The Normans were the descendants of Vikings who established a stronghold in Normandy in the 10th century. From Normandy, they then ranged into other regions such as England, Italy, Sicily and eventually Ireland and Scotland as well.
At all of these locations, the Normans ruled for significant periods and left lasting imprints on the local culture. Norman architecture was a distinct style of construction which amalgamated with local cultures in different regions and resulted in unique Norman structures.
Soon after the Norman invasion in England in 1066, the Normans built motte-and-bailey castles all over the country. These castles were the earliest architecture erected by Normans in England. This was soon followed by more impressive stone structures.
While very few of the original Norman structures dating back to this time are extant, nearly all of these stone structures such as castles and medieval towns continued to exists in good condition today.
The Tower of London, for instance, was built soon after the Norman invasion and was originally built in a Norman style. Other important Norman constructions in England include Colchester Castle, Rochester Castle, Norwich Castle, Hedingham Castle and the Oxford Castle.
Normans began to be a considerable power in Italy beginning in the 11th century. As soon as Normans had considerable power in southern Italy, they began building castles. Many of these were commissioned by local Norman barons and became the earliest form of Norman architecture in Italy.
In building castles in Italy, Normans used the opus gallicum method which was previously used by the Gauls during the reign of Roman Empire. Normans also built many ecclesiastical buildings such as shrines, monasteries and cathedrals. Among the extant Norman structures in Italy are Aversa Cathedral and the shrine at Monte Sant’Angelo.
The Norman architecture in Sicily is noted for its unique style. Normans accepted influence from local culture when ruling Sicily in the 11th and 12th centuries. As a result, elements from Muslim and Byzantine architecture can be seen in extant Norman buildings in Sicily.
Normans built a large number of buildings in Sicily and many of them are extant. The most notable among the extant Norman architecture in Sicily are the Cathedral of Palermo, Cathedral of Cefalu, Itala, Bronte and San Fratello among others.
When the Normans arrived in Normandy, the Franks were already building wooden castles. Normans took up this form of construction and soon created a unique style of motte-and-bailey castles.
In the late 10th century, Normans had started building more durable structures with stone construction. Notable features of Norman architecture in Normandy included a kind of basilica and towers. The Normans also built religious structures using the Romanesque style of construction which the Franks already used.
The Normans arrived in Ireland in the second half of the 12th century. In order to cement their control of the region, they built a series of earthwork castles as well as many stone castles. Most of the Norman architecture in Ireland was meant to serve a military purpose. Among the notable castles built by the Normans in Ireland include Dublin Castle, Swords Castle and Trim Castle.