There are specific characteristics of Gothic architecture that make it unique and easily recognizable. The Gothic style appears on religious buildings throughout Europe, specifically in France, England and Normandy. Wide, expansive, light-filled spaces, high-vaulted ceilings, buttresses supporting the wall surfaces and stained glass are some of the features found in Gothic architecture.
Light and Colorful
New techniques in engineering developed during the 12th century enabled buildings to reach new heights. One of the key developments was the flying buttress, an external support system that allowed architects to eliminate internal supports and use more glass in their designs. Stained glass windows could now take up much of the wall space, letting in light and color for a beautiful and moving effect. A Gothic building will have many windows, with pointed arches over the windows and doors. Light-colored stone was often used in construction, adding to the bright and airy feeling inside.
It took up to a century to construct a Gothic cathedral. The details in the pointed archways, flying buttresses, stained glass and arches over the expansive ceiling spaces were an essential part of the style. The structures themselves were always big, formal and lavishly decorated. Sculptures and gargoyles were seen, and elaborate columns were common. Towers and portals are also a feature of this style.
If you're inside a Gothic building, look up. The building will look like a series of archways, with walls connecting each one. These archways are a necessary part of the buttress support system, but architects spent a good deal of time turning them into works of art.
The Time Period
Gothic architecture was the most commonly used form for church construction from 1150 to 1400. Abbot Suger, architect of the Benedictine abby church of St. Denis in France, innovated the style.
Besides churches, one can find government buildings and castles throughout Europe that adopt features of Gothic architecture, such as pointed, arched windows and decorative columns. The Gothic style is a formal style, with large spaces, multiple archways and elaborate decoration that show off the significant wealth that backed the project.
Some of the more elaborate cathedrals took decades to complete. These Gothic buildings were very well constructed, and they have become landmarks that still stand today. Some bear the scars of past wars, and many Gothic churches are still used for worship, centuries after they first opened their doors.
The history of Gothic architecture begins in France, with an abbot who wanted a cathedral that reflected his view of God as a being of light.
Gothic has come to mean many things.