As you travel around Europe you will see many impressive examples of Gothic architecture. Especially the prominent Gothic cathedrals which dominate the skylines of many European Cities.
History of Gothic Cathedral Architecture
Gothic architecture followed on from Romanesque architecture in the 12th century. The Gothic style was widely used until the 16th century. It first originated in Ile-de-France, an area in the north of France.
In the early 12th century the new Kings of France worked closely with the bishops of the region. Together they built large Gothic Cathedrals and churches as a show of wealth and strength.
The Abbey of St Denis was the first cathedral to adopt this new style. And it was followed shortly after by many large cathedrals such as the Notre-Dame in Paris. Soon the style spread across other parts of Europe, of which England were early adopters of Gothic design. Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral are great examples of this.
Germany, Spain, Portugal and Baltic regions also began to incorporate Gothic architecture characteristics with their own building techniques which created many striking designs. Apart from just cathedrals many castles and palaces began to take on this style such as Doge’s Palace, which is adjacent to St Mark’s Square in Venice, and the Prague Castle in Prague.
What Is Gothic Style Architecture?
Gothic style architecture was primarily the use of height and light and create a more pleasant atmosphere from within the buildings. This was to overcome dark and cold feeling of prior architectural styles.
Flying buttresses, pointed arch's and rib and vaulted ceilings were all Gothic characteristics. Due to the weight of the building materials used, these techniques provided support for the ceilings and walls of these vast constructions. As well as their practical use, they were beautifully designed and added to the grandeur.
As we said, there are many great examples of Gothic Cathedrals throughout European cities, and here is our pick of some of the best examples of famous Gothic architecture.
Westminster Abbey – London, United Kingdom
Westminster Abbey is in the heart of London opposite the Houses of Parliament. Construction of the present Abbey, of which we see today, began in 1245 under the orders of King Henry III. It is one of the most impressive landmarks of Gothic architecture seen in the United Kingdom. Many Royal weddings and coronations have taken place here and is still used regularly today for worshipping and other events.
Cologne Cathedral – Cologne, Germany
Cologne Cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark and has become a World Heritage Site. Although being the 4th tallest cathedral in the world, the huge twin spires give the impression of being the largest. Climb the Cologne cathedral steps, all 533 of them, and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring views from 100 metres above the city.
Church of St Anne – Vilnius, Lithuania
Located on the banks of the Vilnia River you will find the Church of St Anne. This flamboyant Gothic church is an architectural masterpiece. The use of bricks gives the building a unique feel. The original church which was replaced due to a fire which destroyed it in the 1400’s, was originally made of wood. The church as it is today even made an impression on Napoleon, who when marching his soldiers through the city, wanted to take the church back to Paris in the ‘palm of his hands’.
Chartres, Cathedral – Chartres, France
Chartres cathedral is one of the best examples of Gothic cathedrals due to how well it has been preserved. This cathedral really exemplifies all the Gothic architectural styles with its heavy flying buttresses. At the front you will find two contrasting spire styles. The interior is simply amazing. In the middle is what is called the Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth. The labyrinth is a maze set into the floor stones, but the reason for its existence is still a myth.
The cathedral of Notre Dame is probably the most well-known of Gothic cathedrals throughout Europe. The sculptural decoration you will see both inside and out is incredible. On the large centre arch, an illustration of the Last judgment is on display. Unfortunately, much of the religious elements of the cathedral were destroyed during the French revolution in the late 1700’s. A large restoration project followed in the 1800’s due to a more unlikely source. A writer called Victor Hugo, wrote the novel ‘Hunch Back of Notre Dame’. The novel was written to raise awareness of the value of Gothic architecture in an era where most was being destroyed and replaced.
Milan Cathedral – Milan, Italy
The Milan Cathedral is also known as the Duomo Di Milano. Construction of the cathedral took around 60 years and is the largest church in Italy and the third largest in Europe. Located in the Piazza Del Duomo, the city’s main square, it is a very popular destination in Milan and one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. There is said to be more statues crafted onto this cathedral than any other building in the world, and if you look at it, it’s not hard to believe.
Barcelona Cathedral – Barcelona, Spain
The Barcelona Cathedral is the seat of the archbishop of Barcelona. Also known as The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia it is one of Spain’s best examples of Gothic architectural style. Often overshadowed by the world renowned Sagrada Familia, this cathedral is still one of the most spectacular religious landmarks in Spain. As you walk around you will see many weird and interesting gargoyles of wild animals and obscure creatures. Be sure to make your way to the rooftop where you can admire the spires and incredible views over the city.
St Stephens Cathedral – Vienna, Austria
This cathedral is a prominent landmark of the Vienna skyline with its brightly coloured roof tiles and is still today one of the cities important Gothic structures. The second largest free-swinging bell in Europe, called the Pummerin, is in the north tower. Inside, you will find treasures of which include relics decorated with gold.
Saint-Étienne de Bourges – Bourges, France
The Cathedral of Bourges is an exemplary masterpiece of early Gothic architecture. It was based upon the Notre Dame in Paris, but with improvements in design. Unusually there are no transepts, which are the horizontal part of the cross shape when looking from above. Due to its incredible design and stain glass windows the cathedral is now a World Heritage Site.
Ulm Minster – Ulm, Germany
Ulm Minster is the tallest Church in the world at over 160 metres. Although this is only until the eventual completion of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Although often referred to as so, Ulm Minster is not actually a cathedral, but due to the vast size it cannot be ignored. During the Second World War the city of Ulm was all but destroyed but the church itself was virtually untouched.
Canterbury Cathedral – Canterbury, England
Canterbury cathedral is the seat of the arch bishop of Canterbury and is also the mother church of the Anglican communion. Originally the cathedral wasn’t built in a Gothic style but underwent a large extension in the 12th century. Inside, you will find a Romanesque crypt and glorious medieval stained-glass windows. Also, one of the only four remaining Magna Carta’s was made for the Canterbury Cathedral. Of which the then arch bishop, Stephen Langton, was instrumental in its creation.
Le Seu – Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Construction of The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma began in the 13th century. Its nave is one of the largest in Europe and is comparable to that of the Notre Dame in Paris. There large rose window of which is one of the biggest in the world, stretching to an impressive 14 metre diameter. They call it the ‘Gothic eye’.
Duomo Cathedral – Florence, Italy
The Duomo cathedral in Florence was previously called the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction started in 1296 and took an incredible 140 years to complete. The recognisable dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was still not in place over a hundred years after the start of the construction. The exterior is made of pink, white and green marble, giving the landmark a unique appearance. The main attraction within the cathedral is the mosaic pavements. As the tallest building in Florence and can been seen throughout this enchanting city.
Reims Cathedral – Reims, France
Also known as Our Lady of Reims has been witness to the crowning of numerous Kings of France between the 1200’s and 1800’s. It had been the place where Royals saw fit to be crowned ever since Clovis, the king of the Franks, was baptized here. During the First World War much of the cathedral was heavily damaged by shelling, but fortunately was able to be rebuilt. The exterior is teeming with statues. Inside you can enjoy the colour of the rose window, of which is located above the main portal.
As the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, St Vitus is the most important religious building in the Czech Republic. It was constructed in a what would later be known as a late Gothic style in 1344. The cathedral became an influence of this style, where flying buttresses became evermore lavish in detail.
Amiens Cathedral – Amiens, France
Amiens cathedral or as it is otherwise known, the Notre- Dame d’Amiens is the largest Gothic structure in France. The nave is an incredible 42 meters above the ground. With its large portals and rose window, completed in a flamboyant Gothic style, the exterior is striking. Inside it is clear to see the sheer size of this architectural feat.
Seville Cathedral – Seville, Spain
The Cathedral of Seville, when constructed, became the largest Cathedral in the world, surpassing the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Today, it is still the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The most prominent feature is the Giralda bell tower. The tower was not always part of the cathedral. It was in fact a minaret of a mosque which once stood at this spot during the Muslim rule of the country.
San Martino – Lucca, Italy
The Lucca Cathedral, San Martino, is nicknamed ‘The Hidden Cathedral’ due to its secluded location within the city. The square of where it resides contains buildings from a multitude of different architectural styles. The exterior of the San Martino is in fact of Romanesque styling, but it is the interior décor that includes late Gothic influences. The cathedral also contains a labyrinth of which the pattern matches that of Chartres and is thought to have pre-dated that of the French cathedral.
Beauvais Cathedral – Beauvais, France
The Beauvais cathedral really symbolises the height of which Gothic architecture set out to achieve. A spire was constructed instead of a nave and in the 1500’s it was the tallest building in the world. Although, not too long after its completion the spire collapsed. Despite this it was still the tallest vault built throughout the Gothic period, which is clear to see when you walk inside. Plans to build a nave did begin although to this day it is still incomplete and is one of the only cathedrals not to include a nave.
So, there you have it. The most remarkable Gothic cathedrals in European Cities. Of course, there are many more throughout Europe. Which ones have you visited? Let us know by commenting below…