Decorative Motifs in the Citadel of Ḥarrān

by Terry Allen

published by Solipsist Press, Occidental, California, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Terry Allen

An electronic publication     ISBN 0-944940-11-0

When I wrote about the Citadel of Ḥarrān nearly twenty-five years ago in A Classical Revival in Islamic Architecture1 the latest work on the monument was from the nineteen-fifties. In recent years Hanspeter Hanisch, who has carried out welcome survey work on the Citadel of Damascus, has turned his attention to the Citadel of Ḥarrān in three articles I shall abbreviate as “Wehranlagen”, “Zitadelle”, and “Works”.2

While it is pleasant to have more data to work with, Hanisch has unfortunately misstated my position on the origins of the decoration of Room 45 of the Citadel, toward the south end of the west range.

In Classical Revival I was concerned with the style of Room 45. At the outset of chapter four (pp. 72–73) I wrote the following (emphasis added):

The mitered vault is one of the technical elements common to the group of four [Zangid] Aleppo portals and the [Fāṭimid] gates of Cairo. It appears also in the south end of the northwest gallery of the Citadel of Harran. …

If the Harran Citadel's vaulting connects it with Islamic architecture in Syria, its decorative carving points in another direction, toward Crusader and Romanesque architecture. The principal decoration of Room 45 is the pair of archivolts framing the mitered vault. … [The outer archivolt is decorated with a triple zigzag.] The inner archivolt is composed of voussoirs whose outer faces are cut so as to form projecting angles whose ridges are perpendicular to the line of the vault; they undulate angularly in depth, and for want of a better term I call them “rippled voussoirs.”

The chronology of construction of the Citadel, a complicated building with few dated inscriptions, was worked out by William Brice and Seton Lloyd.3 The archivolts of Room 45 struck Lloyd as being Romanesque, which is only natural: this is how they strike anyone familiar with the mediaeval architecture of western Europe. Lloyd had no hesitation in dating this part of the Citadel to the Crusader period, offering as a confirming parallel the Baptistry of the church at Jubayl (Byblos), on the Lebanese coast. Noting that Room 46 of the Citadel has an apparent mihrab in its south wall, Lloyd suggested of the nearby and notably decorated Room 45 “that this chamber, with its peculiar appointments, might well represent a chapel, designed during a Crusader occupation to replace the mosque,” i.e., Room 46.4 The only difficulty with this hypothesis is that, as Géza Fehérvári has pointed out, the Crusaders never occupied Harran.5

Hanisch, however, in all three articles, claims that I followed Lloyd in attributing Room 45 to the Crusaders: “Terry Allen believed that the ornaments [of Room 45], together with this part of the [northwestern curtain-]gallery, have been crusader work. In fact they are of Armenian origin, a fact which cannot be discussed here”.6 In a footnote he cites against the position he imagines me to have taken Géza Fehérvári's article in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed.—the very article I myself cited to show that it was impossible for the Crusaders to have built the room. In fact, Hanisch has so far misunderstood me as to put into my mouth the assertion that that the rippled voussoirs in Ḥarrān were derived from “der normannischen Bautradition Süditaliens”.7

Exactly to the contrary, my point in chapter four of Classical Revival was to show that rippled voussoirs, along with zigzags and cushion voussoirs, were on the one hand borrowed by the Normans from the Holy Land (and used throughout the Norman possessions), and on the other were characteristic of the same stream of taste that produced the classical revival that was the topic of my book:

The cushion voussoirs, the zigzag arch outline, and the rippled voussoirs … can be traced, with difficulty, across a gap in the architectural record of three centuries, to the early [Islamic] and pre-Islamic architecture of Syria and Palestine. …

All these motifs are natural products of the geometric thinking necessary to build structures of cut stone. … The connections of these motifs appear to be with Syria and the Jazīrah, where architecture of great technical sophistication was favored. The hypothetical history of the forms leads also to Palestine and back several centuries in architectural history. Their distribution in time and space suggests that they may well have been the common property of the eastern Mediterranean in the eleventh, perhaps in the tenth century. They could easily have been picked up by the Sicilian Normans, who are well known for their predilection for eastern forms. …

If the classicizing monuments of the fifth-sixth/eleventh-twelfth centuries in Palestine, Syria, and the Jazīrah are part of a strong regional tradition that was occasionally imported into Cairo and that influenced architecture in the Norman West, the group of buildings to which those monuments belong can be considered as a whole. The monuments I have discussed are marked by exquisite stonecutting, sober design contrasting sometimes highly decorated or flashy elements with smooth stone, and a penchant for reinterpreting the past architecture of the region and ignoring Iraqi models. The peculiarity that draws attention to this tradition, its classicism, is part of a complex of stylistic traits, and it appears where associations with antiquity were strong, especially where remains of Antique buildings still existed.8

Thus Hanisch has gotten my position precisely wrong. As for his assertion that the decorative motifs of Room 45 are of Armenian origin, I await his explanation.

1. Wiesbaden, Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1986; the book is still in print according to (a difficult site to use); the closest reference I can give as of Summer 2009 is the frame

2. In full, “Die ayyubidischen Wehranlagen der Zitadellen von Ḥarrān und Damaskus, ein Vergleich”, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, ed U. Vermeulen et al., v. 3 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, v. 102), Leuven, 2001, pp. 61–88; “Die Zitadelle von Ḥarrān”, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, ed U. Vermeulen et al., v. 4 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, v. 140), Leuven, 2005, pp. 185–310; and “The Works of al-Malik al-`Adil in the Citadel of Harrân”, La fortification au temps des Croisades, ed. Nicolas Faucherre et al., Rennes, 2004, pp. 165-78, which I take to be later than “Zitadelle”, as it cites it as being in press.

3. [Complete citations added:] Seton Lloyd, William Brice, and C.J. Gadd, “Ḥarran”, Anatolian Studies, v. 1, 1951, pp. 77–111, pp. 90–91; cf. also D.S. Rice, “Medieval Harrān: Studies on its Topography and Monuments, I”, Anatolian Studies, v. 2, 1952, pp. 36–84; pp. 49–51.

4. Lloyd, et al., “Harran”, p. 102. …

5. Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., s.v. “Ḥarrān,” where the sources for the city's history are discussed. I believe the room to have been an entrance chamber.

6. “Works”, p. 175; also “Wehranlagen”, p. 61, n. 3, and “Zitadelle”, p. 217, n. 43, and pp. 242–43, n. 82.

7. “Zitadelle”, n. 43 on p. 217, referring ahead to n. 81 (should be n. 82).

8. A Classical Revival in Islamic Architecture, pp. 75–82.