Why do some churches have double aisles?
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Why Double Aisles?

Aisle - Pisa Duomo
Looking into the side aisles of the Pisa Duomo (Italy, 1064 AD)

Some big basilicas and churches had two aisles instead of one. The big cathedral at Pisa (the Duomo), has two aisles. See the two rows of columns?

Very big churches needed double aisles. The extra row of columns helped to hold up the heavy stone roof. This also made room for more activities inside the church. Because medieval churches were the biggest indoor spaces in their towns, people didn't only use them for religious services. Churches were also used for weddings (as they are today), graduations, big parties, town meetings, concerts, criminal trials, and sometimes even farmer's markets.

Pisa floor plan
Floor plan of Pisa Cathedral

Here is a floor plan of Pisa Cathedral, looking down at the church as if you were floating over it. You can see the four rows of columns, and the side aisles, and the apse at the other end.

Bibliography and Further Reading:

Arches to Zigzags: An Architecture ABC, by Michael J. Crosbie (2000). Shows what an arch is, or a gable, or an eave. For younger kids.

Eyewitness: Building, by Philip Wilkinson, Dave King, and Geoff Dann (2000). Lavishly illustrated, like other Eyewitness books for kids, and with good explanations of most architectural terms.

City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, by David Macaulay (1983).

What's an apse?
What's a nave?
What's a transept?
What's a basilica?
What's a cathedral?
omanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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