How Did Architecture Develop Throughout The Middle Ages

What is medieval architecture?

Medieval architecture is the style of architecture popularized throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. This period dates from the 5th century to the 15th century and includes Romanesque, Gothic, and Late Gothic styles of architecture. These periods of architecture, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, contribute to the rich and diverse catalog of architectural wonders throughout the world. During this time, advancements in building materials, such as stone and mortar, allowed for much grander structures than ever before.

The rise of Romanesque architecture

The most iconic symbols of the early middle ages of Europe come in the form of Romanesque architecture. This style of architecture is generally characterized by round arches, stony in construction, buttresses, and a subtle blend of ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Gothic influences. The Romanesque style of architecture began in France in the 10th century and spread throughout Europe, daring to venture out from the safety of fortified castles and residential homes, which had been the main style of building for centuries. This style of fortification was particularly popular, and it was designed to withstand the constant threat of siege warfare. By the 11th century, the traditional and austere Romanesque style had evolved, with towering columns and ornately decorated interiors.

The advent of Gothic architecture

Gothic architecture was the epitome of Romanesque architecture and made its presence felt in Europe in the 12th century. The defining character of this style is pointed arches, flying buttresses, and large windows – features that allow light to flood into the interior of the building. Cathedral building reached its peak in terms of excellence during this period, with the likes of Reims, Notre Dame, and Milan’s Duomo dedicated to their respective faiths.
Gothic architecture soon began to spread outside the confines of Europe, with the building of grand cathedrals in places like Sri Lanka and India. This style of architecture was also adopted in mosques and churches throughout the Islamic world, such as the famous Blue Mosque in Turkey.

The Late Gothic style of architecture

The Late Gothic style of architecture emerged from the 13th century and continued well into the 15th century. This style was characterized by its highly ornate exteriors and interiors, by its large, prestigiously colored stained glass windows, and by its expansive foyers and chapels. This style of architecture largely focused on the grandeur of a structure, rather than its practicality.
An example of the Late Gothic style is the famed Milan Cathedral, designed and built based on the designs of Filippo Brunelleschi, its architect. This structure was built over a number of years and was a testament to the ever-evolving style that was evolving alongside the European landscape.

Medieval architecture in later times

The style of architecture developed during the Middle Ages had a profound effect on the way structures were designed in the centuries to come. As Europe was united under a single governing power, the influence of Gothic architecture took ahold. Architects regularly adopted the aesthetic values of the era and embraced it as their own – from the limestone façades of French administrative buildings to the statues adorning Venetian bridges.
The 19th century saw a revival of the medieval style of architecture, as the Neo-Gothic style of architecture filtered in from Europe. This gave new life to the old style of architecture, which to many, was reminiscent of a more romantic past.

Defining features of Fortified Architecture

Fortified architecture reached its peak during the era of the Middle Ages, and this type of structure became ubiquitous throughout Europe. Most notable of all was the castle – a building that was inspired by the need for security and safety from enemies. These structures were usually made from stone or brick and featured a number of defensive reinforcements.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the art of war changed, and castles became increasingly obsolete. This led to a gradual decline of fortified architecture, or what is commonly known as the “castle aesthetic”. In its place arose a new wave of secular structures – palatial residences, luxurious mansions, and highly decorative courtyards.

Influences of Medieval Architecture

The styles of architecture developed during the Middle Ages were incredibly influential in the centuries that followed. The Gothic style in particular, and the fascination with light, became one of the driving forces behind the Baroque style of architecture – one of the grandest styles of the 17th century.
The Gothic style of architecture also had a great influence on art movements, such as the Romantic era, which began in the late 18th century and highlighted notions such as chivalry and honor. Classical music too was strongly influenced by the aesthetics of the period, with themes of faith and belief becoming commonplace in operas and symphonies.

Bridges of the Middle Ages

Medieval bridges played an important role in the development of the transport infrastructure of Europe. Long-span bridges, such as those constructed in Florence and Venice, connected cities, making them much easier to travel between than ever before. They were also much sturdier, as technology advanced and allowed for larger and stronger foundations.
The most iconic of these bridges are the Pont des Trous in France and the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Both of these bridges demonstrate the ever-evolving style of architecture of the Middle Ages and continue to stand today.


The Middle Ages were a remarkable period for European architecture. During this period, form and function blended together to create beautiful structures that were as practical as they were aesthetically pleasing. These styles, particularly the Romanesque and Gothic styles, had a huge impact on the architecture of the following centuries and still influence the way buildings are designed and constructed today.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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