Romanesque Architecture


What is Romanesque Architecture?
Romanesque Architecture emerged during the Middle Ages or the Medieval era strongly identified with the Normans. Romanesque Architecture is the term used to describe the building styles which were used between 800 AD to 1100 AD. The name of this style of architecture leads to some confusion - the immediate association with this style of architecture is with the Roman Empire! The reason for this association are the similarities between Roman Architecture especially the Roman 'barrel vault' and the Roman arch. And the Medieval Romanesque Architecture was the first major style of architecture to be developed after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Romanesque Architecture was primarily developed by the Normans.

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The History of Romanesque Architecture - The Normans!
The History of Romanesque Architecture is strongly influenced by the religious fervour of the period which resulted in the construction of many Romanesque churches in England. Many medieval Knights had travelled to the Holy Land on Crusades. They had seen the magnificent solid fortresses of the Byzantine Empire and these massive buildings influenced and revolutionised castle building ideas, engineering and architecture of the Romanesque period.

The Normans had developed the wooden Motte and Bailey castles at first in Normandy. Then England was invaded by William the Conqueror and were defeated at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The wooden Motte and Bailey castles were used by the Normans as a means to subjugate the conquered English inhabitants. The Wooden tower on the top of the 'Motte' was soon replaced by the Castle Keep and the Norman castles were then designed and built in stone - Norman Romanesque Architecture. The castles built in the style of Romanesque Architecture were massive!

Romanesque ( Norman) Architecture

Romanesque Architecture

  • Facts and Information about Romanesque Architecture
  • Social and cultural change?
  • The Skills available? Materials? Design? The Workforce?
  • The Layout of Romanesque Architecture

Romanesque Architecture - Time
Time is an important factor in Romanesque Castle Architecture:

  • Social and cultural change - Christianity and religious fervour. It was the period of crusades - even the Norman Invasion of England was sanctified as a crusade by the Pope! Lands were conquered and the means had to be found to crush the conquered English
  • Changing needs of the population - the victorious Normans used the castles as a power base
  • What materials were readily available? Old Roman bricks and various stone was available locally
  • How would the materials be transported? The heavy stones required to build the Romanesque castles were transported by the conquered English
  • New building techniques, construction methods and ideas - the development of the stone vault ceiling, the arch and the buttress to support the great stone weights
  • How would labour be deployed? The feudal system of the Medieval era ensured that labour to build massive structures of Romanesque architecture could be easily deployed

The answers to these basic questions relating to Romanesque Architecture provide a historical doorway into past cultures and eras.

Romanesque Architecture - Location
The location is an extremely crucial aspect of Romanesque Architecture. Deciding where a structure should be situated was a major consideration:

  • Defensive and offensive advantages?
  • On top of a hill? Not the necessary feature of Romanesque Architecture when the Shell Keep was introduced
  • Located close to a river or the sea? Always a good site for a castle
  • Symbolic reasons for castle location? The Normans conquered and maintained their domination of the English through the Romanesque style architecture of their castles

Romanesque Architecture - Design
The design of Romanesque Architecture had to be a combination of practical use and the aesthetic design! Romanesque Architecture had to take the following into consideration:

  • The castle design and Romanesque architecture needed to convey Fear, Awe, Domination, Envy, Submission, Respect, Power and Wealth
  • The Comfort of the stone castle interior significantly improved from the wooden Motte and Bailey Castles but were still cold, smelly and dim
  • Ornamentation? The Stone masons were able to add some ornamentation to the Romanesque castles
  • Economy - The castle designed in the Romanesque Architecture style was expensive - but durable!

Romanesque Architecture - Defining Features
Romanesque Architecture can be defined as having the following features:

  • Stone was cut with precision
  • Walls were initially solid but the walls shell keeps designed in the Romanesque architecture style were hollow and distributed the weight
  • The use of the Roman arch led to the stone being supported in the middle by the arch construction
  • The stone used was extremely heavy. The weight of the ceilings would tend to buckle the walls outward and large piles of stone would be stacked along the wall in intervals to buttress (or support) the walls from pushing outward - these piles of stones became features of Romanesque Architecture and buttresses were introduced to the basic design
  • The window openings of Romanesque Architecture castles had to be small to keep the strength of the walls strong
  • The most important structural developments of Romanesque architecture was the vault. The vault was developed to enable the construction of stone roofs - wooden roofs were an obvious fire hazard
    • Barrel or Tunnel Vaults - consisted of a continuous surface of semicircular or pointed sections resembling a barrel or tunnel which has been cut in half lengthwise
    • Groin Vault - A vault produced by the intersection, at right angles of two barrel vaults. The arches of groin vaults were either pointed or round

The Norman Romanesque Architects
The Norman Castle architects were not deemed as particularly important in the Norman and medieval scheme of things - the Lords who commissioned the castles were the important people! Information about the Medieval architects is therefore somewhat limited.

Robert de Belleme - Norman Romanesque Architect and Builder
William the Conqueror's chief architect and builder of the stone castle keep was called Robert, Lord of Belleme. Robert de Bellême (1052-1130) was an outstanding military architect. Robert de Belleme was the younger son of Roger de Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Robert de Belleme inherited lordships in Normandy and England but was involved in a rebellion against the king in 1102 and was subsequently had his English lands and titles confiscated.

Gundulf - Norman Romanesque Architect and Builder
The master builder of the White Tower of the Tower of London was a Norman monk called Gundulf (1024-1108). He was also known as the 'weeping monk of Bec'. Gundulf came across from Normandy after the Norman Conquest. In 1077 Gundulf was made Bishop of Rochester. Gundulf was well known and respected for his building skills and William the Conqueror used the skills of Gundulf in the construction of the White Tower, the famous keep of the Tower of London. Gundulf was also responsible for building the keep at Rochester Castle and Colchester Castle.

Henry Yeverley - Romanesque / Gothic Architect and Builder
Henry Yeverley ( 1325 - 1399) was the chief architect employed by King Edward III (1327 - 1377). He was a Master Stone Mason and also earned money as a successful Brewer. Henry Yeverley become one of the greatest Architects of English Castles in and around London. His prowess as a builder and architect came to the attention of the court and in 1360 he was created 'the Master Mason of the King's Works throughout England'. He worked on improving the fortifications in the Tower of London and built additions to the old St Paul's Cathedral.

Romanesque Architecture
Examples of Romanesque Architecture can be seen across the length and breadth of Great Britain. The Normans have left their indelible mark on the English landscape - the massive Norman castles with their mighty stone keeps are awe-inspiring. The Romanesque style of Norman architecture provides the massive castles of this era - great stone fortresses, thick, heavy walls supported by buttresses and vaulted ceilings supported by the roman style arch. These cumbersome Romanesque castles later gave way to the more slender and ornate castles of Gothic Architecture.

Romanesque Architecture


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