Setting Up the Historical Adaptation

Constantinople and Jerusalem

A Brief History…

For a story that would take place during the first crusade, it was quite clear from the beginning that two of the main locations should be the great cities of Jerusalem and Constantinople (Istanbul).

The crusades were a series of military campaigns against the muslims of the middle East. The city of Jerusalem was important to both christians and muslims who, for two hundred years, either fought to recapture or keep the city. For my research, I have chosen to look more closely at the beginning of these wars: the First Crusade.

As I explained in a previous post, the first crusade took place in the year 1096 and lasted until 1099. In 1076, the muslims captured Jerusalem hence making it hard for christians to continue going there for pilgrimage. Therefore, Alexius I of Constantinople, fearing to be in turn invaded by the muslims, sought help from the pope Urban II. After the latter’s speech of 1095 in France, many volunteered to join the crusades. In 1097, nearly 10,000 people had gathered at Constantinople, ready to journey to the Holy Land. The first city targeted by the troops was Nicaea, followed by Antioch, before they eventually arrived at Jerusalem in 1099. The taking of the city is said to have been a massacre.

The Palace of Antiochos and the Palace of Lausus

If the tale of Donkey Skin was to be set during this time period, I needed to clear some things up to ensure that the story would make sense. Because it is meant to be set in our world (although the genre would be that of historical fiction), the look of the designs needs to be truthful, to a certain extent, to the those of the period. The princess and her family would be living in Constantinople. Therefore, there wouldn’t be a king, his queen and their daughter, but rather a rich important family who happened to own a very particular donkey. I researched the sorts of buildings and architectural style of the Byzantine empire and found two very interesting places that could be used as a base for the design of the family’s wealthy home: the Palace of Antiochos and the Palace of Lausus. The Palace of Antiochos was built in the 5th century however, its hexagonal hall is said to have been converted into a church in the 7th century. Therefore, at the time of the first crusade in the 11th century, the palace would no longer be a private property; it would already have been confiscated by the emperor. However, it would still have been standing and perhaps could be used as the background for the property of Donkey Skin’s family. I then went on to look at the Palace of Lausus. It is such an interesting building that was unfortunately destroyed in the fire of 475. The owner Lausus’s estate was renowned throughout the city for its great collection of heroic and mythological statues including the statue of Zeus at Olympia. There are several reconstruction images of the two buildings available which are interesting to look at. The map shown below gives an idea of the shape the buildings would have had, however the design itself is left to interpretation:


“Antiochos & Lausos palaces”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –


Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture and Style

Byzantine architecture was abandoned in Europe after the fall of the Empire in the 5th century. However it continued to last in the east, in Byzantium and its capital Constantinople. Romanesque architecture appeared around the 11th century in Europe and was popular up until the late 12th century. It was then replaced by the gothic style. In Jerusalem, the style of the buildings would differ from those found in Constantinople. Some buildings would have features from the byzantine period which lasted until the mid 7th century. Byzantine architecture borrowed many elements from the Romans but was then further developed by the Byzantines themselves. The original church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was built in the 4th century and borrowed features from byzantine architecture. The Nea church and the Golden Gate may also have been built during the byzantine period. The monastery of the Holy Cross was built in the 11th century; it’s an example of romanesque architecture that can be found in Jerusalem. The church of Saint Anne as it is known today, was rebuilt by the crusaders in 1140 in the style of romanesque buildings.

Overall, Jerusalem is a city with a very rich history and architectural style. When designing for an 11th century street of Jerusalem, I looked up many pictures of small alleyways and old buildings from the Old City. Paintings are also a good resource; a couple representing market places in Cairo and Jaffa have been helpful.

Jerusalem ref

Rom Arch 1

Rom Arch 2

Rom Arch 3

Moving on to the costumes, I have been researching byzantine style clothing which is a sort of continuation of the clothes the romans used to wear. Clothes of the period are quite different and original; I personally find that they fit the story well as it is possible to give them a fairy tale look while keeping them truthful to something that could have been made back then.

I also need to look at the clothes of the crusaders and the saracens. The idea is to have Donkey Skin travel with the crusaders in an attempt to escape her family. She would end up at the siege of Jerusalem where she would hide out until she meets the equivalent of her prince. I thought about having her witness the massacre by the crusaders of the population of Jerusalem. As I mentioned in a previous post, I would like to make the historic adaptation a film rated R, or at least something not appropriate for an audience below 15. Keeping this in mind, I’d like to explore the way one can create a real visual contrast in a film. Basically, at the beginning, when the story is set in Constantinople, visually, the film would be colourful and lively. However this would slowly change, until the battle scene in Jerusalem which would be quite striking and gore; very different from the way the story had initially started. It should depict a realistic picture of war.

What I am planning to research in the next few days is a costume that would reconcile the donkey skin disguise with an actual crusader outfit, with perhaps a hint of Byzantine style to indicate that the protagonist is not from Europe.

Why the Crusades?

Because I wanted to try to imagine a historical adaptation of a fairy tale, I thought I might as well go even further with this idea and set it somewhere unexpected. Instead of having the scene set in Europe, probably during the middle ages, I thought about having the action take place somewhere far. Somewhere which would not immediately be associated with fairy tales. Thus I thought of the Middle East. Then, going on to research a major historic event that would serve as a background for the setting of the story, I decided to learn more about the crusades.

The tales of the arabian nights are similar to fairy tales, and each genre has borrowed elements from the other in the past. Some stories are direct translations with different names and places. So while fairy tales set in the middle east may seem a little far fetched at first, I believe that, if handled carefully, they can work. After all, what real difference is there between a fairy godmother and a genie?


ALLSOPP, B., 1971. Romanesque Architecture: The Romanesque Achievement (The World of Architecture). Littlehampton Book Services Ltd.

HOAG, J.D., 1963. Western Islamic Architecture. New York: George Brazillier

OURSEL. R., 1967. Living Architecture: Romanesque. Grosset & Dunlap

Costumes of the 11th Century. Monastic,Normans, Crusaders. [online] World4. Available at: [Accessed 11th November 2014]

Elder.Y., 2015. Jerusalem Architecture History: Christian Architecture through the Ages. [online]. Jewish Virtual Library. Available at: [accessed 11th November 2014]

2015. Byzantine Empire. [online]. History. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

The Byzantine Empire [online]. Crystalinks. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

Histoire de Constantinople. [online]. L’Internaute. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

2000. Focus on Israel: Jerusalem-Christian Architecture Through the Ages. [online]. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

Helbert.A., 2015. Byzance Architecture. [online]. Antoine Helbert. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

The Palace of Lausus. [online] Penelope Uchicago. Available at: [accessed November 2014]

Camel76. 2012. Masterpieces of Romanesque Art: St Clement de Tahüll. Camel76 [online blog]. 14th June. Available at: [accessed November 2014]


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