Norman Architecture

Norman architecture refers to the style of architecture employed by the Normans from 10th century onwards. Normans were descendants of Vikings who settled in Normandy in modern-day France from 10th century onwards.

Over subsequent centuries, Normans would go on to attack and invade different parts of northern and Western Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Sicily.

It was here that the Normans left an indelible mark through an architecture that was unique and mixed the Viking heritage of the Normans with the local cultural influences. The architectural style which evolved at the hands of Normans was eventually given the title of Romanesque architecture, a style which eventually impacted the evolution of architecture in Europe at large.

A problem with the term “Norman architecture” is that the Normans ruled over a huge part of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. And the architectural style they evolved in each region was distinct in its own right, often reflecting local influences as well.

Important Facts about Norman Architecture:

  • Norman architecture was recognisable by its use of Romanesque architectural features such as the rounded arch and the use of stone keeps.
  • Norman architecture origins came from Normans who conquered England, Ireland, Scotland, southern Italy, Sicily and Normandy from 10th century onwards.
  • Norman architecture dates from 10th century until the 12th century.
  • Norman architecture was influenced by the Viking heritage of the Normans as well as the Roman legacy of Western Europe.
  • Norman architecture can be seen in modern-day England, Sicily, southern Italy, Normandy, Ireland and Scotland.

Norman Architecture in England

In England, Norman architecture is most prominently represented in the castles dating back to the Norman period. Following the invasion of England in 1066, Normans went on to fortify their conquest by building a series of castles, first in motte-and-bailey and later in stone structures.

Many of the stone castles built by Normans are extant in England. Most notable among these are the Rochester Castle, Oxford Castle, Norwich Castle and the Tower of London.

Cathedral of Cefalu

Cathedral of Cefalu

Norman Architecture in Southern Italy

In southern Italy as well, the most widespread form of Norman architecture were castles, often built by the Norman nobles to cement their hold on the conquered territories. Alongside castles and fortifications, Normans also built a large number of ecclesiastical buildings in southern Italy.

Some of these ecclesiastical buildings are extant and the Viking heritage of the Normans as well as elements of Roman architecture can be seen in them.

Norman Architecture in Sicily

In the 11th century, Normans were able to seize the control of Sicily from Muslims, effectively outdoing the Moors and the Byzantine Empire in invading the island. It was here that some of the most iconic and beautiful examples of Norman architecture can be seen today.

Norman architecture in Sicily evolved along distinct lines, accepting influences from Byzantine architecture as well as the Moorish architecture. In the extant Norman buildings in Sicily, these various cultural influences are very visible.

Top five examples of Norman architecture:

  1. Durham Cathedral in England which dates back to 1093.
  2. Dunfermline Abbey in Dunfermline, Scotland which dates back to 1070.
  3. Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo, Italy which was reconstructed in Norman style in 1132.
  4. The Cefalu Cathedral in Sicily which dates back to 1091.
  5. The Cathedral of Catania in Sicily which dates back to 1094.
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