Editorial Feature

Immerse Yourself In Gothic Architecture Across Europe

Check out 14 different interpretations of the medieval style 

Gothic architecture is an architectural style that flourished in Europe during the Middle Ages. It first originated in 12th century France and continued up until the 16th century spreading across the continent. It evolved during the construction of great churches in the Paris region in a move to create greater height, light and volume in the city's buildings.

The movement evolved from Romanesque architecture, a style which favored features of Ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings combined with local traditions. It was typically characterized by semi-circular arches, thick walls and sturdy pillars. Characteristics of Gothic architecture were structures built from stone combined with large expanses of glass, clustered columns, pointed spires, large arches, intricate decoration, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses – a specific form of buttress composed of an arched structure that extends from the upper portion of a wall to a pier.

The style was applied most famously to great cathedrals, abbeys and churches around Europe. It is also the style of many castles, palaces, town halls and universities. Grand, ornate and impressive, the buildings of Gothic architecture signify a progression in technology and building techniques. Here we take a tour of some of the most impressive Gothic structures found across Europe.

1. St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen's Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in Vienna and the main Roman Catholic church. The building of the original church began in 1137, but this structure was ravaged by a large fire and only the stone foundations on which it stood survived. Since then the cathedral has grown and developed over time with a large section rebuilt after damage for World War II and various towers and decorations being added.

St Stephen’s walls are made of limestone adorned with intricately detailed and mixes both Romanesque and Gothic styles together. One of its most striking features is the colored tile roof which features an Imperial double-headed eagle. Another highlight of the cathedral is its towers with the tallest (nicknamed ‘Steffl’), standing at 136 meters (446ft) and has become an iconic part of Vienna’s skyline.

2. Reformed Church, Nyírbátor, Hungary

Nyírbátor is a town in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county, in the Northern Great Plain region of eastern Hungary. The city is known for its 15th and 16th-century ecclesiastical and secular architectural heritage. The best known building is what is now known as the Reformed Church. Built between 1488 and 1511, it is one of the most beautiful International Gothic structures in Hungary. The late Renaissance-style belfry next to it is the largest wooden bell tower in the country.

Franciscan monks built their monastery church around 1480 in a late Gothic style. Its altars and its pulpit are among the most beautifully carved Baroque works in the country. Standing near the church is the building that now houses the István Báthori Museum. Originally a Baroque Minorite monastery, it was built on the site of an earlier monastery.

3. Porvoo Cathedral, Porvoo, Finland

Porvoo cathedral belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Mostly built in the 15th century, there are parts of it that date back to the 13th century. Originally a church, it became a cathedral in 1723.

The building was originally made of wood and the first stone walls were erected between 1410 and 1420. In 1450, the church was expanded four meters towards the east and six meters to the south. The church has been destroyed by fire numerous times: in 1508 by Danish forces, and in 1571, 1590 and 1708 by Russian forces. The current Gothic-style appearance has evolved from these reconstructions with details added over time.

4. Storkyrkan, Sweden

Storkyrkan (The Great Church) is the oldest church in Gamla stan, the old town in central Stockholm, Sweden. Storkyrkan was first mentioned in a written source dated 1279 and according to tradition was originally built by Birger Jarl, the founder of the city itself. For nearly 400 years it was the only parish church in the city.

The building is an important example of Swedish Brick Gothic, a style of Gothic architecture more common in northern Europe, especially in regions around the Baltic Sea, which do not have natural stone resources. Brick Gothic is characterized by a lack of figures and sculptural decoration, unlike typical Gothic architecture. It often uses red brick, glazed bricks and white lime plaster in combination to create a visual contrast. These techniques and brick decorations were imported from Lombardy, Italy.

5. Visby Cathedral, Visby, Sweden

Visby Cathedral was built as a church for German traders in Visby, Sweden. It was financed by a fee that every German trader arriving in Visby had to pay. Construction started at the end of the 12th century and was finished around 1190.

Around the year 1350 the church was enlarged and converted into a basilica. A two-storey structure was also added above the nave as a warehouse for merchants. Stylistically, the church is similar to Romanesque churches from Westphalia and the Rhine Valley. A few details are unique to the church though, including the single western tower adorned with galleries, which inspired many more churches on Gotland, providing a distinct architectural style.

6. Leuven Town Hall, Leuven, Belgium

Leuven Town Hall is a landmark building in the main market square in Leuven, Belgium. Built between 1448 and 1469, the building is famous for its ornate architecture, crafted in lace-like detail. The style of the building is Brabantine Late Gothic, which is found in the Low Countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. It was developed to compete with the elaborate designs of French Gothic architecture and used the region’s natural stone.

The Hall has three main stories, lined with pointed Gothic windows on the three sides visible from the square. Above is a gallery parapet, behind which rises a steep roof studded with four tiers of dormers. At the angles of the roof are octagonal turrets pierced with slits allowing for the passage of light. Statues in canopied niches are distributed all over the building. The corbels supporting the statues are carved with Biblical scenes in high relief. While the niches and corbels are original with the building, the 236 statues themselves are relatively recent, having been added after 1850.

7. Lincoln Cathedral, Lincoln, United Kingdom

For a time, Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311-1549) and the first building to hold that title since the Great Pyramid of Giza. It lost the title in 1549, because the central spire collapsed and was never rebuilt. Despite losing that status, it’s still the third largest cathedral in England and is said to a high point in Gothic architecture due to the showcase of decorative art on display both inside and outside the building.

8. Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria, Italy

Orvieto Cathedral is a large 14th-century Roman Catholic cathedral situated in the town of Orvieto in Umbria. The construction of the building took almost three centuries and as such saw the design and style evolve from Romanesque to Gothic as construction progressed.

The Gothic façade of the Orvieto Cathedral is said to be one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages. One of the most eye-catching parts is the golden frontage, which is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues.

9. Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy

Florence Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the main church of Florence. Construction began in 1296 under the designs of Arnolfo di Cambio in the Gothic style and was completed structurally in 1436. The exterior of the basilica is covered in marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white, and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival facade by Emilio De Fabris.

Gothic Revival (also known as Victorian Gothic or neo-Gothic) is a movement that began in the late 1740s and grew rapidly when admirers of the style sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture in contrast to styles at the time. The movement draws upon features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile and these three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which covers the historic centre of Florence.

10.Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France

Notre Dame cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and is one of the largest and best-known church buildings in the Catholic Church in France. Completed in 1345, the cathedral was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses but after construction began, the thinner walls grew higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward.

Many of the features of the cathedral were added not only as decorative touches but also serve structurally. For instance the small, individually crafted statues placed around the outside serve as column supports and water spouts. Among these are Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles, designed for water run-off. The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps, along the climb it’s possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as a view across Paris when reaching the top.

11. Basilica St Denis, France

The Basilica of Saint Denis is a large medieval abbey church in the city of Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The building is important both historically and architecturally as its choir – the area of a church or cathedral that provides seating for the clergy and church choir – shows the first use of all of the elements of Gothic architecture.

Both stylistically and structurally, the church signified the change from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. Before the term "Gothic" came into common use, it was known as the "French Style". It was the rebuilding of the abbey under the administration of Abbot Suger in the early 12th century that set medieval architecture on a new course. For the new structure, a variety of structural and stylistic techniques were developed and employed on the building. It’s the interior of the cathedral that really displays the intricate Gothic style, with a combination of elaborate stained glass windows and statues and figures adorning the church.

12. Black Church, Transylvania, Romania

The Black Church in Brașov, a city in south-eastern Transylvania, Romania is the largest and one of the most important places of worship in the region. Built by the German community of the city, it is the main Gothic style monument in the country.

Construction on the church began during the late 14th century, but wasn’t completed until the 15th century. Much of the outside structure was built in friable gritstone, which caused outer sculptures and masonry elements to deteriorate with time. The oldest sculpture appears to be the almost completely deteriorated bust of John the Baptist, located in the choir section, reflecting the Bohemian Gothic art. A more flamboyant Gothic style was used in the outside sculptures, which served to depict key figures in the Catholic church.

13. St. Nicholas’ Church, Ghent, Belgium

St Nicholas’ Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Construction began in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church and building continued through the rest of the century in the local Scheldt Gothic style. Typical characteristics of this style is the use of blue-gray stone from the Tournai area, the single large tower and the slender turrets on the building’s corners.

The building has gone through a lot of changes due to the gradual deterioration throughout the centuries, which has threatened its stability. Cracks were overlaid with plaster, windows were bricked up to reinforce walls and in the 18th century, small houses and shops were built up against the crumbling facades. At the turn of the 20th century major restoration plans emerged after it was suggested the church become a historical monument. Since then, the houses alongside the church have been demolished and restoration work continues on the building itself.

14. Göss Abbey, Styria, Austria

Göss Abbey is a former Benedictine nunnery and former cathedral in the Göss part of Leoben in Styria, Austria. The old abbey is a large late Gothic building containing an early Romanesque crypt beneath the choir, some important early Gothic frescoes in the chapel of Saint Michael in the Zackenstil style (a transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic) and an imposing roof.

Like many of these buildings, the church displays artefacts collected over the years. The most peculiar on display is a rare reusable coffin from 1784, which has an opening bottom that deposited bodies inside into a common grave. The intention was to save local authorities the expense of coffins in pauper funerals, but of course, it was a deeply unpopular measure and the coffins were withdrawn after only a few months.

Credits: All media
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