Courtyard of the Doge's Palace and domes of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice
Photographer: Edwin Smith, 1961
Copyright: Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Sultan Ahmet Camil (Blue Mosque), Istanbul
Artist: Charles Felix Marie Texier, 1830s
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection
At the fall of the Roman Empire its vast territories were split into two parts and the province of Venetia was ceded to the Eastern Empire. The links with Byzantine culture were therefore established at the very beginning of Venice’s history and, even after the city gradually became more and more independent from Byzantium, these close contacts were maintained through trade.
At the height of its power the Venetian maritime empire extended from the Adriatic Sea, along the coasts of Dalmatia and Greece, to the Eastern Mediterranean, as far as Cyprus. Spices, silks, marble, artworks and a continuous flow of foreign travellers arrived in the city from all over its territories. The reciprocal exchanges with the Byzantine and Islamic world greatly enriched not only its noble-merchants but also its culture, creating a highly original artistic output.
The influence of Byzantium can first of all be seen in Venice’s most glorious monument, the Basilica of San Marco, but also in the choice of building types, in the Venetians’ taste for richly decorated surfaces, and in the constant reuse of Veneto-Byzantine fragments, which were often incorporated into the walls of newly built palaces.
Venetian architecture also absorbed many Islamic elements. Words such as 'fondaco' (trading post), 'doana' (customs hall) and 'arsenale' (dockyard) are Islamic in origin as is the profile of typically Venetian arches such as the stilted arch and the ogee arch. The love of colour is another feature that Venetian and Islamic art have in common.