Gothic architecture arose in Western Europe from the 12th to 15th century. Marked by groined vaulting, pointed arches and the flying buttress, Gothic is one of the most familiar and utilized styles in Europe’s notable cathedrals, abbeys and churches. It was also used outside of religious structures in castles and town halls.
Evolved from Romanesque architecture, Gothic design, at a glance, bares little resemblance to its predecessor. Simple construction, heavy walls and rounded “Romanesque” arches dominated European architecture in the 10th and 11th centuries under Romanesque architecture. Whereas Gothic structures used rich ornamentation while the buildings themselves seem lighter and taller than anything before. However, Gothic utilized vaulting and arches, albeit pointed instead of round, as did the Romanesque buildings but in a more intricate way. Overall, Gothic architecture is considered far “busier” than Romanesque even though there are fundamental similarities.
The pointed arches were more than decoration. They redistributed weight and allowed structures to be taller with slender columns. Additionally this paved the way for buildings to have more decorative stain glass windows and gave the interior an airier feel. As with other architectural styles, Gothic design varied based on its location in Europe.
- French Gothic was dominated by flying buttresses, heavy ornamentation and the introduction of the rose window. One of the most famous cathedrals in the world was built in Paris between 1163 and 1250 – Notre Dame de Paris.
- English Gothic was slower than France Gothic in incorporating elaborate ornamentation but did eventually. Lasting from the late 13th to early 16th centuries, English Gothic featured the iconic flying buttresses with more slender columns and high, stained-glass window, to name a few. The early-English Gothic style can be seen all around the country, but the Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England is a great example. For famously, the Westminster Abbey in London was created in early 16th century with late-Gothic being the main design influence.
- In Italy and Germany, it was important for them to try and keep their architectural autonomy. However, they liked the idea of Gothic vaulting which allowed for higher ceilings and grander space. They took it a little further than the French and English architects, by also raising the side aisles to the same height as the main nave (the central area leading to the high altar or the main body of the church). The Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany is a great example of the German Gothic style with its side aisles raised to almost be the same height as the main nave. During World War II, Cologne was heavily bombed by Allied Forces and the Cologne Cathedral withheld 70 hits but did not collapse. It has been said that Allied aircraft purposely did not destroy the cathedral in the later years of the war because the high twin spires could be used easily as a navigational landmark.
By the 15th century the Renaissance style began to flourish in Italy. Gothic architecture gave way to this new architectural design that emphasized classic style and artistic prestige through patronage. In the mid-1700’s, the movement – Gothic Revival (also known as Neo-Gothic or Victorian Gothic) started in England and its popularity grew quickly into the early 19th century. The movement also spread into the United States. Gothic Revival declined sharply in the early to mid-20th century, but it can still be seen in some structures to this day.