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Humanities LibreTexts

7.1: Overview

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  • All cultures had some kind of sacred belief, whether it was one god or many gods, and they erected different types of structures, including temples, churches, mosques, or pagodas where they observed their religion. Globally, all of the designs of the buildings were an architectural inspiration, enhanced with some type of cultural art. The people constructed and decorated with statues, stained glass, special trim, architectural configurations, and unique materials. Most of the buildings in the chart below were erected during this period, some of the structures are still in use today, others recently rediscovered ruins, and one wholly rebuilt.

    Patterns, or the way something is organized and repeated in its shape or form became one of the major tenets of design, forming flowers and leaves or spirals and circles as seen in the mosaics. All the works of art had some sort of pattern even though it may be hard to discern; the pattern was formed by the colors, the illustrations, or the shapes. The patterns worked together to bring unity to the picture or object.

    Fresco painting is an ancient technique of troweling wet lime plaster on a wall or ceiling and painting the wet plaster with a scene. When the plaster dried, the painting became permanent and lasted until the plaster is damaged. The fresco on the exterior wall of the Haveli in Mandawa, India, has one of the most significant concentrations of frescos in the world. Although earthquakes or weather has damaged some of the plaster, the paint retained the exact original color applied 1,000 years ago.

    Mosaics are constructed by creating images using small pieces of colored tile, stone, or glass and gluing them to a wall. when the glue dried, grout was spread over the top, sealing the mosaics in place. Mosaics were used on walls, ceilings, and even floors as they are durable, lasting for centuries. Mosaics were particularly crucial in mosques to create incredible patterns of flowing designs.

    Carvers used a tool to shape material by removing or scraping sections away from the original form. Several types of tools are used to carve, and different civilizations developed different tools depending on what natural resources available. Bas-relief, a French word meaning to carve in “low relief” on stone, wood, or rock to give the carving a three-dimensional look. The word relief is derived from a Latin verb relevo meaning to raise. A sculpture looks like it emerges above the background. However, the artist cuts away the background, adding different degrees of depth to determine how far the sculpted section stands out from the background. Bas-relief carving became a common form of sculpting, designing stories into images in most of the cultures.

    Silica, an amorphous solid material that is transparent even with the addition of color, is the most common component in glass. Small pieces of colored glass are assembled to create the stained-glass windows. Stained glass art is over 1,000 years old and used almost exclusively in churches, basilicas, mosques, and other sacred buildings in earlier civilizations.

    Religious structures were very important to each of the civilizations, representing a particular deity or religious belief. In Chapter 7 ~ The Sacred Buildings of Civilizations (200 CE – 1400 CE), the artwork and architecture of different religious buildings is examined.


    Sacred Building

    Date of Construction


    Hagia Sophia

    537 CE


    Dome of the Rock

    691 CE

    Islamic Golden Age

    Umayyad Mosque

    715 CE


    Borgund Stave Church

    Around 1180 CE


    Sant Climent de Taull

    1123 CE


    Notre Dame Cathedral

    Started 1163 CE


    Lalibela Church Complex

    12th and 13th Centuries

    Gupta Period

    Mahabodhi Temple

    5th or 6th Century

    Khmer Empire

    Bayon Temple

    13th Century

    Song Dynasty

    Six Harmonies Pagoda

    970 CE

    Asuka, Nara, Heian Periods

    Konpon Daito Pagoda

    887 CE

    Ancestral Puebloans


    Approx. 1080 - 1150

    Mayan Classic Period

    Kukulkan Temple

    900 CE

    Incan Empire

    Temple of the Sun

    Mid 1400 CE


    Templo Mayor

    1326 CE (first version)