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medieval architecture in tropical climates

GlassJaw

Hero
I've been brainstorming on a D&D campaign using Saltmarsh as the home base but set in a region similar to the Caribbean (lots of islands, tropical/tropical savanna climate).

I always try to find imagery when working on a campaign both for my own inspiration but also to set the stage for the players. However, I'm struggling with picturing what a medieval settlement in a tropical setting would look like. There isn't really any "medieval" architecture in the Caribbean; the earliest European settlements were from the 1500s.

It's certainly easy enough to find images of Port Royal from Pirates of the Carribean and call it a day.

But I was wondering if there are places more historically accurate that would serve as good examples? Thanks!
 

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Arvok

Explorer
A few questions:
What kind of building materials are available? This obviously will have a big impact on architecture.
How prevalent is magic? Does every village have a caster who can create defensive structures?
What are the prevailing military threats? The castle (is the most iconic medieval structure, in my opinion) was designed to hold off sieges from armies of 100s or more with siege weapons. The area you're describing sounds to me like the best defensive network would be a strong navy. In that case, cities might only have a wooden fence to keep out raiders from the landward sides and maybe a tower or two overlooking the harbor (cities and larger villages would only pop up in areas with good harbors). It's possible there might be a chain (or in a fantasy world something more bizarre) across the harbor entrance to prevent unauthorized entry.

Sorry if this made a lot more work for you...
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I wouldn't overthink it. The buildings you get in the Caribbean aren't that different from late medieval. That's assuming you're talking about a colonial presence of course, as medieval building doesn't happen outside of medieval european type cultures. If you want advanced indigenous buildings you're looking at something else.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
My understanding is that the pre-colonial architecture of the Caribbean was primarily wattle & daub or bound & woven plants, similar to buildings of that era by the Taino of Puerto Rico, Polynesian and tropical cultures of various islands. The precise forms and materials may differ, but the general principles would be similar.



 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Have you considered looking at Medieval Africa as an indication of the kinds of architecture that might develop in a tropical medieval kingdom?

This is a depiction of the Kingdom of Kongo circa 1500s meeting a Portugese delagation

3F61FB19-A9BF-4EAB-A440-A300670DB8E9.jpeg
 

The North African countries have several ways to beat the heat...
Tunisia, Libya, and Ethiopia all have some underground residences. Ethopia is noted for its pit churches. Cappadocia is noted for several subterranian cities, including Derinkuyu.

The Skywalker home in Star Wars is a real hotel in Tunisia, Hotel Sidi Driss, replicating a traditional style pit-home. The Atlantic Magazine notes that there is a still in use pair in Haddej, Tunisia. They are on Google Maps

THere are underground churches in Ethiopia - the church is what wasn't removed from the pit; there are various outbuilding equivalents in the walls of some of the pits, and stairs spiral down to the church. Most of the day, they're partially lit in the upper, but the church and the surround are cool at pit-floor level. Note that the church is literally carved out of the rock, and is one with the underlying rock.

Turkey had several cities in the region of Cappadocia burrowed into rocks, and then Derinkuyu... which is under the mountain, not in the mountain. These all remain cool even in the height of summer, or so it's been said. Many of the mountain cave homes are still in use.

North Africa has a long tradition of earthen buildings, too.
 



reelo

Explorer
The North African countries have several ways to beat the heat...
Tunisia, Libya, and Ethiopia all have some underground residences. Ethopia is noted for its pit churches. Cappadocia is noted for several subterranian cities, including Derinkuyu.

The Skywalker home in Star Wars is a real hotel in Tunisia, Hotel Sidi Driss, replicating a traditional style pit-home. The Atlantic Magazine notes that there is a still in use pair in Haddej, Tunisia. They are on Google Maps

THere are underground churches in Ethiopia - the church is what wasn't removed from the pit; there are various outbuilding equivalents in the walls of some of the pits, and stairs spiral down to the church. Most of the day, they're partially lit in the upper, but the church and the surround are cool at pit-floor level. Note that the church is literally carved out of the rock, and is one with the underlying rock.

Turkey had several cities in the region of Cappadocia burrowed into rocks, and then Derinkuyu... which is under the mountain, not in the mountain. These all remain cool even in the height of summer, or so it's been said. Many of the mountain cave homes are still in use.

North Africa has a long tradition of earthen buildings, too.
North-Africa isn't tropical, though. It's arid/mediterranian and/or desert. Not at all humid enough to count as tropical.
 

North-Africa isn't tropical, though. It's arid/mediterranian and/or desert. Not at all humid enough to count as tropical.
The thing is, you are unlikely to see much large scale settlement of tropic areas in the medieval period because of the problems with malaria. The reason the older Ethiopian cities, for instance, are all inland is heavily influenced by the danger of mosquito-borne diseases in the tropics, and it certainly slowed down the exploration of central africa until the late 19th century,
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Get your head of the Caribbean . The Tropics are 0 to 23 degrees north & South of the equator. Spin globe to Africa or Asia. The do research Pre1600 or Pre1500 back to where ever you think the Medieval Period begins.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
Forts in Florida and the Caribbean (think St. Augustine, Havana's Spanish forts, and San Juan's fort (actually the entire layout of the old city is pretty common but still neat) are what pops to my mind.

I think to get earlier medieval architecture you would have to go somewhere else. Maybe India, although I am not too familiar with it. You could definitely look at architecture in Southern Italy. The ecosystem, while not exactly Caribbean, is close. Northern Africa might have a few gems too.

Great question. I am curious to read what everyone else comes up with. (y)
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Actuallt Ive just remembered that Belize is a Caribean country too - which means that the Mayan architecture of Belize is Caribean, SO if you want Medieval Caribean go Maya

A62E8DA7-9073-48D3-B53F-F3300DFBF2B1.jpeg
 


Does the OP want specifically Roman and Gothic in a tropical clime?

If that is the case, then scratch my examples and some others here.
I think the OP is looking for medieval European culture/architecture in warmer climes, like the subtropics. That's why I suggested the crusader states, rather than medieval India. Norman Sicily is also a good example. Both are going to give you a mix of occidental and oriental influences.
 
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GlassJaw

Hero
Does the OP want specifically Roman and Gothic in a tropical clime?

If that is the case, then scratch my examples and some others here.

Sort of, although I would replace Roman/Gothic with "traditional D&D fantasy."

I think the OP is looking for medieval European culture/architecture in warmer climes, like the subtropics. That's why I suggested the crusader states, rather than medieval India. Norman Sicily is also a good example. Both are going to give you a mix of occidental and oriental influences.

I probably could have posed my question more clearly. Basically what would a medieval European (or traditional fantasy) culture look like if it originated in or migrated to a tropical climate?

I'm certainly aware of other tropical cultures around the globe but they are clearly not European. I may incorporate other cultures into the campaign but they will be somewhat unknown at the start.

The quick overview of the setting is a country with an ocean to the south. The southern coast is tropical savanna (like the Florida Keys) and the innumerable islands are tropical (like the Caribbean). It's loosely based on Keoland but I'm altering the map and not adhering to Greyhawk canon per se.
 

Architecture is based on need, available materials, and skill base.

Is defense from organized enemy a priority? Medieval fortifications are pretty standard across cultures.

What is your labor force? If the answer is 'plentiful slaves' for example, you can afford to build on a lavish scale (and will likely have a need for strong defenses). If it is 'hired freemen', then your budget is going to be a lot more restricted.

Look at the historical cultures in that climate: the Aztecs and Incas built with stone which exists to this day; they didn't have the wheel, but they had a vast pool of expendable labor, so they built on a lavish scale.

Every building project, past or present, boils down to budget.
 


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