Why are there double aisles? History of architecture

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arches with another row of arches behind them

Double aisles: Looking into the side aisles of the Pisa Duomo (Italy, 1064 AD)

What are double aisles?

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

Why do some churches have double aisles?

Very big churches needed double aisles. The extra row of columns helped to hold up the heavy stone roof.

Double aisles 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.

Floor plan of Pisa Cathedral

Floor plan of Pisa Cathedral

 Double aisles – Five naves

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. People sometimes said that churches like this, with a main nave and two side aisles on each side of the nave, had “five naves”.

Learn by doing: is there a church in your town with double aisles?

Double aisles in the Pisa Cathedral

Bibliography and further reading about aisles 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 an apse?
What’s a nave?
And what’s a transept?
What’s a basilica?
What’s a cathedral?
Romanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
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By |2018-04-14T12:32:21+00:00May 24th, 2017|Architecture, History, Medieval, Romans|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Why are there double aisles? History of architecture. Quatr.us Study Guides, May 24, 2017. Web. October 23, 2018.

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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