Pre-Romanesque (6th century)

Different Germanic tribes settled in Europe, combining Roman, Early Christian, and Barbarian traditions to create the style known as a first step out of the “Dark Ages”.

Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany

Image source: by Jim Linwood

West Europe

The Merovingians, the Carolingians and the Ottonians

These Frank dynasties wanted large buildings with stones cut precisely and plans resembling the ones of Roman basilicas. The structure was based on a combination of block units used to form a complex internal space and a rich external silhouette, this can be considered an anticipation of the vertical emphasis and other hallmarks of the Romanesque style.

These architectural elements were common to this style:

  • round arches;
  • barrel vaults;
  • piers and aisles with galleries above them;
  • semi-circular arches as windows, doors, and arcades;
  • ornamented portals around the main door named tympanum.
St. Michael’s Church, Hildesheim (Germany)

Image source: by roger4336

In Europe, Roman architectural tradition survived and the Franks went on  building large stones buildings like monastery churches and palaces.
The unification of the Frankish kingdom under Clovis I,  brought to light the need for churches, the former ones were now the power-houses of the Merovingian which wanted to go on with the Roman basilica tradition.

The Merovingian dynasty was replaced by the Carolingian dynasty, which led to Carolingian architecture in the Holy Roman Empire, these successive Frankish dynasties contributed to Romanesque architecture.

Codex Aureus at the abbey of Echternach (Luxembourg)

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In the North of Europe

The Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxon identity was shaped in Northern Europe giving importance to intricate metalwork, ivory carving, sculpting, and illuminated manuscripts with plant scrolls combining Celtic and Viking traditions. The Religious architecture was usually simple and modest, without any decorations.

Anglo-saxon reliquary cross

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Meanwhile in the South of Europe

The Visigoths, The Normans and The Longobards

Signs of Pre-Romanesque style in Spain and Portugal came from the Visigothic art, introducing the horseshoe arches to the Moorish style and improved jewelry.

Saint Fructuoso Chapel, Braga, Portugal

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Italy benefited from the Arabs of the Normans also, which gave an important contribution to the First Romanesque. The external part of their buildings was adorned with several blind arches named Lombard bands, accompanied by thick walls and no sculptures. The interior usually featured iconographic mosaics and frescos instead.

San Vitale in Ravenna

Image source: by seier+seier

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