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.
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.
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.
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.
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!