participates in jousting and other Western-style contests.
Ayyubid rule is established in the eastern Mediterranean region during the reign of Salah al-Din (Saladin, r. 1169–93). Salah al-Din also recovers Jerusalem from the Crusaders following the Battle of Hattin (1187), though, following a failed treaty, the city is ceded until 1244, when it is retaken for good.
Along with their renown in the arts of inlaid metalwork, pottery, and enameled glass, the Ayyubids are also great builders. Their generous patronage and local courts help revive the cities of Aleppo and Damascus. The outstanding secular architecture from this period includes the fortified citadel of Aleppo (early thirteenth century). In terms of higher institutions for religious learning, the Madrasa Zahiriya (1219) in Aleppo as well as the Sahiba in Damascus (1233) are noteworthy and exemplify the Ayyubid interest in Sunni education after the Shi’i interlude in the region under the Fatimids.
The Third Crusade under the English king Richard I Lionheart fails to recover Jerusalem, but establishes the Crusader kingdom of Cyprus after seizing control of the Byzantine island. This event marks the decisive influx of Western artistic traditions into Cyprus.
The Fourth Crusade is diverted from the eastern Mediterranean to Byzantine Constantinople, resulting in the takeover and occupation of Byzantine territories for nearly six decades. Artistic treasures from Byzantium are taken to western Europe as spoils of war.
Muslim armies recover Jerusalem from the Crusaders, and the city remains under Islamic rule until the twentieth century (1948).
Following the defeat of Mongol armies at the Battle of ‘Ayn Jalut (1260), the Mamluks inherit the last Ayyubid strongholds in the eastern Mediterranean. Former military slaves, the Mamluks create the greatest Islamic empire of the later Middle Ages. During this time, the arts—especially enameled glass, inlaid metalwork, woodwork, and textiles—flourish, and various religious and public monuments are built.
Besides great military successes, the reign of the first major Mamluk sultan, Baybars al-Bunduqdari, a Qipchaq Turk, is defined by important building activity for public and pious foundations. Following his unexpected death in Damascus, a mausoleum is created there in his memory (1277–81).
The kingdom of Armenian Cilicia (in present-day southern Turkey), after three centuries of rule from its capital at Sis, ends when a Mamluk force overruns the region and removes the last king of the dynasty. The Cilician court is famous for its extensive patronage of remarkable illuminated manuscripts.
Mamluk architectural patronage focuses on public and pious foundations, including madrasas, mausolea, minarets, and hospitals. Aleppo and Damascus are important for Mamluk commissions and building projects, though little remains from this period.
The armies of Timur (Tamerlane) devastate Syria, burning the cities of Aleppo and Damascus and destroying many important buildings.
“The Eastern Mediterranean, 1000–1400 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=07®ion=wae (October 2001)