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historyA Timeline of European Architecture in the Middle Ages

A Timeline of European Architecture in the Middle Ages

From the late Roman period through the Carolingian dynasty to the international styles of Romanesque and Gothic, medieval architecture is extremely varied, yet little known.

After the fall of Rome in 476, Roman culture’s hold over Western Europe weakened. Non-Roman states emerged, and architectural styles developed that were based on Roman ideals. It was also important for early medieval architecture that Justinian reconquered Italy and left behind elements of Byzantine art. Then, in the 8th and 9th centuries, the Carolingian dynasty and its successor dynasties produced architectural masterpieces. This grand scale was brought about by two international architectural styles: Romanesque and Gothic. Romanesque architecture, as the term implies, is the legacy of ancient Rome in Western Europe. Gothic, on the other hand, was originally a pejorative term, but has influenced and been influenced by modern architecture.

Leading Up to Carolingian Architecture

It is difficult to pinpoint where medieval architecture begins; the widely held, but perhaps incorrect, consensus is that the collapse of Greco-Roman culture in the 6th and early 8th centuries led to the decline of monumental art. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Western Europe underwent a regional and tribal The Visigoths were the first to be recognized as a mosaic of tribes and regions. The Visigoths controlled almost all of Spain from the 5th to the 8th century, and the only surviving structure is the church of San Juan Bautista in Banos de Cerrado. In northern Italy, the kings of Lombardy commissioned buildings (now mostly destroyed) that feature references to Classicist art and echoes of modern Ravenna.

With the decline of Rome and the reconquest of Italy, cities like Ravenna and Milan became the new centers of architecture. The tomb of the Visigoth king Theodoric illustrates the ambivalent political and cultural status of Ravenna in the 6th century. The tomb is an eclectic blend of Roman two-story structures, Syrian massive tonelic structures, and the ostrogothic masonry tradition found in monolithic domes. The presence of Constantinopolis architecture in Ravenna determined the future of medieval architecture. The Cathedral of San Vitale was completed under the direct patronage of Emperor Justinian. Architectural elements such as the octagonal two-story plan, massive piers, marble pavements, and mosaics play an important role in the development of Carolingian architecture.

Carolingian Architecture

The first glimpse of a unified and unique Western European style was seen when the new Roman emperor Charlemagne was crowned in 800. The new Frankish emperor strove for a great revival of ancient culture with its own political character. Carolingian architecture was intended to imitate the Christian architecture of the Roman Empire and was therefore generally Roman in form. With the addition of Byzantine influence, the Roman architectural heritage was carried over into the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages.

A Timeline of European Architecture in the Middle Ages

Christian buildings.

Another Roman element revived by Carolingian architecture was the use of basilicas: at the end of the 8th century, the reconstruction of Centura (Saint-Liquier) near Abbeville had begun. Charlemagne generously funded the project and ordered the base, columns, and moldings to be shipped from Rome. The western facade of the basilica is one of the earliest examples of this architectural element. The western facade of Saint-Liquier, along with its plan, was a precursor of Romanesque architecture.

Ottonian Architecture

The Carolingian inclination toward Roman culture and art was carried over to the Otton dynasty and continued for two millennia. The rulers of the Otton dynasty came from the dukes of Saxony (eastern Germany), and by the 10th century they had the power to claim royalty: Otto I, who became Karl the Great in 800, was officially crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in 962. Since then, each king of the Ottonian dynasty has defined himself as a Roman emperor, following in the footsteps of Constantine and Charlemagne. In carrying on the imperial tradition, the Ottonians had to affirm it through the use of Carolingian architecture.

The reign of Otto I is well known in Middle Germany, as exemplified by the monastery church of St. Cyriacus in Gernlaude, completed in 961. Its relationship to Carolingian architecture and Saint-Riquier is evident in its appearance, with rhythmically varying columns under the arches and substantial masonry piers.

Saint-Riquier’s designs achieved lasting success in Germany, and his influence has been passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. The most famous example of Ottonian architecture is Bishop Bernwald’s Church of St. Michael in Hildesheim, completed in 1033 and rebuilt according to its original layout after being destroyed several times; it is a three-aisled basilica with two transepts and two pairs of towers. The capitals of the interior columns are modeled on Byzantine elements reminiscent of the capitals of San Vitale. Scholars recognize this church of St. Michael as the oldest example of Romanesque architecture.

Romanesque Architecture in Burgundy

The beginnings of Romanesque architecture are closely associated with the revival of monasticism in Western Europe and the development of monastic networks such as the Cistercians, Clunyans, and Carthusians.

Cluny III (the number given by art historians to commemorate the monastery’s third reconstruction) is the best example of the beginning and spread of this style in Western Europe. From its inception, the Burgundian abbey had an unprecedented independence, subordinate only to the Papacy. It was for this reason that the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul were transferred and took an important place in Western Christianity. Centered around this reliquary, a basilica with five aisles with two transepts and a radial chapel was created. It is modeled after the basilica of ancient Rome, precisely reproducing the dimensions of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Other Roman elements include the adoption of Vitruvian proportions and barrel vaults. These forms, elements, harmonies, and proportions marked the beginning of Romanesque architecture. The use of two trusses and westwork, in the Carolingian architectural tradition, also shows the building’s connection to the region’s past. As seen in the Vesley Abbey and the Cathedral of Autun, a network of more than 1,000 churches and monasteries, its visual identity served as an example to other architects and craftsmen.

Romanesque Architecture Outside of France

The Romanesque architectural style developed in France spread throughout Europe, contributing to the diversity of medieval architecture. Some medieval states never got out of the early Romanesque phase, while others created an entirely different Romanesque architecture. Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, which is stylistically indistinguishable from the pilgrimage churches of France, is attributed to the Cluny Monastery.

In Germany, the center of the medieval Holy Roman Empire, Romanesque architecture became part of the imperial tradition. Speyer Cathedral is one of the most memorable Romanesque churches, construction of which began around 1030 under Emperor Conrad II and was completed in its first form around 1060. Its serene majesty and massive walls are based on Roman ideas. The exterior of the cathedral, with its articulated masonry, apse with blind arcades and dwarf galleries, and tower, is no less overwhelming.

Italy during the Middle Ages had the greatest variety of Romanesque architecture, with multiple versions developed in different regions. In northern Italy, there was a constant exchange of ideas and architects between the Holy Roman Empire and the autonomous city-states. This relationship can be seen in elements such as tower windows doubling in height, pilaster strips, decorative arcades, and blind galleries on facade exterior walls. A good example of this exchange is the Cathedral of Pisa.

The Beginnings of Gothic Architecture

The roots of the Gothic style date back to the 11th century in Normandy and Norman England. At the Abbey of Saint-Etienne in Caen, it first transformed into a mass-decomposing double shell, which was then consolidated into a linear columnar element. Gothic development moved southward to the Ile-de-France, where the first coherent examples of Gothic architecture appeared in the mid-12th century.

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