Earthlore Explorations Gothic
Romanesque Architecture "The monastic style proper, then, in its peculiar power and influence, was Romanesque, and with the Cluniac order we may understand what it really came to, what was its effect on the spirits, the imagination."
—Walter Pater

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Romanesque ArchitectureThe style of Architecture immediately preceding Gothic within Europe, is known as Romanesque. Such structures are generally contained within the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This distinctive style drew many of its early forms from the previous Carolingian period which began during the reign of great Charlemagne. The name literally refers to the intent of designing in the style or manner of Rome.

Romanesque ArchitectureWhile many regional expressions of form developed throughout Europe, Romanesque often refers to all works of this era, including the later Norman variations. The most recognizable feature of these buildings is there massiveness. In a general sense, it is easy to distinguish such structures from their more slender descendants in the Gothic era.

Romanesque ArchitectureOne of the most important structural developments of the Romanesque era was the vault. Originally intended as an alternative to fire prone wooden roofs, vaults became a major innovation in architectural features through the ensuing centuries.
Gothic Dreams Image: Artist's depiction of Durham cathedral, England

Romanesque ArtWithin Norman structures still reside many of the seeds of later Gothic expression. One important feature passed on to this later age was the Norman facade. Here you see the twin towers now accepted as a standard of medieval cathedrals. Elsewhere within the Romanesque period are found the first versions of the cruciform structured church. Here again is a form closely associated with the Gothics.

Architectural Forms of Europe

Romanesque Art Carolingian: 800 - 900
Romanesque Art Ottonian: 1000s
Romanesque Art Romanesque: 1000s - 1100s
Romanesque Art Gothic: Late 1100s - 1400s
Romanesque Cathedrals Renaissance: 1400s - 1600s
Notable Romanesque Structures

Romanesque Cathedrals Durham Cathedral, England
Romanesque Cathedrals Benedictine Monastery, Cluny, France
Romanesque Cathedrals Sainte Foy Abbey, Southern France
Romanesque Sculpture Speyer Cathedral, Germany
Romanesque Sculpture Sant' Ambrogio, Milan, Italy

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Romanesque SculptureSadly, much of the great developments of the Romanesque period are overshadowed by later works. When we think of the Norman style today, we think more of fortified walls and castles. But, the careful student will be greatly rewarded by turning attention toward the abbeys and monasteries of the pre-Gothic age. The needs of the large monastic orders for housing, industry and religious service ignited a strong demand for new building skills and techniques. Although they do not receive as much public attention as the grand churches and cathedrals, many of the Cistercian and Benedictine abbeys still exist. Most sites are accessible to visitors willing to go a little out of their way to seek them out.

Gothic Dreams: South Transept Tower at Cluny, France
The tower of the South Transept at Cluny.
This impressive feature is all which remains
of the once grand Romanesque abbey.


Romanesque StyleMany of the churches and cathedrals constructed during the Romanesque period were either greatly modified or completely replaced in succeeding centuries. In certain locations, such as Durham in England we can see a predominantly Romanesque form with fine Gothic additions. More often, the casual visitor is hard put to determine where the two styles begin and end at the more prominent sites.

Romanesque Style The pre-Gothic achievements have been obscured through history as well. Much of the credit for seemingly revolutionary innovations has been attributed solely to the craftsmen of the Gothic age. The apparent absence of evolving styles leading to the impressive works of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
has even lead to speculation of outside influence in their construction. Some have proposed that ancient building secrets were discovered in the Holy Land, and brought back to Europe by crusading knights. However, less romantic origins may be uncovered with dedicated exploration and an aware eye.

Romanesque StyleWith the final collapse of the Roman empire, all architectural development ceased in Europe. All construction was determined by practical need and primarily limited to houses of worship. Churches of this time were small, simple structures and it is not until the eighth century that the influence of the Byzantine empire inspires a slow change from the south.

Romanesque StyleThe pre-Romanesque period, the Carolingian, was itself a period of great innovation, initiated by the rise of Charles the Great or Charlemagne in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. Victories across western Europe and a consolidation of diverse regions made Charles the most powerful ruler since the collapse of Rome.

Romanesque ChurchesPope Leo's declaration of Charlemagne as '...peace-giving emperor of the Romans...' on Christmas day in 800, marks the first glimmer of dawn for the Dark Age of European history. With energetic intent, the young emperor initiated a cultural renovation of the new realm, radiating from his capital in Aachen. Architecture benefited greatly within this period and master builders were accorded a deserving respect. Among the significant contributions of this era are westworks and bell towers, features which both the Romanesque and Gothic ages evolved upon elaborately.

Romanesque ChurchesIt is important to bear in mind that all European architecture prior to the Renaissance has been very broadly categorized. There are a wide range of distinctions in form and style spread across the geography of Europe and the expanse of the centuries. Even the names we accept without question today, Romanesque and Gothic, were applied hundreds of years after the periods they define.

Gothic Dreams: Tournay Cathedral, Belgium
Interior of Tournay cathedral, Belgium,
Twelfth century Romanesque.


The RomanesqueThe era in which the Romanesque structures arose was a time of great significance for European culture. Hundreds of years of chaos were passing as new orders began to take shape across the continent. As the first millennium drew to a close, the church had become the dominant influence and promoter of art and culture. Beginning as isolated outposts, the monasteries would eventually bring civilization and education to the far reaches of Europe. It is a fascinating chapter of history to study, and architecture is a central component of that story. Learning to discern the distinctions and styles of each period will return many unexpected rewards to the dedicated student. The structures of the Romanesque and Gothic eras are cultural legacies awaiting just such exploration.



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Development & Production Credits
Theme Editor :   Nicole Blackford   —   Primary Text :   Rhey Cedron
Art Direction :   Thierry Alberto   —   Art Research :   Malcolm Hurrell
Principal Photography :   Rhey Cedron
Structural Design :  Mark Nelson   —   Research Assistant :  Walter McCrae
Support Production :  Henry Craig,  Joan Flandrin, Clara Kelly


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