In 1953, a British architect named Derek H. Matthews introduced the idea of “The Red Sea Style” in print, in a modest article with that title. Although brief and focused on a single site, this article proposed that the architecture around the rim of the Red Sea could be conceived of as a coherent and unified building category. Since then, those who have written about Red Sea port cities have generally accepted Matthews’s suggestion of a shared architectural culture. Indeed, the houses of the region’s major ports, such as Suakin in modern-day Sudan, Massawa in Eritrea, Jidda and Yanbuᶜ al-Baḥr in Saudi Arabia, and Mocha, al-Ḥudayda, and al-Luḥayya in Yemen, share a number of visual similarities that support this cross-regional designation. Although many are in ruins, these coastal buildings appear to have more in common with each other than with their inland counterparts in their locality. The present article delves into the perceived coherence of Red Sea architecture, but it moves beyond the obvious common dimensions of material and decoration to turn attention to the transhistorical aspects of these port cities, along with their specificities and implicit differences. As a nonmonumental building tradition that emerged at the southern edge of the Ottoman world in the sixteenth century and continued into the twentieth, the Red Sea style represents a tangible case of sustained cross-cultural contact across a linked maritime region and thus moves beyond the conventional modern limits of continent and nation.


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pp. 243-271
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