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Notre Dame of Paris

Early Gothic architecture: Notre Dame of Paris (1160s AD)

What came after Romanesque?

After the Romanesque period in architecture, around 1100 AD, architects in western Europe gradually started to build Christian churches and palaces in the Gothic style.

Romanesque architecture
Medieval architecture
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The easiest difference to see between the two styles is that while Romanesque churches have round arches, Gothic churches have pointed arches.

What is an arch?

A Romanesque arch - rounded

A Romanesque arch – rounded

Pointed arches

The idea for the pointed arch probably came from Islamic architecture, where slightly pointed arches appear as early as the 600s in the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. Pointed arches soon became common in North Africa and Spain.

Dome of the Rock
What is a mosque?
Islamic architecture
Baptistery at Pisa

From Spain, pointed arches arrived in Italy.  Then architects began to use them in France and Germany, and finally in England.

A Gothic arch - pointed

A Gothic arch – pointed

Inside Laon cathedral (1160s)

Inside Laon cathedral (1160s)

More windows

But there are a lot of other differences between Romanesque and Gothic architecture as well. Gothic churches in northern Europe have many more windows, and much bigger windows, and so they are not dark like Romanesque churches. They’re more appropriate for dark northern Europe, instead of sunny, hot southern Europe.

More about buttresses
Medieval groin vaults

This is because the architects have learned some new ways of making roofs and of supporting walls. And, where many Romanesque churches had wooden roofs (which were always catching fire), Gothic churches had safer stone roofs (with a wood framework over the top to hold the roof tiles).

Bigger, fancier churches

Gothic churches in northern Europe are also usually bigger than Romanesque churches there.

The medieval economy

By 1200 AD, people in northern Europe had more money available, and they could afford to spend more on building great churches. They had conquered a lot of southern France, and they were trading more with the Islamic Empire.

Learn by doing: Sainte Chapelle project
More about Gothic architecture

Bibliography and further reading about Gothic cathedrals:

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