What is an apse? – History of Architecture

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Arches inside a stone building

Hagia Irene in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople)

An apse is a rounded end of a building. You most often find an apse in a basilica or a church. But sometimes a private house or a Roman bath building has an apse too. It just means that the end of the building is curved in a semi-circle (half a circle) instead of being flat, like the wall of your house or school probably is. The roof of an apse is like half a dome.

Apses make a building look fancier, or more complicated. If you’re going to be doing something important at one end of your building – like saying Mass at one end of a church, or judging court cases at one end of a basilica – then an apse makes that end of the building seem more important than the other end. That way, the people who are watching will know which way to look.

Learn by doing: visit a church and check out the apse

Apses in Roman Basilicas
Apses in Medieval Cathedrals

Bibliography and further reading about apses and architecture:

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 a nave?
And what’s an aisle?
What’s a basilica?
What’s a cathedral?
Romanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
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By |2018-04-14T00:02:37+00:00May 24th, 2017|Architecture|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What is an apse? – History of Architecture. Quatr.us Study Guides, May 24, 2017. Web. January 23, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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