Medieval Architecture History

Before one can understand the architecture of the Medieval Times, one must first understand the Medieval Times themselves. The Medieval Period, also commonly referred to as the Middle Ages, began in the 5th century and lasted until the 15th century.

Historians now divide the Middle Ages, which began when the Western Roman Empire fell, into three distinct periods:

  • The Early Middle Ages (475 to 1000)
  • The High Middle Ages (1001 to 1300)
  • The Late Middle Ages (1301-1500)

Each period has its own unique architecture and architectural features.

Architecture in the Early Middle Ages

During the early Middle Ages, modernization was alive and well, and it had a major impact on the architecture of the period, which was essentially a culmination of Italian, Byzantine, northern, and Spanish architectural styles.

There was also a great sense during the time of royalty and religious officials trying to “outdo” one another. Each group wanted to build the most powerful and important structures, so much of what was created was created largely for the sake of proving that one side was the “best.”

Most of the architecture created during this period is considered Romanesque architecture, the first major architectural style to be created after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, older Roman elements, such as vaults and arches, were still used in most designs, and stone was the primary building material.

Architecture in the High Middle Ages

As the early Middle Ages rolled into the high Middle Ages, Romanesque architecture gradually faded out of style and use. It was replaced by what architectural scholars now refer to as “Gothic” architecture.

Some of the key features of Gothic architecture include buttresses, arches, and vaults, often with new elements and styles that differentiated them from older designs of the same type.

Almost all structures from the high Middle Ages were designed with religion in mind, signifying that clergy and religious people had won the battle for power fought against politicians in the early Middle Ages.

Buildings from the high Middle ages are all tall and upward reaching, signifying a grasping toward the sky and God. Structures also appeared lighter than previous designs, since light was believed to be representative of God.

As one might expect, many churches were built during this period, including the famed Notre Dame de Paris. Most of the churches featured distinctive glass windows, vaulting,  and were massively sized to symbolize God’s greatness and vast power.

Architecture in the Late Middle Ages

For much of Europe, especially northern Europe, the Gothic architectural style continued to be popular well into the late Middle Ages. Largely, architects focused their attention on perfecting the design of the Gothic cathedral.

In some parts of Europe, however, such as Italy, architectural influence came from classical architectural designs. A perfect example of the classical influence on Italian architecture during the period is the Santa Maria del Fiore, located in Florence.

Innovations in Religious Architecture

Obviously, religious architecture remained important throughout the whole of the Middle Ages. And, perhaps one of the most important styles born during this time, was the Latin cross plan, commonly used in the construction of churches.

The cross plan, which is created using a nave and transepts, was not an entirely original idea however. The design was based largely off the designs commonly seen in Roman basilicas.

A Focus on Defense

Many structures built during the Middle Ages were constructed primarily for the purpose of defense. In fact, many of these structures still remain today, due in large part to their great strength, which belies their original purpose.
Medieval architects created castles with fortified walls, reinforced windows, and special battlements which could hide and disguise archers during battle.

Diversity and Importance

The Middle Ages were ever-changing, a fact perfectly demonstrated in the distinctive periods and the changing architecture. However, the large focus on religious architecture and on religion in general would continue to shape the world and influence architectural styles long after the period ended.

Medieval architecture history courses:

This is Part Two of the architecture history.

History of Architecture: Medieval Times. What are the principles and ideas that shaped architecture and cities through Medieval world in Europe and Asia from 300 – 1450 A.D. ?

Courses that cover the Medieval Period:

  1. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
  2. Maxentius Basilica, Rome
  3. Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
  4. Ibn Tulun’s Mosque, Cairo
  5. Kings College, Cambridge (the architecture)
  6. Dome of Soltaniyeh, Iran
  7. Süleymaniye Mosque, Turkey
  8. Blue Mosque (Ahmediye) Istanbul
  9. Taj Mahal, Agra
  10. Badshahi mosque, Lahore

These courses can also be found under: Medieval Times Architecture


Jay The Bubble- Beaver's picture

When do architects design gothic buildings?☻☻ ☺☺In their high middle ages!☺☺ High as in drunk.
Bubble Beaver, Jay

These were the best of the best architectural features I have ever encountered in my 50 some odd years of life. Roderick Gorrell
joan.daviesojiako's picture

Where architects acknowledged during this time or it was just the work of 'tradesmen'?