Architectural Guides

Introduction to Medieval Architectural Styles

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Before you read, please take a look at the introduction.

In Europe we consider the Middle Ages to be the years between the 5th and 15th century. Although definitions vary, the Medieval Period begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and merges into the Age of Discovery and the Renaissance period. As it covers about a thousand years of history, there are many notable events and developments attributed to the period. Nonetheless, some of the strongest themes are migration (especially in the early Middle Ages), the Christianisation of pagan Europe and the subsequent developments in the Christian Church, feudalism (think castles and knights), war and the “black death” which led to a rash decline in population at the end of the period.

 

Pre-Romanesque

The Pre-Romanesque period is the earliest period which reaches into the Middle Ages at around 500 AD and merges into the Romanesque period at around 1000 AD. This period is characterised by the transition from pagan-Germanic to Christian themes and mostly features strong and bold stone buildings. The exterior is rarely decorated. Instead, Pre-Romanesque churches often feature so-called westworks, which are the monumental west-facing entrances.

After the turbulences of the Migration Period, the need for political unification and stabilization developed into the construction of several imposing ecclesiastical buildings. In continental Europe the period is generally separated in the Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian Styles. Regional styles developed on the Iberian Peninsula (Asturian & Visicothic Styles) and in Italy (Lombard Style). Unfortunately only few pure examples of the Pre-Romanesque Style remain as most constructions have been altered throughout time.

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Romanesque

Romanesque is one of the two dominant architectural styles in the Middle Ages and was the first pan-European style since the period of Roman Imperial Architecture. It straddles the 11th and 12th centuries and derives its name from its similarity to Ancient Roman styles. Romanesque is dominantly characterized by a use of semi-circular arches. It continues the tradition of bold stone walls of the Pre-Romanesque period and often features a symmetrical layout.

By far the greatest numbers of surviving Romanesque buildings are churches which reflect the importance of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. Simultaneously the style is often found in castles which coincides with the period’s feudalist society.

The Romanesque experienced a revival in the mid-19th century, predominantly in Northern America (USA, Canada) and on the British Isles.

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Gothic

Gothic has its roots in modern France and is undoubtedly one of the most well-known architectural styles in all of Europe. With advancement in masonry the thick stone walls of the Romanesque were abandoned and replaced with almost skeletal stone structures. These truly emphasize verticality. The determining characteristic of the Gothic is the pointed arch as opposed to the round arches of the Romanesque. Other elements of Gothic are flying buttresses, ribbed stone vaults and sharply pointed spires and pinnacles. The buildings now often featured big stain-glass windows.

At the time the Catholic Church was prevalent in most of Europe and as such most Gothic structures are of ecclesiastical nature. With rapid growth in trade and in towns, buildings representing the people also took on Gothic elements. These buildings were town houses, commercial premises and the likes.

The style spread throughout Europe but was confronted with varying geographic premises. For example, because the Baltic Sea Region is not very rich in natural stone resources, a distinct style called Brick Gothic emerged in the region, which stands separate from the limestone styles of continental Europe.

In more general terms, Gothic is divided into Early Gothic, High Gothic and International Gothic. Like many major architectural styles, Gothic experienced a revival in later times. The style regained popularity on the British Isles in the 18th and more dominantly in the 19th century.

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Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Have you already learnt anything from this guide? Which is your favourite architectural style? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!

24 thoughts on “Introduction to Medieval Architectural Styles

  1. This guide is so helpful! I love the historical background paired with the info graphics. It makes it easy to identify now when out and about. Can’t wait to use this on my next adventure!

    1. Hi Amber and thanks so much for your comment! I’m glad you found our post informative. Let us know how it goes in the field 😉

      Jacky 🌞

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! We love Gothic too, it’s just so intricate ❤ There will be more of these posts, just for future reference, haha.

      Jacky 🌞

  2. Love the Gothic style. I didn’t realize there is a variety of it as a style. Thanks to your blog I learned something new. Nice write up!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂 I’m glad that you enjoyed the read and hope that you’ll be back to learn some more.

      Jacky

  3. That’s very interesting! Another point of view from the typical travel-blogs! I had no idea at what I was looking at when visiting different cities around and just taking photos of them! From now on… I will definitely pay more attention to them! Congrats for the article!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Marina! <3
      I think pretty buildings are easy enough to enjoy just by looking at them. No need to always overcomplicate things 🙂 But yes, it certainly doesn't hurt if you can enjoy and leanr at the same time, haha!

      Jacky

  4. I needed to read something like this … talk about DETAILS! And now I’ve understood architecture a little bit better. Call me crazy, I have always had this fascination with European architecture. I make sure to visit as many churches as I can when I’m in a country. And I have a fascination with Gothic ones. I love the St Vitus Cathedral In Prague.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Delaine! 🙂
      I’m glad that you learned something from this. We just love architecture so much and Europe is simply amazing that way. I also adore Gothic and we’re going to Prague in 3 weeks for the first time, so I’ll be looking out for St Vitus 😉

      Jacky

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sassy. I’m glad that you enjoyed the infographics. I put a lot of work into them hoping that they would be easy to understand 🙂

      Jacky

  5. great post, I am visiting England and Ireland for the next year and am always curious about Architectural styles….lol….wish I had this as cheat sheet oh just gave myself an idea and will download it onto my phone.

    1. Hi Faith and thanks for your comment! Great idea of saving it to your phone. And be on the look out: We’ll have posts about English architecture coming up 😉

      Jacky

  6. Ok – I am going to confess that I had no idea Romanesque is because it’s Roman-like, always thought it’s because it’s kind of romantic (going to die of embarrassment now).
    Thanks a ton for the guide! I’ve often wondered about the details of architecture difference of building style – Romanesque is definitely my fav!

    1. Hey Nam and thank you so much for your comment! Truth be told, before we started working on this I had never even heard the term “Romanesque” so you’re already far ahead of me, haha. But I love it too! It’s just the typical fairytale castle that you’d imagine to see somewhere tuck away in the mountains 🙂

      Jacky

    1. Thank you so much, Christina! We were looking for a way to make this technical topic accessible to everybody to enhance your travel experience. I’m glad that you found this useful 🙂

      Jacky

  7. This is awesome! I’ve actually been doing some research into architecture recently because it annoys me not being able to identify different features and their periods. I love how simple and cohesive this is! Definitely bookmarking this, are you going to do any others?

    1. Thank you so much Natasha for your kind comment <3
      That is actually the exact reason why we started this series, because we always looked at a building and would be like "So is this art nouveau or art deco?", haha 😀 So we thought why not put out this resource for everybody.
      And to answer your question, yes, there will be many more as this is just the first episode in our architecture series. We are planning to publish one per week, so we hope you'll be back for more 🙂

      Jacky <3

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