What Is An Example Of Ottonian Architecture


Ottonian architecture is a style of architecture that dates back to the 10th century and was developed as a translation of the western Frankish style from the Carolingian period. It was adopted by the Ottonian Dynasty that reigned from 919 to 1024 in the Holy Roman Empire. This architectural style is characterised by its traditional Romanesque features, cruciform plans and its popular use of churches.

An example of Ottonian architecture is the Benediktbeuern Abbey in Germany. This monastery is believed to have been completed in 983 during the reign of Emperor Otto II. It is used as a showcase of architectural implementation within the Ottonian era, with many of its features reflective of 10th century art and design.

Benediktbeuern Abbey

The Benediktbeuern Abbey is a Benedictine monastery located in the Upper Bavarian town of Benediktbeuern in southern Germany. The abbey was founded in 739 as a missionary centre for the Duchy of Bavaria, but it was later extended and improved during the Ottonian era. It remains one of the most important architectural landmarks of the period.

The abbey is a fine example of how Ottonian architecture evolved over time. It was largely based on the Carolingian style but it developed into something quite unique. One of the main features that set it apart is the use of only one aisle, which allowed for a simpler structure than the two aisles used by the Carolingians. This increased flexibility and allowed for more intricate designs.

The abbey features an octagonal tower; the only remaining example of an Ottonian brick tower still standing. This tower was used to inform the locals of any big news, an example of which was Emperor Otto III announcing the beheading of Bavarian Duke Eberhard III whom he suspected of plotting against him. The abbey also features several prominent Romanesque features including barrel vaults, groin vaults and an apse with an ambulatory. The abbey also features several sculptures, including a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Analysis and Insights

Ottonian architecture is characterised by its strong ties to the Carolingian style and by the remarkable use of the cruciform plan. This allowed architects to create massive and impressive spaces that were incredibly unified, a quality that was highly valued within the period. Cruciform plans also allowed for increased ventilation and access to light. The use of barrel vaults, groin vaults and ambulatories also allowed for interesting and intricate designs and a great deal of visual appeal.

Compared to its immediate predecessor, the Carolingian style, Ottonian architecture is simpler and more free-form in its execution. This is largely due to the increased focus on the utilization of one aisle rather than two. The simplicity of the designs, however, does not detract from the visual impact of the structures.

The use of sculpture and the placement of statues also suggests that, in addition to its main purpose, Ottonian architecture was also meant to have a spiritual and religious impact. This is particularly evident in the abbey’s use of the Virgin Mary statue, which was seen as a symbol of motherly love and a powerful representation of faith.


The Ottonian style was influenced by the preceding Carolingian style, and decorations were made to reflect the tastes of Emperor Otto III and Otto IV. A large part of the style was influenced by the Byzantine Empire, and details were adapted to create a more ornate and elaborated version of the design.

The Ottonian period also saw the introduction of a more decorative style, as elements such as sculptures and mosaics were integrated into the design. This was largely influenced by Byzantine art and design, and greatly impacted the overall aesthetic of the architecture. This new decorative style did not replace the existing Romanesque features, but instead added a more ornate yet often subtle detail to the structures.

The Ottonian Dynasty also experienced an increased level of prosperity, and this allowed for larger and more costly building projects. This resulted in the construction of monumental abbeys and cathedrals, which were often decorated with intricate sculptures and detailed mosaics.


The most famous Ottonian architect was Gerhard, or Garhardus, who was the head of the Royal Treasury under Otto III and Otto IV. His most famous works include the abbey of Corvey, the cathedral of Naumburg and several other cathedrals and churches. He was also responsible for the design of the Cathedral of Bamberg, which was completed in 1020. Gerhard also had a major influence on the design of the Ottonian Church of St. Michael, which was constructed under his supervision.

Gerhard’s architectural style was heavily influenced by Byzantine designs and the Carolingian revival. He used relatively simple designs but the use of intricate sculptures and mosaics gave his architectures an ornate feel. He was also heavily involved in the planning of many cathedral projects, and played an important role in the development of the Ottonian style of architecture.


The Benedictine monasteries of Corvey and Essen are some of the best examples of Ottonian architecture. Both of these structures contain features that are characteristic of the period such as barrel vaults, groin vaults and the use of the cruciform plan. The abbey of Corvey is particularly notable for its large number of sculptures, a feature which was seen as a sign of prosperity during the period.

The church of St. Michael, completed in 1022, is also a prime example of Ottonian architecture. It was built in Essen, Germany, and is one of the oldest surviving churches from the period. The exterior of the chapel features several Romanesque features such as buttresses and gables, while the interior features an impressive apse and groin vault.

The abbey of Benediktbeuern is also an example of Ottonian architecture. This is one of the oldest surviving abbeys in Germany and it was built in 983. Its most prominent features include its octagonal tower, its one-aisle layout and its intricate sculptures and mosaics.


The legacy of Ottonian architecture remains alive today. Many of the structures that were built during this period still stand today and offer us a glimpse into the past. The abbeys, churches and cathedrals that were built during this period are a testament to the aesthetic and technical skill of the architects and builders of the time. The use of sculpture, mosaics and the cruciform plan also attest to the importance of art and religious symbolism during the period.

The Ottonian style of architecture is also seen to have had an influence on later architectural styles, such as Gothic and Romanesque architecture. The ornate design style and the use of intricate sculptures and mosaics, which were popularised during the Ottonian period, can be seen in later architectural styles. The use of the cruciform plan and the development of new types of vaults were also key elements that informed the designs of later structures.


Ottonian architecture was a style of architecture that developed in the 10th century, during the reign of the Ottonian dynasty. The style was heavily influenced by Carolingian architecture, and it featured many of the same architectural elements. Examples of the style still remain today, and they serve as a reminder of the skill and ingenuity of the preparators and architects of the period. The legacy of the Ottonian era of architecture can still be felt today, as its influences can still be seen in later architectural styles.

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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