Romanesque Style (6th-10th Century AD)

Romanesque style architecture’s defining feature is the semicircular arches. Further, there is not a clear consensus about the origin date of this style.

A photo of an abbey composed of 3 semicircular arched additions. The center of which is the largest, having 3 slim arched windows, while the smaller two only have one arched window.
San Liberatore a Maiella, Abruzzo, Italy, built in 9th century.

Image source: by Fiore S. Barbato

Origins of Romanesque Style

Romanesque style architecture was the first distinctive style to spread across Europe since the Roman Empire. After the decline of Rome, Roman constructing methods were still used in Western Europe: Merovingian, Carolingian, and Ottonian architects went on building large stone constructions such as monastery churches, and palaces.

Oldest Lisbon Cathedral at Night, thus there is a bizarre yellow tint to the building.
Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major, first built in 1147, Lisbon, Portugal.

Image source: by PunkToad

Patriarchal Cathedral of St Mary Major: The photo shows the inside of the cathedral with various columns that hold up the ceiling and window-like cutouts along the walls.
Patriarchal Cathedral of St Mary Major

Image source: by Neilhooting

In the northern countries, Roman building techniques were used for official buildings, while in Scandinavia they were completely unused. Although the round arch was used, the engineering skills needed to vault large spaces and build large domes were changing. Thus, sylistic continuity was interrupted.

The Mausoleum of Costanza (Constantina) (IV): A large vaulted room with a marble alter in the center. In the photo 5 arches can be seen.
Round Arches- The Mausoleum of Costanza (Constantina) (IV),(Rome)

Image source: by isawnyu

Romanesque Architecture also spread at the same time to the north of Italy, France and the Iberian Peninsula. The style, named Romanesque or Lombard Romanesque features thick walls, lack of sculpture, and emphasized hythmic ornamental arches.

Main Characteristics of Romanesque Style

Romanesque churches usually included semicircular arches as windows, doors, and arcades. Moreover, barrel or vaults sustained the roof of the nave, piers and walls, yet the slim number of windows contained the thrust of the vaults. Aside aisles were used with galleries above them with a large tower over the crossing of nave and transept. Smaller towers were built at the church’s western end.

French churches followed the scheme of the early Christian basilica plan, using radiating chapels to accommodate more priests. Around the sanctuary apse, ambulatories could be found for visiting pilgrims, as well as large transepts between the sanctuary and nave.

Picture of the Pisa Cathedral, in Tuscany. A great lawn stretches in front of the Cathedral, with dozens of tourists waiting in line to enter.
Pisa Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa), Pisa, Tuscany, Italy.

Image source: by Visit Tuscany

Romanesque Style Features

Romanesque Architecture has the following features:

  • Walls were solid to support the weight of the stones.
  • The use of the Roman arch was important to sustain the overall weight.
  • The windows had to be small to retain the wall strength.
  • The Vaults were the most important structural elements of Romanesque architecture, enabling the construction of stone roofs. There were many types of vaults
    1. Barrel or Tunnel Vaults: consisted of a semicircular section similar to a tunnel
    2. Groin Vaults: a vault produced by the intersection, at right angles of two barrel vaults
    3. Ribbed Vaults: essentially two barrel vaults meeting at a right angle  
Ground plan of the building St Vitale in Ravenna.
Ground plan of the building – the church of St Vitale in Ravenna, dating from the 6th century, Italy.

Image source:,_San_Vitale_i_Ravenna,_Nordisk_familjebok.png

Christ with Bishop Ecclesius offering a model of the church and St. Vitale, apse of Basilica of San Vitale, begun in 525; Ravenna (2)
Christ with Bishop Ecclesius offering a model of the church and St. Vitale, apse of Basilica of San Vitale, begun in 525; Ravenna

Image source: by Prof. Mortel

Sculptural Decoration

One way in which Romanesque architects used to decorate their exteriors was with sculptures, especially over the entrances of a church. These round, decorated portals, called tympanum, became quite popular in Romanesque architecture.

Example of the decorated Tympanum of the Church of Saint Lazare, France.
Example of the decorated Tympanum of the Church of Saint Lazare, France.

Image source: by MCAD Library

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