Gothic Art in other European Countries

The Gothic art spread through central Europe beyond the Rhine and the Alps reaching Poland and Scandinavia by then the last confines of the European world. On the banks of the Danube, in Bavaria and Austria, were built three famous Gothic cathedrals: Ulm, Regensburg and Vienna. The cathedral of Ulm (Ulm Minster) was begun in the XIV century, it has five naves supported by cylindrical pillars. The one of Regensburg was built in almost French Gothic style, its rich facade has two towers crowned with fretwork-made arrows, these towers are separated by a triangular pediment that corresponds to the central nave’s roof. The cathedral of Vienna, dedicated to St. Stephen, has three large naves and a very characteristic colored roof. This cathedral was completed in the XV century and although its most modern parts are covered with complicated vaults, the choir and the crossing were drawn with pure ogival lines. The most beautiful feature of this cathedral is its tower crowned by a very elegant arrow in the style of the flamboyant Gothic of the XV century.

Top left: Ulm Minster (or Ulm cathedral) in Ulm, Germany, it was begun in 1377 but not completed until the late XIX century. This is the tallest church in the world, with a steeple measuring 161.5 mt (530 ft). Top right: The Regensburg Cathedral (Regensburg, Germany) considered a prime example of Gothic architecture in Bavaria, it was completed in 1520. Bottom left: St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Vienna, Austria). It was built in Romanesque and Gothic styles and completed in 1160. Bottom right: St. Florian’s Gate or Florian Gate (Krakow, Poland), one of the best-known Polish Gothic towers, it was built about the XIV century as part of the city fortifications against Turkish attack.

In Poland, the main Gothic buildings show features typical of the last stage of the Gothic style of the XV century. Examples include: the fortified gate of Krakow called St. Florian’s Gate which served as entry gate to the city, the Wawel Cathedral of Krakow built inside the royal castle or Wawel, the basilica of St. Mary and the communal palace of Krakow or Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), all located in the same square and offering the view of an extraordinary urban medieval complex.

Top left: The Wawel Cathedral (Krakow, Poland). The current Gothic cathedral is the third edifice on this site and was constructed in the XIV century. Bottom left: The Krakow Cloth Hall from the XV century. Right: St. Mary’s Church in Krakow, a brick Gothic church completed in 1347.

During the reign of Charles IV crowned king of Bohemia in 1356, the city of Prague became an artistic center of great importance in the mid-XIV century. Charles IV promoted the construction of the cathedral of St. Vitus (projected by Matthew of Arras, a French architect) and his palace called the Hrand or Royal Castle of Prague. Under the reign of Charles IV, with the help of national and foreign artists such as the Italian Thomas of Modena, Bohemian painting achieved great originality with painters such as Theodoric of Prague or the so-called Master of Třeboň. To complete the construction of the cathedral of Prague the king employed a Germanic architect, Peter Parler, who also carved the royal portrait busts of the triforium of this cathedral. Parler was also the author of the two magnificent Gothic pavilions with monumental doors and sculptures located at both ends of the bridge that Charles IV built in Prague over the Vlatva River, today this bridge bears his name: Karluv Most (Charles Bridge).

St. Gregory, a tempera on wood by Theodoric of Prague painted between 1360 and 1365 (National Gallery, Prague). Theodoric of Prague is considered a central figure in the development of Bohemian art. His signature style included powerful figures within small frames, giving the impression of monumentality. His paintings are famous for his use of light and reflection, creating the illusion of endless space by allowing light to travel beyond the frame.
The Resurrection, panel from the Třeboň Altarpiece, made by the Master of Třeboň in tempera on spruce, between 1380 and 1390 (Národní Galerie, Prague). The altarpiece depicts events around the death and resurrection of Christ, its panels are scattered in different European museums. This panel of the Resurrection shows the risen Christ dressed in a red robe which resembles flames and symbolizes his shed blood. This artist created the so-called “beautiful style”, a Bohemian variant of the International Gothic style in which figures were placed in deep settings and modeled with chiaroscuro; these features were completely new in Bohemian art, but would be profusely used in the work of future generations of artists.
Top left: The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert (Prague, Czech Republic), it is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the biggest and most important church in the country, it was founded in 1344. Top right: Bust of Charles IV in the triforium in St. Vitus Cathedral (Prague), a work by Peter Parler. Bottom left: A view of the Prague Castle complex with Charles bridge in the foreground, this complex dates from the IX century and it is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. Bottom right: The Charles Bridge across the Vltava river in Prague (Czech Republic). It was begun in 1357 and finished in the beginning of the XV century. The bridge is protected by three towers and is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them in baroque-style originally erected around 1700 but now replaced by replicas.

In this way Gothic art spread throughout Central European territories not only thanks to the action of Cistercian monks and their architects, but to master builders of these countries who applied the Gothic style to perfection. In the middle of the XIII century, the French Gothic style reached far beyond up to the very confines of what was then the civilized world in some still “barbarian” and newly converted populations located on the banks of the Baltic.

Gothic art even spread to Russian territories. The cathedrals of Riga (Latvia) and Turku (Finland) were built in French Gothic style. Sweden and Norway experienced the influence of the brick-based German and English Gothic construction. Even the forms of the pure French Gothic styles were introduced in the Nordic countries, the Gothic forms were imported there by masters coming directly from France, like the architect of the Uppsala Cathedral, Étienne de Bonneuil, who was a master builder for the king of France. Bonneuil arrived in Sweden with ten colleagues in 1287 to direct the works of the new cathedral, which was projected following the same layout of that of Paris and was consecrated in 1435. Typical English Gothic constructions are the magnificent choir of the Nidaros cathedral and the octagonal church of St. Olaf, also in Scandinavia, as well as the cathedral of Roskilde in Denmark which also resembles the purest traditions of brick-building typical of Northern Germany.

Top left: The Riga Cathedral (Riga, Latvia). Top right: The Turku Cathedral (Turku, Finland), it was completed in 1300. Bottom left: Uppsala Cathedral (Uppsala, Sweden), with a height of 118.7 mt (389 ft) is the tallest church in the Nordic countries, Carl Linnaeus and Gustav Vasa are buried here. It was consecrated in 1435. Bottom right: The choir of the Nidaros Cathedral or Trondheim cathedral (Trondheim, Norway), it was built from 1070 to 1300 and is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world.

The Nordic countries did not assimilate the styles of the Middle Ages as did the countries of Central Europe and those of the British Isles. The influence of French civilization, which came to these Nordic lands later than in central Europe, had not yet been imposed when the Renaissance began to infiltrate the confines of the North Sea. In consequence, a peculiar artistic style was created there which led to the construction of the great stately castles of Denmark. Nevertheless, the common population wanted to preserve its typical primitive art, which today can still be perfectly seen in the old villages hidden inside secular forests. This popular art has imprinted a particular and unique stamp in modern styles. In a way, the ogival style prevailed only among the upper classes; it didn’t constitute the style proper to private constructions as happened in Germany, and the Gothic forms widely spread in central Europe were only accepted in temples whose construction was entrusted to monks coming from distant lands.

The cathedral of Roskilde is perhaps the most characteristic monument of this period, and spite of its evident influences, it has more archaic and traditional characteristics than any other monument in ancient Scandinavia. This explains the veneration that inspires today.

The Uppsala Cathedral has no particular stamp. The awakening of the Swedish nation, which reached its most glorious time during the reign of Gustav Vasa, occurred after the Middle Ages when the cathedral of Uppsala had been finished following foreign styles.

Due to their geographical location, Flanders and the Netherlands (present-day Belgium and Holland) directly received the influences of French Gothic art. Among all the Belgian churches, the cathedral of Antwerp is the one that has the most monumental floor plan with seven naves and at the same time is quite unique by its magnificent towers, one of them 123 meters height and considered the most beautiful of the Belgian towers. The apse of the cathedral of Antwerp was begun by Pedro de Appelman in the year 1352 but the construction works on the cathedral continued until the end of the XV century.

The cathedral of Brussels, dedicated to Saints Michael and Gudula, was begun ca. 1226 with apse and ambulatory in pure French style. In its facade rise two towers from the XV century similar to those of the Antwerp cathedral though they lack the crowning pinnacle. Another church in Brussels, that of Our Lady, has an apse that in certain particularities is very similar to that of the cathedral of Reims.

Top left: The Roskilde Cathedral (Roskilde, eastern Denmark). This is the first Gothic cathedral to be built of brick, and thus encouraged the spread of the Brick Gothic style throughout Northern Europe. It was constructed during the XII and XIII centuries and includes both Gothic and Romanesque architectural features in its design. Top right: The Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp, Belgium). This cathedral contains a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. It was consecrated in 1521. Bottom: The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (Brussels, Belgium), it was completed in 1519.

In Bruges there are also two Gothic churches built with brick, those of Our Lady and of St. Salvator, in which the national style wasn’t well characterized. The tower of the facade of San St. Salvador, built in 1116, is still Romanesque. In its interior, the naves have a clear French Gothic features: the moldings descend from the vault along the pillars to finally reach the floor. This layout wasn’t widely used in Belgium; soon the vaults appeared supported by smooth cylindrical columns instead of carrying the molding lines and the decorative sculpture embraced the artistic characteristics of Belgium and Holland. In the Netherlands, civil buildings were more important than religious constructions.

Left: The Church of Our Lady (Bruges, Belgium) mainly from the XIII, XIV and XV centuries. Right: The Saint-Salvator Cathedral in Bruges, (Belgium).

The bourgeois grouped in guilds of arts and crafts began to build their corporate houses, and in the city squares they placed the most colossal municipal and contracting palaces that existed in Europe. The most monumental of these public buildings was that of Ypres, called Halle des Drapiers (Cloth Hall) or Les Halles with its square tower rising in the center of long three-storey galleries covered by a high roof. It was begun in 1200 and completed until 1304. This building was properly a market for woolen cloths which at this time was the main industry in the Netherlands. This monumental building, destroyed during the First World War, is now completely rebuilt (1918) following the original plans. Bruges had two of these Halles: the shipowners’ building, called Halle de l’eau, and another for the cloth merchants both dating from the XIII century. Their facade is smaller than that of the Halles of Ypres, but the tower that rises in the center, square, massive, dominating the whole building, is the tallest tower found on the shores of the North Sea. Its octagonal crowning, which contains a fantastic carillon*, was completed in 1482. Some cities, such as Ypres and Antwerp also retain the Halles of meat, mainly for the trade of sausages and preserves highly marketed in the Netherlands.

Top left: The Cloth Hall, a large medieval commercial building, in Ypres, Belgium. This was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages serving as the main market and warehouse for Ypres prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the XIII century and completed in 1304, lay in ruins after World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition. The building now houses the In Flanders Fields Museum. Top right: The belfry (bell tower) of Bruges, a medieval bell tower in Bruges (Belgium). The belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. To the sides and back of the tower stands the former market hall with an inner courtyard. Bottom: The Bruges City Hall, one of the oldest city halls in the entire Netherlands region (Bruges, Belgium) was constructed in flamboyant Gothic and its opulence testifies to the city’s economic and political power during the Middle Ages. It was built between 1376-1421.

Bruges, Leuven and Brussels have their Hôtel-de-Ville (city hall) and even smaller towns also erected disproportionate communal palaces. All respond to the same plan: a large multi-storey building with a long facade, on the ground floor a portico which served as a market, and a square tower with its clock and bells to congregate all citizens in case of danger. Sometimes the Hôtel-de-Ville had four galleries forming a courtyard, but in most of them the building was reduced to a long gallery with the central tower.

The Bruges city hall was begun in 1377. It is a tall, rectangular building, decorated with statues of the counts of Flanders placed between the windows; at the side and in the center of the facade (restored) there are three elegant octagonal turrets crowned by arrows. The Hôtel-de-Ville or City Hall in Brussels is the richest and most spectacular, it also has the same cubic silhouette with a central tower completed in the last period of the Gothic art. All its architects were local, although a Flemish constructor, Juan van Ruysbroeck, gave the last touches to the building in 1449. The beautiful town halls of Ghent and Audenarde and the so call Maison du Roi, in Brussels, are from the XVI century.

Left: The Brussels Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) in Brussels (Belgium), a Gothic building from the Middle Ages completed in 1420. Right: The Leuven City Hall (Leuven, Belgium) built in Late Gothic style between 1448 and 1469, it is famous for its ornate architecture crafted in lace-like detail.

A medieval building of purely military character is the formidable castle of the counts of Flanders (or Gravensteen), in Ghent with its enormous wall enclosure interrupted by circular towers and barbicans and surrounded by a water moat, it is considered one of the most important fortresses in Europe. Built in the XII century, this castle, impressive for its somber spirit, was modeled following the fortresses built by the Crusaders in the Syrian desert.

The Gravensteen, a Medieval castle in Ghent (Belgium). The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. It was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade.

In Holland, Gothic art was introduced from the city of Tournai in Flanders.

There are numerous Gothic and private houses in Belgium and Holland. In many cities certain streets still preserve their medieval appearance. Thus, for example, the famous Graslei or Grass Quay of Ghent (with facades from the XII century next to others from the XIV and XV), the main square of Delft and the Kornmarkt or Grand’Place of Brussels. Bruges was a center of extraordinary commercial activity in the mid-XV century and its rich merchants were true patrons of the arts. Its streets still have long series of houses with Gothic facades built in the traditional Netherland style: ending in a stepped pinion.

Top left: Graslei (or Grass Quay) in Ghent (Belgium). The site includes a unique row of medieval buildings. Top right: the medieval main square of Delft (Netherlands). Bottom left: The Grand Place or Brussel’s central square (Belgium). It is surrounded by opulent medieval guildhalls and buildings. Bottom right: a canal in the city of Bruges (Belgium) also known as The Venice of the North, with some medieval houses on the shore.

By examination of the first constructions made by the Crusaders in the East, it is evident that they are Romanesque in  style. Then, when the new Gothic forms came from Europe, the kingdom of Jerusalem was at a critical moment: the Saracens threatened it from the outside, while it was weakened from within by the fratricidal struggles between the ruling barons. However, even in Jerusalem there are remains of good Gothic architecture. The Holy Land, lost at the beginning of the XIII century, was taken for some years by Frederick II Hohenstaufen who had French architects at his service.

Two Gothic cathedrals are still preserved in Palestine: that of Sebaste or Samaria, where tradition placed the place of the martyrdom and burial of John the Precursor, and the one of Tortosa near the sea in a place that became famous by certain legends related to the presence of well of Saint Peter. The cathedral of Sebaste is in relative good shape, its three naves each with four sections are covered with groin vaults. The one of Tortosa has a Romanesque floor plan but its capitals and windows show the primitive Gothic forms of the XIII century. The last Gothic church built in Palestine was that of San Juan de Acre built when that city was the last ruled by crusaders. Even the name of its architect is known: the French Cornelio de Bruyn. When Sultan Kalaun took over the city of Acre he took as a trophy one of this church’s doors and it can be seen today in his tomb at Cairo. It seems that this church of Acre was planned to have three naves without flying buttresses and its facade was supposed to be divided in three parts adorned with three rosettes arranged in a triangle.

In Palestine the crusaders’ castles are numerous, these formidable French defenses served as the Templars’ last points of resistance. The largest of these is the famous Krak of the Knights of the Order of the Temple with three enclosures and access ramps which exceeded in military value all the western medieval castles of the time.

The Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The site was first inhabited in the XI century by a settlement of Kurdish troops garrisoned there. In 1142 it was given to the Knights Hospitaller and remained in their possession until it fell in 1271.

The last defenders of the kingdom of Jerusalem took refuge in Cyprus. The French family of the Lusignans settled there as well as a Latin archbishop who settled in Nicosia and that later ordered the construction of a new cathedral in Gothic style. It seems that its construction works began in the year 1193 with a French architect in charge. The apse is very similar to that of the cathedral of Paris. In the ambulatory were used some old columns taken from a primitive Byzantine church that used to be located on the same site where the new Gothic church was projected and that had to be demolished. The cathedral of Nicosia (now the Selimiye mosque), which was never completed, is now converted into a mosque with the addition of Turkish cylindrical minarets*. The ruins of another Gothic cathedral, the one in Famagusta (today the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque), are still in Cyprus with very beautiful details on the facade.

Top: The Selimiye Mosque, historically known as Cathedral of Saint Sophia (North Nicosia, Cyprus). The actual mosque is housed in the largest and oldest surviving Gothic church in Cyprus. It was consecrated in 1326. Bottom left: The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, originally known as the Cathedral of Famagusta (Northern Cyprus), was built between 1298 and c. 1400. The cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire captured Famagusta in 1571. Bottom right: The Saint Hilarion Castle (Cyprus). Saint Hilarion was originally a monastery built there in the X century. By the XI century, the Byzantines began its fortification.

Besides the religious buildings, the princes of the house of Lusignan built several castles in Cyprus whose ruins are still seen in the plain and in the mountains at the interior of the island. The most famous of all is the castle of Bufavent or Saint Hilarion Castle. Other castles still conserve many parts of their inner fortress in good condition with the repeated use of Gothic groin vaults that the Crusaders used to cover cisterns and parts destined for rooms.

In the Peloponnese, Negroponto and Thessaly, that is, in all the Greek districts where Byzantine domination was illusory, Latin lords were established at the end of the XIII century, either of French, Italian, or Catalan-Aragonese origin. In the ancient Greek acropolis you can still see today the fortresses of the Frankish lords with their enclosures and their central castle sometimes built with marble blocks taken from the ancient buildings. The castle had its small Gothic church and its tower crowned with battlements as were the walls. There are French castles in Corinth, Thebes and Amfisa, but the most interesting of all was the Acropolis itself, or Cetine’s castle as the Catalans called it. The walls of the Acropolis were crowned with medieval battlements and until 1880 defending the entrance in front of the Propylaea stood out the tall square tower of the Franks which gave the Acropolis an aspect of western fortress.

For more than a century the island of Rhodes was owned by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller who conquered it in 1310. The Grand Master, with his court of priors each representing his own nationality, had his official residence in Rhodes which motivated the construction of the priories in the main street of the city still called Street of the Knights. Each prior built his palace more or less according to the style of the country he represented with some oriental influence.

The medieval “Street of the Knights” in Rhodes’ old town (Greece).

This inventory of monuments of more or less Gothic style in Europe doesn’t fully include the scope of its dissemination. In the XVI century, buildings were still built with groin vaults and buttresses not only in Europe but in America. In Santo Domingo and Mexico, the first buildings that the conquerors raised were of Gothic style although transformed by the scarcity of certain materials. In XVI century America it was quicker to cover a large room with groin vaults than to carry the wood pieces that would be needed to cover it with a wood framework. The church of the Hospital de Jesús, the first one built by Cortés in Mexico, and the great churches of the collegiates of Cuernavaca and Tula de Allende, also built on the initiative of the Spanish conquistador, were covered with stone vaults. For the same reason, the Franciscan friars built their constructions following Gothic techniques. However, the Moorish-style wooden roofs were also introduced in America of which there are several splendid examples made, undoubtedly, by Mudejar craftsmen coming from Europe.

Top: The Church of the Hospital de Jesús (1524) in Mexico city. The Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered the hospital built to aid Aztec soldiers wounded fighting with the Spanish. In 1646, the adjacent hospital was the site of the first autopsies performed on the American continent, to teach anatomy to medical students of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. Today the building continues to function as a hospital. Bottom left: The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Cuernavaca (Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico). The church and its surrounding monastery were built in the early XVI century. This cathedral is particular in that is located in its own walled compound. Bottom right: The St. Joseph Cathedral in the city of Tula de Allende (Hidalgo, Mexico), originally it was one of the first convents built in Mexico.

The Gothic style has survived to the present day in the popular crafts of all countries where it used to be common throughout the Middle Ages. To this day, in more than one country rural masons unwittingly still employ the Gothic ways of construction that have been maintained through centuries by secular tradition.


Carillon: A musical instrument that is typically housed in the bell tower (belfry) of a church or municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord.


Minaret: (from Arabic meaning “lighthouse”), a distinctive architectural structure akin to a tower and typically found adjacent to mosques. It generally consists of a tall spire with a conical or onion-shaped crown, usually either free-standing or taller than associated support structure. Minarets provide a visual focal point and are traditionally used for the Muslim call to prayer.