The term “medieval architecture” refers to structures constructed during the Middle Ages, which lasted roughly from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries. The architecture was based on previous works and continued into the Renaissance period. Western, central, and southern Europe, as well as Scandinavia, are rich in examples of medieval architecture. The powerful, religious, public, and functional architecture of the Middle Ages can be divided into four categories.
The Early Middle Ages saw the survival of Roman and classical architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. A number of Roman towns and villas have been discovered in archaeological sites across Europe, including the United Kingdom. Due to a scarcity of skilled masons, these structures frequently fell into disrepair and were eventually replaced wooden huts. Low-slung huts known as grubenhaus surround central halls in the peasantry and lower classes’ architecture, as seen in Beowulf’s Meduseld.
Architecture began to develop further in the late Middle Ages, with larger and stronger structures. These structures were designed to be functional. Pottery complexes, mills, smithies, and multi-sectioned long houses arose as a result of this.
Throughout Europe, castles gradually replaced fortifications. Hill forts were rebuilt during the Early Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages in Britain, according to archaeology. Various kings, including Alfred the Great, constructed a series of wooden fortifications known as burghs, which can still be found in places like Banbury and Edinburgh. The stone castles that now dot the countryside were mostly built Norman lords in the 11th century.
Meanwhile, powerful landowners in France began erecting massive fortifications that became castles. These were constructed for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the castle demonstrated power as well as wealth. It also served as a military installation, providing the lord with some protection from the King of France. The castle could also act as a trade barrier, similar to Roman city walls, restricting access to the city and forcing traders to pass through a tariff zone.
Initially, religious medieval architecture was based on Roman Empire architecture. This was partly inspired the layouts of Roman temples; one such layout can be found in Caerwent, Wales. Early churches were either converted basilicas (hence the name) or built on the foundations of ancient temples. Wooden churches were built societies like those in Anglo-Saxon England, a trend that continues in Scandinavia, while richer and more advanced kingdoms like France and the Holy Roman Empire built stone churches that were rarely seen until the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
The Middle Ages saw a wide range of monastic structures, in addition to the development of churches across Europe. Many began as simple structures in the countryside, but became wealthy as a result of bequests in wills. The monasteries grew into sprawling complexes that were often larger than the wealthy’s manor houses. They were usually made of stone and showcased architecture’s grand possibilities. Mont Saint Michel in Normandy is perhaps the most striking example.
Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque styles dominated early medieval architecture, while Gothic architecture grew in popularity from the 12th century onward. There were also regional variations, such as the Norse architecture in Scandinavia and the Kievan Rus architecture in Eastern Europe. The Byzantine Empire, which was centered in Greece and Constantinople, had a significant influence on Eastern European architecture.