Architecture in the Middle Ages

The end of Roman Empire not only disturbed the political, social and educational culture of Middle Ages, but also, it influenced the architecture of the Middle Ages in a significant manner. The essential aspect of this change was the increasing influence of Christianity and Church in political and cultural matters. The Church virtually became the major power to manage the life style of people of Middle Ages.

Another significant reason that evolved various innovative steps in architecture of the Middle Ages was the tumultuous invasions by the barbarians and the evolution of feudal system during the Middle Ages.

Classes of architecture of the Middle Ages:

Medieval architecture can be divided in two classes; namely, religious architecture and military architecture. Kings and lords of medieval period offered immense help for the spread of Christianity. As a result, they helped Church building programs.  The temples of pagan and Roman religion were not designed for large gatherings.

However, to spread Christianity, it was necessary to create Church buildings where large meetings could be held easily. To provide enough space, early Christians opted for a specific architectural design which is known as basilica. This design consisted of a nave, transepts and altars. Later on, those cathedrals which were influenced by Justinian significantly used the byzantine architectural style and created huge domes. They also made use of a Greek cross.

In order to protect their land and to provide protection for serfs, Lords created castles and fortified walls which later on became most significant non-religious examples of architecture of the Middle Ages.

Furthermore, architecture of the Middle Ages can also be studied under different time spans as Pre-Romanesque Architecture, Romanesque Architecture and Gothic Architecture. With changing influences of Church and feudalism, architectural styles of Middle Ages gradually changed from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture.

During the early Middle Ages, most of the innovative architectural styles were influenced by modernization as architectural works were influenced by Italian, northern, Spanish, and Byzantine inputs. These architectural styles also showed the impact of religious and political competition between kings and the clergy.

Romanesque Architecture

Romanesque architectural styles were influenced by Roman architecture with significant modernizing techniques. This architectural style was used during 800-1100 A.D. It is considered as the first important architectural style that was developed after the collapse of Roman Empire. It was still related with Roman architecture because of the use of Roman barrel vault and Roman arch in the buildings of this period.

During the period of Romanesque architectural style, the stones used for creating buildings were cut with precision. The use of Roman arch system enabled constructors to support heavy stones at the middle while the barrel vault system was used to support the stone roofs.

Gothic architecture

Gradually, architecture of the Middle Ages went through a significant change and constructors started to produce building with perpendicular architecture which is also known as the Gothic architecture. This building and construction style was used during the period of 1200 – 1500 A. D. Gothic arch structures were light and spacious and they helped in creating airy structures that helped in creating high structures with proper light.

Gothic architectural buildings had wider windows and doors than those of Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque buildings. Because of the use flying buttress, the buildings of Gothic architectural style were strong as they used higher number of towers and pillars. Gothic style also gave way for decorative architecture as for example, in form of gargoyles.

Famous buildings representing architecture of the Middle Ages

At the beginning of this period, people took time to settle and develop. Thus, the Pre-Romanesque architectural styles were not used significantly as people were engaged in building small churches. However, a few Roman emperors created huge Churches such as Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (now knows as Istanbul).

In Western Europe, Charlemagne gave way to the creation of the palace of Aachen. During the same time, Arabs got hold of the southern and eastern Mediterranean and they built great palaces such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and various great mosques like Kairouan.

By 1000 A.D., Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages came in light and people began building bigger castles and churches. Some of the famous churches of this time were the St. Mark’s Church in Venice, Toulouse and St. Germain des Prés in France, and Baptistery at Pisa. Furthermore military architecture also developed during this period which was significant by Germany’s Bromserburg and Tower of London.

By the coming of 1200 A.D., people started building Churches and castles based on Gothic architectural style. They created churches in Italy at Florence and Pisa. Similarly in France, the cathedral of Laon, of Paris, of Amiens, of Reims, of Chartres, and of Rouen was created with Gothic style of architecture. In England, the Westminster Abbey was created in Gothic architectural style.

Soon Gothic style was also experimented in Italy at Milan, and in Germany at Cologne, Bremen, Freiburg, Munster and Regensburg. The Louvre and the Conciergerie were the two castles built by the Capetian kings of France in Paris who also produced various castles on the outskirt of Paris including the castle of Vincennes. The castle of Heidelberg was built in Germany by the Holy Roman kings. Gothic architectural style became significant in Spain after the defeat of Islamic rulers by Reconquista, who created a Gothic cathedral at Seville.

However, all these significantly beautiful and strong churches and castles which were produced in Romanesque and Gothic style suggested the power and prosperity of the feudal aristocratic class. The peasants and serfs on the other hands were exploited by the members of nobility. The basic purpose of all these Gothic Churches and castles was either to spread influence of Christianity or to protect and to ensure security against invaders, barbarians and Islamic rulers.

1 thought on “Architecture in the Middle Ages”

  1. JP needs to redo his thesis. She said the one that has now is too broad. He needs to focus more on the changes that were made in architecture during this time and why they were made. This article provides a good overview. Remind him that he is to use articles from the online sources that she has approved.


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