In the early centuries of the second millennium, especially after the Crusades, we see the growth and development of cities in Europe. Here is a brief overview of this issue by Nehru, addressed in the 64th issue of Glimpses of World History.
Letter date: June 21, 1932
“The time of the Crusades in Europe was the age of the spread of religion and faith, and people were trying to take refuge in these religious beliefs and hopes from the hardships and misfortunes of their daily lives. Science was not popular at that time. Knowledge, education and literacy were very limited, because religious belief is not compatible with science and knowledge. Science and knowledge make people think. However, doubts, questions, research, and inquiries about religious beliefs are not good companions. The path of science and knowledge is the path of research, doubt, and experimentation, which is different from the path of belief and faith, which is the acceptance of the infinite. We will see later how this religious belief weakened and scientific skepticism increased.
At that time we are studying now, religious belief was still widespread, and the Church of Rome was at the forefront of Christian believers and often exploited them. Thousands of these “believers” were sent to Palestine for the Crusades and never returned. The pope even declared war and jihad against groups of people who were not completely obedient to him in Europe and did not obey him in any way. The popes and the church even traded in this belief, often selling “exemptions” from sin and “forgiveness” of sins. The “exemption” was a permit issued in order not to enforce certain church rules, and it was agreed that the rules and regulations established by the church itself would not be observed or applied in certain cases. Obviously, when such permission is granted, such laws cannot be respected for a long time.
Forgiveness was even worse than exemption. According to the Christian Church of Rome, everyone’s soul goes to a “purgatory” world after his death, which is a place between heaven and hell, and the soul will suffer in the purgatory world because of the sins committed in this earthly world until it be so-called clean and tidy and then he can go to heaven. The pope promised the people that in return for paying the money, they could do something so that their souls would not go to the purgatory after death and enter heaven directly.
In this way, the faith of the simple-hearted and faithful people was exploited by the church, and even money was collected from the crimes and things that everyone considered a sin. The act of selling forgiveness began shortly after the Crusades, and there was a great deal of controversy, which led many to turn away from the Christian Church of Rome and oppose it.
It’s really weird how naive and believable people deal with such a situation and accept things like that. It is because of this belief of the common people and their optimism that religion has become one of the most lucrative businesses in many countries.
…It can be seen that this religious belief at that time took a creative form. The eleventh and twelfth centuries were the era of huge buildings, and large churches and cathedrals were built throughout parts of Western Europe.
A new type of architecture developed on this occasion that had never been seen before in Europe. By finding clever solutions in architecture, the weight and pressure of heavy arches and ceilings were transferred to the large supports outside the main hall and building, and inside only the delicate and elongated columns of tall and very high arches were kept, which surprised and amazed. This was made possible by the use of gable arches adapted from the Arab architectural style.
All over the building, there were very high towers that rose to the sky with spiral staircases. This architecture, which evolved in Europe, is called the Gothic style. The buildings of this style were excellent and beautiful, and it seems that they reflect the great beliefs and inclinations and religious ambitions of that time. Only architects and craftsmen who love their job and be able to work together with full help can build such a magnificent building.
This development and evolution of the Gothic style in Western Europe is astonishing. Amidst the confusion, insecurity, ignorance and prejudiced, there are buildings of such beauty and elegance that it is as if it is all prayer and praise that rises to the heavens.
In France, northern Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Gothic churches and cathedrals were built almost simultaneously. No one really knows how these buildings started. No one knows the names of the architects or their builders. It seems that they are more a mixture of the will and the common work of the people in general, than they represent the work and genius of one person.
Another new feature found at that time was the use of colorful glass windows of churches and cathedrals, which by combining different colors, they create beautiful designs. In fact, these glasses were delicate and beautiful paintings with attractive colors that were placed in front of the windows, and as a result of the light that shone through them, the inspiring glory and grandeur that was the work of the building itself increased.
In one of the letters I wrote to you recently, I compared Europe to Asia. In that letter, we saw that Asia was much more civilized and cultured than Europe at the time. However, there were not many creative works and signs of creation in India, and I told you that creation and creativity are signs of life.
These Gothic churches and cathedrals, which created in semi-civilized Europe at the time, show that there was life and living there. Despite the problems that insecurity, turmoil and backwardness of civilization are its symbols, this vital force was coming out and finding ways to show itself. Gothic buildings in Europe are one of these symbols and a demonstration of the semi-hidden of life. Later, we will see that this new and creative force is manifested in painting, sculpture, and the desire for great events and adventures.
The age of faith and belief gradually declined, and with the dissolution of that period, the construction of churches and large cathedrals passed. Human thought became aware of other ways and things, and people became more and more concerned with their business, commerce, and urban life, and began building halls and city halls instead of cathedrals.
Thus, from the early fifteenth century, Municipal halls or Large guild halls with Gothic style were built everywhere in northern and western Europe. In London, the parliament building is a Gothic building, but I don’t know when it was built. I think the main Gothic building was set on fire and destroyed, and later another Gothic-style building was built in its place.
These great Gothic cathedrals that built in the 11th and 12th centuries, were all located in the cities. The old small towns had grown and developed into new towns. Changes were taking place throughout Europe, and urban life was growing and evolving everywhere.
Of course, in ancient times and ancient Rome, there were large cities on all shores of the Mediterranean Sea, but with the fall of Rome and the decline of ancient Greek and Roman civilization, those cities also declined. Apart from Constantinople, there were almost no other major cities in Europe, except in Spain, where the Arabs ruled.
In Asia, India, China, and the Arab world, very large cities were flourishing at that time. But in Europe there were no big cities, as if cities were linked to civilization and culture and evolved together, and in Europe there was no big city or civilization or culture for a long time after the fall of the Roman government.
But now urban life had once again been revived, and new cities were growing, especially in Italy. These cities were like a thorn in the eyes of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Because they refused to lose some of the freedoms they had for themselves. These cities in Italy and elsewhere were manifestations of the growth of the merchant classes and the “bourgeoisie” or the middle classes.
The city of Venice in eastern Italy, which dominated the Adriatic Sea became a free republic. It is said that Venice, which is still a beautiful city and the sea flows through the twists and turns of its canals, was a swampy land before a city was built there.
When “Attila”, the famous leader of the Huns, invaded “Aquileia” and drowned the city in fire and blood, some people were able to escape and take refuge in the swamps of Venice. They built the city of Venice for themselves and were able to remain free because the city was in the situation between the Eastern Roman Empire and Western Rome. Then trade began with India and the East, bringing with itself a lot of wealth, and Venice created a navy for itself and became a naval power. This government was a republic and its president was called Doge. The republic lasted until Napoleon conquered the city in 1797. Venice’s “Doge” is said to have died on the same day when he was a very old man, and he was Venice’s last “Doge”.
On the other side of Italy was the city of “Genova”, which was also a major center of trade and commerce, and It had an important navy and was considered a competitor for Venice. In Italy itself, between the cities of Venice and Genoa were “Bologna” academic city and the cities of “Pisa and Verona” and “Florence”. Florence soon created many great artists who shone brightly during the reign of the Medici. The city of Milan had also become an industrial center in northern Italy, and the city of Naples in southern Italy was growing and evolving.
In France, the city of Paris, which Hugues Capet had made it his capital, with the growth of the French government, interaction and developed. Paris has always been the sensitive center and real heart of France. Other capitals have been and are in other countries, but in the last 1,000 years no capital has ever dominated its country as much as Paris has dominated France.
Other cities that became important in France were “Lyon”, “Marseille” (which was a very old port), “Orléans”, “Bordeaux”, and “Bologna”.
In Germany, as in Italy, the growth of free cities, especially in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, is very important and noteworthy. In these cities, the population increased, and as their power and wealth increased, they became bolder and fought against the feudal nobilities. The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was a German, often strengthened these cities because he wanted to weaken the feudal lords. These cities formed some large trade associations and unions to defend themselves, and sometimes these so-called “confederations” actually practiced war against the aristocratic unions. Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Danzig, Nuremberg, and Breslau were some of the cities that grew and evolved.
In Nederland (now known as the Netherlands and Belgium), the cities of Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent were the cities and centers of commerce in which trade flourished.
In the UK, of course, London was more important and credible, but at the time it could not compete with the cities on the European continent in terms of wealth and trade. The two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, were developing centers of science and knowledge at the time.
In Eastern Europe, the city of Vienna, one of the oldest cities in Europe, was growing, and in Russia, the cities of Moscow, Kiev, and Novgorod were developing.
These new cities, or most of them, must be distinguished from the cities of the empire and the kingdom of antiquity. The importance of these growing and evolving European cities did not depend on the existence of any emperor or kingdom, but on the fact that these cities controlled trade and commerce. For this reason, their power was not related to the existence of the aristocracy and those around the king, but to the merchant classes. These cities were commercial centers, and therefore the development and growth of these cities meant the development and growth of the “bourgeoisie.”
This class of the “bourgeoisie,” as we shall see later, had its power constantly increased and evolved, until it threatened the power of the king and the nobility, and finally overthrew their power and took it into its own hands. But this change and this situation came and went long after the era we are now studying.
As I told you a little above, the existence of cities and the prosperity of civilization often depend on each other and evolve together. With the evolution and development of cities, knowledge and culture will grow and the spirit of freedom will evolve. People living in rural areas are scattered and often very superstitious. They always seem to be subject to natural elements. They are forced to work hard and have little comfort and do not dare to disobey the orders of their owners and masters, while in the cities many people live together and can live a more civilized life and focus more on knowledge and discussion and dialogue and criticism and thinking.
Gradually, the spirit of freedom grew, both in the face of the political domination and manifestation of the feudal lords and landlords and in the spirit of the church and religion. The era of belief and faith began to decline and doubt began. The power of the pope and the church was no longer blindly accepted. We saw how Emperor Frederick II treated the pope, and in the future we will see how the spirit of distrust and disobedience grows even more.
From the twelfth century onwards, science and knowledge were revived and got a new life. In Europe, Latin was the common language of science and knowledge. Men seeking science traveled from one university to another. “Dante Alighieri”, the great Italian poet, was born in 1265. “Petrarch”, another great Italian poet, was born in 1304. Shortly afterwards, Chaucer became one of the first English poets to become famous in England.
But more interesting than the revival of knowledge and education was the beginning of the scientific spirit, which, although still very weak, flourished in Europe in later years. You remember I told you that the Arabs had such a spirit and worked to some extent based on this spirit and this scientific way of thinking, but life was difficult and impossible for such a spirit that requires research, curiosity, experimentation and discovery of truth in medieval Europe. The church and religion did not tolerate such a thing. However, despite the church’s opposition, such a spirit began to emerge in Europe.
One of the first people to have such a scientific spirit at that time was an Englishman named “Roger Bacon”, who lived in Oxford in the 13th century.”
Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.