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.
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.
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).
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.
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 seen perfectly 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 of 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Saint Peter’s well. 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 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 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 took from a primitive Byzantine church that used to be located on the same site where the new Gothic church was projected and that for this end 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 façade.
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 well as 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.
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.
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.