Romanesque architecture: characteristics, features, examples
Romanesque architecture: characteristics, features, examples

Video: Romanesque architecture: characteristics, features, examples

Video: Romanesque architecture: characteristics, features, examples
Video: Romanesque church architecture: the basics 2023, December

Romanesque style in architecture is inextricably linked with the historical era in which it developed. In the 11th-12th centuries, there were difficult times in Europe: there were many small feudal states, raids by nomadic tribes began, feudal wars raged. All this required massive, strong buildings that are not easy to destroy and capture.

Both the personal dwellings of feudal lords and Christian buildings turned into a fortress, as the nomads attacked both land owners and monasteries in the hope of capturing as much gold and other valuables as possible. Nobody felt safe in the previous buildings.

The influence of religion on style

The monastic orders of the Benedictines and Cistercians contributed to the spread of the style throughout Europe. They built reliable fortresses around their monasteries as soon as they settled in new territories.

Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture

Christian Romanesque architecture differed significantly from the ancient one both externally,as well as the purpose of use. In Greece and Rome, temples to deities were built in order to appease them. To do this, the main emphasis was placed on the worship of God, and not on the comfort and the number of people who are in them.

The Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages emphasized spaciousness. The temple was supposed to accommodate the maximum number of people. At the same time, a significant part of it was also assigned to the library and the repository of religious artifacts and simple we alth. Such a building had to be huge, powerful, reliable.

Since medieval culture paid attention to antiquity, the first Byzantine basilicas were taken as the basis for the plan of the temple:

  1. Central, side and transverse nave.
  2. At the intersection of the naves - the tower.
  3. Fronting towers on the western façade.
  4. Apse in the eastern part.

Although the plans of the monasteries were universal, they all adapted a little to local conditions and the peculiarities of use by each order of monks. All this led to the development of Romanesque architecture.

Distinctive features of the internal structure

Romanesque architecture of Western Europe has two compositional types of church buildings:

  • basilicas are rectangular simple buildings with an attached apse in their eastern part;
  • round buildings with evenly spaced apses.

The organization of the internal space and the volume of the premises have changed significantly, especially in basilicas. A new Romanesque type appears, in which the same space of naves, whichbecame more like halls. This has gained particular popularity in Spain, Germany and France in the territory between the Garonne and the Loire.

Inside the temples are divided mainly into square spatial blocks. This was an innovation for that period. This is one of the main features of Romanesque architecture.

Romanesque architecture in Western Europe
Romanesque architecture in Western Europe

It was also important to create conditions for influencing the worshipers by the building itself. Its degree depended on the way the vault and walls were made. There were several ways of covering: flat beams, domes on sails and a barrel vault. However, the most popular was the cruciform without ribs. This not only decorated and enriched the interior itself, but also did not spoil the longitudinal nature of the organization of space.

Romanesque style in architecture dictated clear geometric relationships in terms of the building. The main nave was twice as wide as the side ones. The vaults were held on pylons. Between the two that hold the load of both the side and the main nave, there was always one pylon with a load only from the side. This could create conditions for the embodiment of an architectural rhythm, where thicker supports alternate with thin ones. But this style required strictness, which means that all pylons must be the same. This also created the effect of a visual increase in the internal space.

Special attention was paid to the apse, which was richly decorated. For these purposes, false blind arches were created (often in several tiers), the walls were decorated with paintings, overlays, and various ledges. Special attention in the interiorwas given to the decoration of columns and pylons.

Vegetable and animal motifs begin to appear actively in the ornaments. Their use and development of the Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages is due to the same nomadic tribes, whose representatives often settled on these lands and assimilated with the local population.

Sculpture was also actively used in the interior decoration of temples. It was also called preaching in stone. Figures depicting biblical characters and motifs from the holy book were often installed in portals. This had about the same effect on the congregation as praying with a regular sermon.

Exterior of Romanesque churches

Outwardly, Romanesque architecture is simple in form blocks, the same as the interior spaces. It has small windows. This was done because glasses began to be used much later.

The building itself is a composition of several volumes, the central place in which is occupied by the main nave with a semicircular apse. It is complemented by one or more transverse naves.

castles romanesque architecture
castles romanesque architecture

This style is also characterized by the use of towers, which are located in different ways. As a rule, two of them were installed on the front side and one at the intersection of the naves. The most decorated part is the rear facade, which houses various architectural details. Most often these are portals with sculptures. This is achieved due to the large thickness of the walls, which allow you to make impressive recesses in which you can easilycomplex sculptures are placed.

Significantly less attention is paid to the side facades. But the height of the buildings increases as the style develops. At its dawn, the distance from the floor of the main nave to the base of the vault reaches twice the width of this architectural part of the building.

Distinctive features of the architectural style

The main feature of Romanesque architecture is that this style improved the classical wooden basilica with a flat ceiling, transforming it into a vaulted one. First of all, vaults began to appear on the small spans of the side aisles and apses. With the development of style, they appeared above the main naves.

Vaults were often thick enough that both walls and pylons had to withstand a huge load, which is why they were designed with a large margin of safety. There were cases when architects made mistakes in their calculations and vaults collapsed at the final stages of construction.

The development of science and construction, as well as the need for large floor areas, contributed to the fact that both walls and vaults gradually began to lighten.

Arch and vault

The vault owes its popularity to the need to cover large areas. Wooden beams could not cope with this. The most simple in design were precisely the cylindrical vaults, which were quite massive and pressed against the walls with their weight, which made them very thick. The most famous monument of Romanesque architecture with such a vault over the central nave is Notre Dame du Port (Clermont-Ferrand). Over time, the lancet shape of the arch came to replacesemicircular.

monuments of Romanesque architecture
monuments of Romanesque architecture

To realize the possibility of building round vaults, the architects turned to the traditions of ancient architecture. In Rome, straight cross vaults were built over square rooms. Romanesque architecture slightly modified them: two half-cylinders were used for overlapping, which were located in a cross relative to each other. The diagonal ribs of the intersection take on the load of the vault and transfer it to 4 supports at the corners. These crossing ribs were built by the architects as round arches to facilitate the construction. By increasing the height of the cylinders to such an extent that the lines of intersection are not elliptical, but semicircular, an elevated groin vault is obtained.

Strong vaults required reliable support. This is how the Romanesque composite pylon appeared. Its main part was added by semi-columns. The latter played the role of a support for edge arches, which reduced the expansion of the vault. The rigid connection of edge arches, pylons and ribs made it possible to distribute the load from the vault. It was a breakthrough in architecture. Now the rib and arch have become the framework of the vault, and the pylon has become the walls.

Later, ribbed cross vaults appeared. They were built in such a way that end arches and ribs were first laid out. At the peak of the development of the style, they were made elevated, from which the diagonal arch became pointed.

The side naves were often covered not with cross, but with barrel vaults. They were also often used in civil engineering. All these features of architectural forms will become the basis of Gothic, which laterimproves them.

Construction Features

The main masterpieces of Romanesque architecture are made of stone. The limestone, which was plentiful along the Loire River, attracted people because it was easy to work and was relatively light. This allowed them to cover small spans without the use of bulky props. It was also used for exterior wall cladding as it was easy to make decorative patterns.

In Italy, the main finishing stone was marble. His color combinations allowed for impressive decorative effects, which became the main feature of the Romanesque style in this country.

Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages
Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages

As a building material, stone was used in the form of hewn blocks to create planed masonry and rubble to reinforce walls. It was then lined with hewn stone slabs, sometimes with decorative elements. In the Middle Ages, building blocks were made much smaller than in Antiquity. This was due to the fact that building material is easier to extract in the quarry and deliver to the place of use.

Not all regions had enough stones. In them, people made heavily baked brick blocks that were thicker and shorter than modern ones. Brick architectural monuments of that period have survived to this day in Germany, England, Italy and France.

Secular construction

Public life in medieval Europe was quite closed. Urban settlements were formed where the border guard camps of the Roman Empire used to be. Many of themwere at a considerable distance from each other, and the possessions of the feudal lords also stood apart, around which people also began to settle. Due to the inability to quickly move between remote settlements, many of them lived almost isolated from each other. Therefore, the architecture of different areas has its own characteristics. Thus, the Romanesque architecture of Germany is only remotely similar to English, as well as the latter to Italian. But still, they all have common features.

As mentioned earlier, in those days there were many wars that nomadic tribes brought with them. There were also feuds between the feudal lords for the right to own a particular territory. Therefore, passive protection means were needed. They became forts and castles.

They were equipped on the banks of steep rivers, on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by a moat. Outer walls were of great importance here. They were made tall and thick from stone or brick blocks. There was one or more entrances to the fortress, but all of them had to be quickly blocked, cutting off the enemy's path inside.

In the center of the city or castle there was a tower of a feudal lord - a donjon. It was on several floors, each of which had its own purpose:

  • in the basement - prison;
  • on the first - pantries;
  • second - the rooms of the owner and his family;
  • third - servants' quarters;
  • the roof is a place for sentinels.

In Romanesque architecture, castles played a city-forming role. Feudal lords with relatives and servants settled in them. Artisans also lived outside the walls, who supplied the feudal lord and residentssurrounding villages with necessary household items. For this reason, and also because Christianity occupied one of the main positions in the politics of that time, the castle had a temple or a chapel.

Royals had especially large and opulent castles. Hundreds of people could live in them. Dozens of utility rooms were built in the yard. Also, a characteristic feature of such fortifications was the presence of secret underground passages, which, during the siege, made it possible to leave the castle and make sorties into the enemy’s camp for reconnaissance or sabotage work.

Different from Gothic

The Gothic style appeared in Europe later (around the 12th century), when the Romanesque architecture of the Middle Ages had already developed its own stylistic features. Since gothic evolved from the style we describe, many people don't recognize them either.

difference between Romanesque and Gothic architecture
difference between Romanesque and Gothic architecture

In fact, the differences between Romanesque and Gothic architecture are obvious. They differ already in their aesthetic purpose. Romanesque churches were built for practical purposes. Their main task was to accommodate as many people as possible and protect them from hostilities. It turned out that the church acted as the focus of protection, knowledge and enlightenment.

Gothic wanted to show the insignificance of man before the greatness of God. Therefore, she created majestic buildings. At the base of the plan remains the same basilica with towers on the front facade and at the intersection of the side and central aisles. But its size and decorative components are changing.

The vaults are pulled up even more, creatingpeaks. Not only small sculptures appear on the facades, but their whole complexes. Images of mythical creatures that look at a person from above predominate, as in the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris.

Temples have huge windows covered with stained glass, which create a little mystical reflections in the room. Portals become much more layered, frames with patterns. The buildings themselves tend to rise, showing where a person needs to reach.

Romanesque Fine Art

Special in this period and Romanesque art. Architecture dictated its own rules to him, as it required additional decorations. Therefore, temples often used huge frescoes on the entire wall with images of scenes from the Bible.

Sculpture also actively developed. Following ancient traditions, she created her stories using special innovations. High relief becomes the main sculptural form of this period. The capitals of the columns were richly decorated with biblical figures, mythical animals, and bizarre floral ornaments. For the first time, the image of the Virgin Mary appears on the throne.

By the middle of the 12th century, stained glass windows began to appear. They also featured scenes from the Holy Scriptures. In the same architectural period, there were also books that were richly decorated with various illustrations, and the covers were made with inlaid gold and precious metals.

Architecture monuments that have survived to this day

In many countries of Old Europe, examples of Romanesque architecture have been preserved due to the fact that these structures were massive and powerful. We have already mentioned some of them in the article. Let's talk about a few more representatives of this architecture.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame la Grande (Poitiers) is an example of French buildings of the 11th-12th centuries. This is a small church with three almost equal naves. There is little lighting in it, so a slight twilight reigns, which is slightly diluted with daylight rays coming from the windows of the side aisles.

Italian Romanesque buildings are world famous. One of them is the Ri alto Bridge in Venice. This is a pedestrian covered structure of the arched type. There are also arched openings with pylons on both sides of the bridge.

Another masterpiece of the Romanesque style is the architectural ensemble in Pisa (Italy), better known to many people on the planet thanks to the leaning chapel near the five-nave cathedral - the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Romanesque style in architecture
Romanesque style in architecture

In Germany, the Cathedral of Worms can be called an example of this architectural period, in Spain - the cathedral in Salamanca, in England - the Tower. And in Vilnius, the remains of the fortress castle of those times have survived to this day.


Romanesque architecture became a continuation of ancient traditions and the basis for the development of other styles, in particular the Gothic. Simple wooden basilicas from Byzantium were transformed into majestic structures. This contributed to the search for new ways and methods of construction.

Frequent wars between feudal lords and raids by nomadic tribes forced people of those times to create reliable shelters in the form of castles and guard towers, which allowed them to withstandbesieged by the enemy with minimal losses.

Massive structures of the Romanesque era have been preserved in many places, impressing locals and tourists.

And even though this style was still a little primitive, and the terms of Romanesque architecture were not immediately clear to everyone, it left its mark on the architectural tradition of Western Europe and influenced the development of architecture in Eastern.