Carolingian Architecture

Carolingian architecture refers to the style of construction employed by the Carolingian rulers of north-Western Europe. Carolingians were the prime power which arose to fill the gap after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Building on their military might, the Carolingian first became the rulers of Germanic Franks, eventually expanding the frontiers of their realm to incorporate most of Western Europe into the Carolingian Empire.

Notable Carolingian rulers included Charlemagne. The Carolingian rule extended over the later part of the 8th century and most of the 9th century. During this period, Carolingians commissioned the construction of a number of buildings, most of them ecclesiastical, in their realm. Few examples of this Carolingian architecture are extant today.

Important Facts about Carolingian Architecture:

  • Carolingian architecture was recognisable by its use of classic architecture features such as basilica and classical columns as well as the use of unique features such as the westwork, the pier, transept and the choir.
  • Carolingian architecture origins came from the Carolingian dynasty.
  • Carolingian architecture dates from the mid-8th century to the end of the 9th century.
  • Carolingian architecture was influenced by the Roman and Byzantine Empire in the East.
  • Carolingian architecture can be seen in modern-day Germany.
The Palatine Chapel in Aachen Ceiling

The Palatine Chapel in Aachen Ceiling

Influences on Carolingian Architecture:

One of the most prominent influences on the Carolingian architecture was the Roman legacy of Western Europe. Although Carolingians ruled Western Europe nearly three centuries after the collapse of Roman might, they still inherited much in the way of cultural and intellectual legacy of Rome.

This included the unique style of architecture which was employed in Roman construction. This is manifest in the fact that most Carolingian churches are basilica, closely imitating the early Christian churches built during the days of the Roman Empire.

In some instances, Carolingian architecture also admits influence from the Byzantine Empire as well, especially from the buildings commissioned by the Byzantine emperors in Ravenna, Italy. However, Carolingian architecture essentially evolved a unique character of its own despite accepting such deep influences.

A notable example of this is the use of westwork in a number of Carolingian buildings. Westwork is a unique architectural feature which refers to a grand façade on the western entrance to a church building. Carolingians extensively used westwork in a number of ecclesiastical buildings.

Another feature which was uniquely Carolingian was the use of heavy piers in the construction of churches which allowed for the building of larger buildings. Carolingians also made use of the transept towards the eastern end of a Church and added the choir to the interior structure as well.

A notable thing about Carolingian architecture is that despite being short-lived, it gave birth to many features which were to remain a permanent part of ecclesiastical architecture in Western Europe for subsequent centuries.

Top five examples of Carolingian architecture:

  1. The Palatine Chapel in Aachen which dates back to 792.
  2. Einhard’s Basilica in Steinbach which dates back to 827.
  3. Abbey of Corvey which dates back to 885.
  4. Saint Justinus’ Church at Frankfurt-Hochst which dates back to 830.
  5. Benedictine Convent of Saint John in Mustair, Switzerland dates back to 780.
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