Famous medieval buildings and their history

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Medieval buildings are the buildings constructed during the middle ages. They include civil, religious and military buildings. The popular style of architecture was mainly romanesque and gothic. Most of the surviving medieval architecture include churches and castles. These famous medieval buildings played a significant role in history and were the iconic institutions of their time. Hence we have compiled a list of medieval buildings which have stood the test of time.

From Gothic churches to impregnable towers. Here are 7 famous medieval buildings and their history.

1) Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)

The first on our list of famous medieval buildings is the famed Hagia Sophia. This place of worship is also one of the most iconic architectures of the Byzantine Empire. Located in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, it was the first medieval building to have a pendentive dome. Originally, Roman Emperor Constantine I built the church as a pagan temple in 325 and subsequently, his son consecrated it in 360. The church underwent several reconstructions till its final reconstruction which was directed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I. It took him only 6 years to build this splendid medieval building and for more than a millennium, it was the church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Crusaders looted it in 1204. Subsequently in 1453, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, the church was reclassified as a mosque. In 1935, the mosque was converted into a museum. However, in 2013, Islamic religious leader advocated classifying the museum as a mosque again. In July 2020, Hagia Sophia was reinstated as a mosque.

A picture of Hagia Sophia, one of the most famous midieval buildings in the world
Hagia Sophia

2) Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, Germany)

The Cologne Cathedral is the official seat of the Archbishop of Cologne. This impressive Gothic Church is the 3rd largest church in the world. Additionally, the choir of the church has the largest height to width ratio of any medieval church which is 3.6:1. Christian churches have used the church site since the 4th century. A 1248 fire then destroyed the church on that site. Subsequently, reconstruction work took place for the present architecture. The medieval building took quite a while to build and in between the project was stalled for a long while, it was finally completed in 1880.

The Cologne Cathedral additionally houses the remains of the Three Wise Kings. In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne acquired the bones of the Three Wise Kings and needed to house them properly, hence he decided that an impressive cathedral should be built for this purpose. Moreover, the cathedral was bombed 14 times during World War II, but despite this, the medieval architecture did not fall.

A picture of the famous midieval building Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral

3) The tower of London (London, England)

The list of famous medieval buildings is incomplete without the historic tower of London. The tower was a royal palace until the 17th century. William the Conqueror built it in the 1070s and since then it has been home to a variety of institutions. William the Conqueror originally built it as a defensive fortress. It subsequently expanded, thus becoming the largest concentric medieval castle in England.

Subsequently, the tower became a prison and a ground for execution as well. The medieval building has witnessed the execution of famous individuals such as Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and many more. Additionally, the castle safeguarded the treasures of royalty during troubled times. Hence it houses an impressive collection of jewels. The famous crown jewels are also housed at the Tower of London.

A picture of the tower of London- List of famous medieval buildings
Tower of London

4)  The Alhambra palace complex (Granada, Spain)

Another structure on our list of famous medieval buildings is the Alhambra; a fortress built by the Moorish monarchs of Spain. And it is the epitome of Moorish architecture. It is the only surviving royal territory of the Islamic Golden age. During its prime, the palace had 3 main sections, a palatial zone, a military base and a quarter for court officers.

The fortress wasn’t built by one single ruler but was a series of constructions by the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty. Yusuf I and Mohammed V constructed the palace’s most famous structures. After the end of the Islamic rule, the Spanish ruler made numerous changes to the palace. Charles V who ruled as Charles I of Spain ordered for the palace to be rebuilt into a renaissance style castle and later replaced the Alhambra’s mosque with a church. The palace was abandoned during the start of the 18th century and most of its complexes were destroyed during the Peninsular war.

A picture of the Alhambra palace complex
The Alhambra palace complex

5) The famous medieval building Krak des Chevaliers (Talkalakh District, Syria)

Krak des Chevaliers translates to the fortress of the Kurds. This structure is one of the most important well preserved medieval buildings in the world. The fortress was built for the Emir of Aleppo but was subsequently acquired and rebuilt extensively by the Knights Hospitaller. This impressive castle is the largest crusader castle in the Middle East.

The castle was the most important among the 25 held by the Hospitallers. The impregnable castle posed as a military threat to any army passing through the area. Additionally, the castle was a permanent home to the garrisons of the Knights Hospitaller. The castle was vital to the defence of the Latin East in the 12th and 13th century. The castle was also successful in defending against an attack by Saladin.

Subsequently, Sultan of Egypt Baibars attacked the castle and in the process severely damaged the outer gates. Baibars then repaired the damages and made the castle his command headquarters. The famous medieval building Krak des Chevaliers was last in the hands of the Muslims.

A picture of the Krak des Chevaliers-List of famous medieval buildings
Krak des Chevaliers

6) The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa, Italy)- The most famous medieval building in Italy

Now, who hasn’t heard of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa? The tower leans by 4 degrees every year due to its unstable foundation. This lean is the main cause of its worldwide fame.

The construction of the structure began in August 1173. After the construction of the 2nd floor of the tower, the builders noticed that the tower was sinking. That’s when they realised that the foundation of the tower was weak and it was on unstable grounds. Thus halting the tower’s construction for almost a century. Construction subsequently continued after Pisa’s war with Genao. After the war, the soil was much more stable. The engineer Giovanni di Simone then went on to build a total of 7 floors. However, the soil did not settle well and the tower continues to lean till today.

The tower is famous for another reason as well, which is Galileo Galilei‘s demonstration of the law of free fall. Many efforts took place to make it upright, however, they were in vain. In the end, Italy’s government decided to keep the tower’s lean for it helps in boosting tourism.

A picture of the The leaning tower of Pisa-List of famous medieval buildings
The leaning tower of Pisa

7) Reims Cathedral (Reims, France)

The last on our list of famous medieval buildings is the Reims Cathedral which hosted the coronation of French kings. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is also known as Notre-Dame de Reims. Saint Nicasius has said to have established the first church on the site of the current cathedral in the 5th century. A fire then destroyed it in 1210. Subsequently, on the auspices of Archbishop Aubrey, the first stone of the chevet of the cathedral was laid.

The Reims cathedral and Reims were later held by the English during the hundred years of war until it was liberated by Joan of Arc. Additionally, the coronation of 25 kings took place at the Reims Cathedral, thus making it a symbol of the French monarchy. During the first World War, the cathedral played a vital role. It served as a hospital and 15,000 bales of straw were placed in the cathedral for this purpose. The cathedral, however, received a lot of damage during World War I but it was subsequently restored.

A picture of the coronation of French King Charles VII at the Reims Cathedral-List of famous medieval buildings
The coronation of French King Charles VII at the Reims Cathedral


Enjoyed the above article? You may also enjoy 15 Famous Landmarks of France and their history

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