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How Kashmiri Architecture takes its influence from Ancient Rome

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Roman influence on Kashmiri architecture

Insha S Qazi

Different traditions of art and history unfold when we talk about the architecture of Kashmir which is way more than houseboats, apple trees, Wazwaan and postcard-worthy sceneries. We often talk about its Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu cultural amalgamation in terms of architecture. This can be seen, for example, in the ubiquitous pagoda-style construction of mosques such as Khanqah-i-Maulla (Great Khanqah) or the mausoleum-shrine complex of Shaikh Hamza Makhdumi, who was a leading Suharwardi saint of Kashmir during the 16th century. It is considered a unique combination of vernacular design with Mughal elements but how often do we talk about how it’s been influenced by Ancient Rome.

Half-timbered houses, known as Dajji-Diwaree in Kashmir have a long history. Dajji-Diwaree was used as a construction technique by the ancient Romans in the 1st Century BC. Though, the design was cautioned against by Vitruvius who labelled it as a fire hazard. It involved mud, stones and bricks as filling in wooden braced structures. Considering the frequency with which earthquake would visit Kashmir this style suited best here.

You will come across these rectangular buildings, columns, preferable Doric or Ionic, made of stone or brick, sometimes covered with stone (marble), like many Roman buildings. Symmetry was a key feature of the Classical Style especially post-fall of Rome. The most authentic half-timbered buildings are not symmetrical.

Above and in the below picture from Aali Kdal, Srinagar, you will find  Roman Revival architecture such as spires, buttresses, pointed arch door surrounds and windows and decorative ironwork; medieval influences including, steeply pitched roofs.

  • Ornate gables with lots of wooden work.
  • Painted iron railings.
  • Plain or colourfully painted brick, woodwork motifs, whites and rich dark colours such as ruby red, forest green which heavily symbolises Victorian roman architecture.

The Roman arch solved an important problem by being able to support a large amount of weight. As a result, it enabled people to build larger and more varied buildings. The spread of the Roman arch and its cousins, the vault and dome, has had a lasting impact on architecture throughout the world.

Roman influence on Kashmiri architecture

You can’t look at one and know it’s built of wood. In keeping with the post-half-timbered buildings return to the classical style, your hidden wood-framed house may be surfaced with a return to ancient Greece and Rome, an exterior of stone or brick. So, to make it obvious, half-timbered buildings featured exposed wood on both the exterior and interior (fake or real wood ceiling beams in the interior rooms, and what is better seen in photos rather than trying to explain in words, but it’s important to note that the exposed interior wood in half-timbered buildings is both decorative and structural. The spaces between the exposed wood timbers is filled in with brick and then the brick is plastered over and painted, mostly in a whine, but in some regions, most notably Alsace in France, in glorious pastel colours.

Above window elevation, Faceted window frames project from the slatted timber and stained-glass facade of this apartment block in downtown.

As a whole, the European advent was marked by a relative insensitivity to native art traditions; former Indian patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art became more ubiquitous. The fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time became evident in architectural styles; as with the Mughals, architecture under European colonial rule became an emblem of power designed to endorse the occupying power.

St Mary’s Church in Gulmarg is one of the rarest sights that you will ever come across over here. The St. Mary’s Church was built during British rule at the beginning of the 20th century, a visit to this church is sure to transport you years back in the time. This Roman Catholic Church is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture, located near the golf course on 3 sides whereas the rest is occupied by a mountain in Gulmarg. With grey stone walls and a green tiled roof with wooden trimmings, it seems more of a small-countryside chapel.

 

An educationist, Insha S Qazi runs a fashion & design school in Kashmir. She has a degree in civil engineering. 

 

 

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