But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what HAVE the Romans ever done for us?
Romanesque is the “Roman style” of architecture. Heavily influenced by the building technology of the time, Romanesque style features straight lines, long narrow naves, massive thick walls, round arches and small windows. This style evolved in the 7th century from the Roman basilica style with influences from the Carolingian style (Charlemagne) and became the pattern for churches and monestaries across Europe.
Defining features include the circular “Roman” arch, as compared to the pointed arch of the Gothic style. This arch often carried over to the ceiling, producing a barrel vault. Romanesque tends to have the height of the apex of the roof closer to the height of the walls, producing a flatter roof line. Look for pointed roofs on towers and lanterns, not domes.
When someone says the word “arch”, the Roman arch is the shape most people think about. The Roman arch is semicircular, and built from an odd number of arch stones. The middle stone, the keystone, makes it work. This arch is found on the Flavian Amphitheatre (a.k.a the Roman Colosseum), the aqueducts in Tarragona, Spain and Pont du Gard, France, and later in the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
One stunning example of Romanesque architecture is the Church of St. Ambrose (Sant Ambrosio) in Milan. Founded in 386 by St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, it was renovated in the 10th and 11th centuries.
The Elevation/Cross Section of the Nave
Typical of many Romanesque churches, the nave is the primary architectural feature. Note the lack of transepts. The 9th Century Plan of St. Gall, one of the oldest plans in existence, also shows a similar layout in the church. Sant’Ambrosio has these features:
A. Facade, which wasn’t finished until the 1800s. The Milanese like to take time building their churches.
B. Atrium or forecourt with colonades (note the Roman arches). Old St. Peter’s in Rome had a similar atrium.
C. Portico with a double loggia (two galleries) of Roman Arches
D. North Bell tower Torre dei Canonici (“of the Canons”) built in 1144, the last two floors added in 1889
E. South bell tower Torre dei Monaci (“of the Monks”) built in the 9th century
F. Nave. Note the symmetry – each of square in the nave is equal to four of the squares of the aisles.
G. The gilded main altar, which sits under a 9th century cyborium. The windows in the octagonal tower over the altar provide most of the light in the building.
H. Apse, containing a 13th Century mosaic portraying Christ Pantokrator.
For More Information
- See the interactive 3-D tours of Sant Ambrogio at Milan Arounder.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia on the Ambrosian Basilica.
- Wikipedia has an article on Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio.
- The official Basilica Sant’Ambrogio web page, in Italian: http://santambrogio-basilica.it/
Other examples of Romanesque:
Royce Hall, University of California Los Angeles (technically, Romanesque Revival style, modeled on Sant Ambrogio):
St. Aloysius, Olivia, Minnesota (more here):
St. John Vianney Seminary, Denver:
Denver South High School, near Washington Park:
The Romanesque style continued for centuries. Some Romanesque buildings are contemporaries of structures built in the later Gothic style.
For More Information on Romanesque Architecture
- See the Romanesque Architecture page on Answers.com
- Digital Archive of Architecture by Dr. Jeffry Howe at Boston College
UPDATE: More Architecture 101 here:
- Sacred Architecture for Dummies
- Inside your Church (Parts of a Church)
- Built of Living Stones
- Romans, New Romans, Goths and Pearls
- CAD and ChurchBuilder
- Eight Historic Italian Churches
- The Tympanum
- The Nave