This week we are leaving the relatively calm Early Christian period and heading into the tumultuous Crusades and a time of mass migration and great chaos throughout Europe and the Middle East. The building of churches expanded with the expansion of Christianity and in Europe this period had two architectural styles for these buildings came to prominence, Romanesque & Gothic.
The Romanesque period runs from the 8th through the 12th centuries. As it name implies, this style was influenced by Roman architecture, particularly in its use of the semicircular arch. Romanesque structures were massive, with extraordinarily high ceilings and oversized columns. Biblical figures replaced the classic Roman gods in statuary.
Gothic was the final period of medieval architecture and was its most ornate. Gothic buildings are grand with flying buttresses, high, vaulted ceilings and large groups of columns bundled around a core. They were also highly decorated, with gargoyles, pointed semicircular arches and tracery windows.
Most of the structures we will focus on for this period are churches and castles. This is no accident – the Romanesque period was the peak of church and castle building in Europe. Many of the features will feel familiar, perhaps from a trip to Europe or because Romanesque & Gothic design elements are found in many churches throughout the US.
BARREL VAULTED CEILING
Abbey at Vezelay + Architectural Company HQ
Romanesque churches were known for their barrel vaulting as seen here in the Nave in Vezelay, France. Barrel vaults are semicircular arches that support a rectangular space. The Park + Associates HQ in Singapore added a series of black-rimmed barrel vaults in the main hall of a converted schoolhouse building which added verticality and a stunning architectural feature to the building.
Notre Dame + Rain Catchers in Ireland
Gargoyles add a sinister tone to the tops of Gothic buildings, but they also serve a practical purpose, wicking away rain water to keep a stone building from eroding. In modern times catching water serves another purpose, often diverting it to a rain barrel or cistern for water reclamation. This Irish home uses the catch for another purpose – connecting the residents with the natural water features surrounding the property. The chain attached at the roof draws rainwater into a small pond cut into the in the hardscape.
GROIN VAULTED CEILING
Abbey at Vezelay + Spa in Private London home
Romanesque structures featured two types of vaulted ceiling, groin and barrel. We looked at barrel vaulting on Monday, today we take a look at groin vaulting. More ornate than its barrel counterpart, groin vaulting is more complex and is described as intersecting two barrel vaults. Many churches have both styles in different parts of the structure such as the church in Vezelay. Our modern example is found in this enviable subterranean pool from a modern home in London. The mirror at the end of the space catches the reflection and make the space appear to continue, much like the nave leading to the apse at Vezelay.
HOUSE ON A HILL
Krak des Chaveliers + Observation House in Bulgaria
Romanesque and Gothic villages were built on hilltops for security so invaders could be seen from far away. Remember, these were chaotic times for the region. A lovely example is the Krak des Chevaliers (aka Crac des Chevaliers), which is located in Syria (more on this in a moment). Modern homes provide the owners with “protection” from neighbors, just like their medieval counterparts, but the 360 degree view of the agricultural lands that surround it doesn’t hurt either.
A little more about Krak des Chevaliers…
Throughout history many historically significant structures have been lost to natural disaster, war and simple human indifference to protecting them. In more modern times, we have come to recognize the importance of preservation, mainly led by the UNESCO World Heritage organization which has been actively protecting important structures since 1975.
Krak des Chevalier was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. This designation was mostly due to its being one of the best-preserved examples of Crusade-era castles remaining at that time. When you consider the Crusades date from 800-1200 CE you realize how incredible that really is.
Unfortunately, the fortress is located in modern Syria which you likely know has been in the midst of a civil war since 2011. While access to the area is extremely limited, in October 2015 a drone flyover provided a status update and it wasn’t a pleasant one. See for yourself in the video below. (Footage starts at :20)