Top 15 Amazing Gothic Architecture Around the World
Between the 12th and 16th centuries, there were some breathtaking Gothic
structures across Europe and even the Middle East. Because of the majesty of the
architecture, it's no wonder that most of these structures are cathedrals
patronized by some of the most powerful monarchs and clergy in history. From
Italy to Sweden to Poland and beyond, there are at least 15 amazing examples of
Gothic architecture that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites
because of their cultural and historical significance to humanity.
15) Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, Italy
Named in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, the
Basilica began construction in 1228. After Francis was canonized by Pope George
IX, the Pope claimed the not-yet-constructed church as papal property. In 1230,
the Lower Basilica was finished and the body of St. Francis was buried there and
concealed. The Lower Basilica shows two doors seated below and a large rose
window and leads patrons to the other side of the chapel.
In 1288, the church's status was elevated to Papal Church and between the
1400's and 1800's a small convent honoring St Clare, San Damiano was built. The
Upper Basilica was completed in the 1850's. It has cross vaulted ceilings and
ribbed vaults with gold against blue. Pope Innocent IV consecrated both
Nave of Upper Basilica
14) Cologne Cathedral, Germany
The foundation stone was laid in 1248 for the cathedral dedicated to the
Virgin Mary and St. Peter. This structure was designed to be the reliquary of
the Three Magi brought back from Milan by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel. The
cathedral is nearly 500 feet long, approximately 284 feet wide and is considered
the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.
In the late 15th century, work halted and while there were intermittent
attempts to complete it, it wasn't until the late 19th century that it was
finally finished. During the Second World War, the cathedral was hit 14 times
but did not collapse and repairs were completed in the late 1950's.
In 2007, a
new stained glass window was created by artist Gerard Richter to adorn the south
transept. It was 66 feet tall and comprised over 11 thousand pieces of colored
glass, randomly arranged by computer.
13) Strasbourg Cathedral, France
Located in Alsace, France, it was considered the tallest building in the
world between 1647 and 1874, losing the title to St. Nikolai's Church in
Germany. Both Victor Hugo and Goethe had memorable ways of describing the
cathedral that can be seen across the plains of Alsace and has a distinctive
pink hue. Construction spanned from 1176-1439, Strasbourg Cathedral has French
and German influences, a distinctive Gothic style with Romanesque features.
1524, in response to the Protestant Reformation and its influencers, the
Strasbourg was assigned to the Protestant faith and suffered iconoclastic
assaults as a result. It was returned to the Catholic faith in the 1680's due to
The Strasbourg Cathedral survived the Enragés in the late 18th century, a
Prussian siege in the 1870's only to be hit by British and American bombs in
1944. The damages were finally repaired in the early 1990's. Some of the more
distinctive features include the stained glass windows and the tombstone of
Conrad de Lichtenberg, a 13th century bishop of Strasbourg.
12) Malbork Castle, Poland
Located near the Tri-City areas of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia, Malbork is
considered the largest brick building in Europe. It was designed to be a
medieval fortress that strengthened the Teutonic Order's control of the area
following the Great Prussian Uprising in 1274. Unfortunately, hardly any
construction documents survived but thanks to the Order's administrative records
and study of architecture, the phases of construction were worked out. After the
conquest of Danzig, modern day Gdansk, the administrative headquarters of the
Order moved to Malbork.
The 15th century saw the sieges, wars and in the 1460's, the castle became
one of the royal residences as part of the province Royal Prussia. The castle is
located on the bank of the river Nogat, which was favorable because of its easy
access and flat surroundings. There are three separate castles within 52 acres;
that's four times larger than Windsor Castle. Because of the growing number of
Teutonic Knights, the expansions led to its reputation as Europe's largest
Gothic building. Over the years, interest in the structure waned but in the
early 1800's it was renewed and became a symbol of Prussian history.
rose to power during the 1930's, he used the castle for his annual pilgrimages
and during the war, half the castle was destroyed. During the 20th century,
after a fire, the main cathedral was restored but was in ruins thanks to the
World War II and is still that way today.
11) Cathedral of Seville, Spain
El Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, better known as the Cathedral of
Seville, was built as a monument to Seville's wealth after the Reconquista. The
cathedral used to be a mosque and in the early 1400's it needed to be rebuilt
after sustaining damage during the 1356 earthquake. From 1402 until 1506, parish
clergy funded the build by giving half of their stipends. In 1511 and 1888, the
dome collapsed and after the latest instance, repairs were continuing until the
The heavily gilded central nave is approximately 90 feet high and the bell
tower, La Giralda, a former minaret stands over 340 feet tall and resembles the
minaret of Morocco's Koutoubia Mosque; it's considered a great example of
Almohad architecture and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
10) St. Stephen's Cathedral, Austria
In the Treaty of Mautern, signed by the Bishop of Passau and Margrave Leopold
IV, St. Peter's Church was given to the Bishop while Margrave received lands
outside the walls of the civitas of Vienna. One of the territories, rumored to
be an Ancient Roman cemetery, became the home of St. Stephen's a simple parish
church. St Stephens, also known as Stephansdom, is an integration of Romanesque
and Gothic designs and took nearly 400 years to complete.
In the early 14th century, King Albert I ordered a Gothic choir to be
constructed in the eastern part of the church. Albert I died in 1308 and the
Gothic Albertine choir was consecrated in 1340. Under his successors, the choir
was extended adding a south tower, finished in 1433, nave vaulting, completed in
1474 and laying the foundation for the north tower in 1450. The construction of
the north tower was abandoned in the early 16th century.
All of this expansion
was done to smooth the path to fulfill the dream of giving Vienna its own
diocese. In January 1469, St. Stephen's Cathedral became the mother church of
the Diocese of Vienna, despite the resistance of the Bishops of Passau. During
World War II, the cathedral was saved from German destruction only to be victims
of a fire, started by looting Russian troops. The damage was minimized and it
was rebuilt and reopened in 1952.
9) Belém Tower, Portugal
In order to provide a strong fort that provided adequate protection for the
entrance of the Tagus river and supported the fortresses of Cascais and São
Sebastião, author Garcia de Resende sketched his idea and shared them with King
John II. The king died before implement the plans but King Manuel I of Portugal
revisited the idea 20 years later. Between 1513 and 1519 the Belém Tower was
constructed and was done five years before the death of Manuel I.
Built with lioz limestone, local stone native to Lisbon, it's divided into the bastion, an
outward angular protrusion, and a north tower. The tower in the Manueline style,
Portuguese late gothic, it sports elaborate ribbed vaulting and crosses, along
with other elements of the style.
The interior of the tower has canon niching; the watchtowers' cupolas and the
rooms of the tower have the best examples of the ribbing. The archways,
asymmetrical domes and gargoyle facets are all great examples of military
architecture, especially the gun placement. Over the years, the tower has been
used as a dungeon and a house for ships entering the city. In the mid 1800's, it
was restored by Queen Maria II and was declared a national monument in 1907. In
1940, the military quarters were removed and an artificial lake was built around
the tower in the early 1980's.
8) Cathedral of Burgos, Spain
King Ferdinand III and Bishop Mauricio ordered construction of the Cathedral
in 1221. In 1260, the cathedral was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin
Mary. Construction wouldn't resume until the 1440's and Bishop at the time
enlisted the help of Juan de Colonia, who completed the octagonal spires. In
1481, after Juan passed away, his son Simon continued. During the rest of the
15th and into the 16th century, additions were made to chapel and cimborio gave
the cathedral a distinctive look that was all its own.
In 1567, the cathedral was done but over the centuries, there would be
changes. For example the sacristy for the patron saint of Tarragona was
constructed. There were many influences from the various kings and bishops but
the dominant style is Gothic with some Renaissance and Baroque touches.
The Portada de la Coronería is the north transept portal and it's adorned with
statues of the 12 Apostles and the Condestable Chapel are considered to be
an example of Flamboyant Gothic style. Burgos is the resting place of many
prominent figures such as the famous Spaniard El Cid, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and
7) Belfry of Ghent, Belgium
The Belfry of Ghent is an almost 300-foot tower overlooking the city.
Construction of the bell tower, which also served as a town treasury and
watchtower began in 1313. Around 1338, the architects Jan van Aelst and Filips
van Beergine completed the tower and the bells were rung for King Edward I of
During that time, bells were used for religious purposes but as time
went on, bells were used more frequently for mundane tasks such as telling the
time. The bell in the belfry is called Roeland was installed in the 1320's and
helped warn the people of the city of approaching danger.
There were stone soldiers at the four corners of the towers that watched over
the city in addition to the soldiers on guard that had to blow their horns
hourly. The treasury room sat behind two large doors, each with three locks
which could only be opened in the presence of powerful economic influencers of
the day. During the 1370's Roeland was used for hourly chiming and because the
chimes were unexpected, smaller bells were integrated as precursors to Roeland.
In the early 1400's the Cloth Hall was erected and attached to the belfry, and
it was the headquarters of the city's lucrative cloth trade. The Men of Ghent,
composed of the trumpeters and bell ringers, watched over the city until 1870.
In the 1980's the restoration of the belfry was completed and what started as a
few bells grew to over 50 bells, the last being Robert, added in 1993.
6) St. Vitus Cathedral, Czech Republic
St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in the Czech
Republic and it's the home of the Archbishop. It's been used for religious
services as well as monarchal coronations. In 925, Prince Vaclav I founded the
rotunda and in 973, the St. Vitus chapter gained notoriety becoming the Prague
bishopric, the diocese of a bishop. In 1060, the rotunda was converted to a
basilica of three naves and two steeples.
Construction of the Gothic Cathedral was begun by Charles IV in 1344. The
first master builder was Frenchman Matthias of Arras, who worked on Avignon's
papal palace. He created the French Gothic layout, which included a short
transept, a decagon apse and a five-bayed choir.
However, he only lived to build
a small part of those plans and after dying in 1352, Peter Parler took over.
Just 23 when he started, Peter was able to finish Matthias' layout and
implemented some of his own ideas, which included net vaults, a combination of
double diagonal ribs and crossing rib pair in a net configuration. St.
Wenceslas Chapel is the center of the cathedral, with walls of precious stones,
paintings of the Passion and has a door that leads to the chamber of the
Bohemian Crown Jewels.
5) Mir Castle, Belarus
Built between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th
century, Mir Castle was designed to be a fortress with a moat, rampart, towers,
slits and even a drawbridge. Even though it was ordered to be built by prince
Yuri Ilyinich, from 1568 to the early 19th century, it was under ownership of
the Radziwill family who owned the town of Mir and the surrounding estates.
Prince Mikolaj Krzysztof Radziwill was a Polish-Lithuanian noble and first
dynastic owner of the Castle. He was a soldier, traveler, patron, and
philanthropist, who also built Nesvizh Castle, also in Belarus.
In order to create three stories, the castle was eventually rebuilt by the
family in the Renaissance style. The façade was decorated with limestone and the
halls with tile. Sieges in mid-17th century, 18th century and early 19th century
severely damaged the castle and it was abandoned. With the death of Dominik
Radziwill, ownership of the castle changed.
The last owners of the castle were
Prince Michael Sviatopolk-Mirski. The Sviatopolk-Mirski family owned several
large businesses and employed many of the locals. During World War II, Mir
Castle became a prison to Jews in the town of Mir hundreds of whom escaped
before the rest were murdered in August 1942. Today, the castle has been
restored and is home to a museum and rooms sharing the history of the Jews of
4) Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark
On the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark, stands Roskilde Cathedral, a
Lutheran church. It was the pioneer of the Brick Gothic style that spread
through Europe during the period. A combination of Gothic and Romanesque styles,
Roskilde was built in the late 900's by King Harold Bluetooth and has quite a
Bluetooth's son, Sweyn Forkbeard raised an army against his father and
forced him to flee. When the King died, the wooden Trinity Church he built
became the resting place of Bluetooth. Sweyn conquered England and died in 1014.
Estrid, Sweyn's daughter, used the penance from her brother Canute, who killed
Estrid's husband, to rebuild the Trinity Church in stone.
In 1170, nearly a century after the deaths of Estrid and her two-year-old
son, construction of the Roskilde Cathedral began. Monks from the south used the
firing bricks technique to build a new Romanesque church around the existing one
under the aegis of Bishop Absalon of Roskilde. After surrendering his position,
the new bishop, Peder Sunesen implemented the French Gothic style, and tore down
the towers Absalon built. Lack of money slowed the building process but by 1280,
the cathedral was completed. Over the years, several chapels were added to
Roskilde and in the mid 1400's it was badly damaged by a fire that was so bad
that it cracked the glass windows. Through a series of historical events,
including loss, death, and politics, Roskilde was restored as a diocese in 1924
and in 1985, Frederick IX's Burial Ground became the latest addition.
3) Westminster Abbey, England
To the west of the Palace of Westminster is the Collegiate Church of St.
Peter at Westminster, commonly known as Westminster Abbey. Founded in 960, the
Abbey was originally a Benedictine monastery. It was enlarged and reendowed by
King Edward and given the name Westminster to distinguish it from London's St.
Paul's Cathedral. Westminster was consecrated in 1065, just a few days before
Edward's death. The original creation of King Edward was rebuilt during the 13th
century by King Henry III in the Gothic style. The Abbey became more than just a
place of worship and a monastery. It has been the coronation church since the
mid-11th century starting with Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror.
The fan vaulting of Henry VII chapel is famous as well as the origin Order of
the Bath carved stalls. Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James added the west towers,
which were the final additions to the Abbey. They were completed in 1745. There
were remodels done by Sir George Gilbert Scott and J.L. Pearson in the late 19th
century. During World War II, the Abbey sustained heavy damage from bombings but
it was restored after the war. Westminster Abbey has been the site of 16 Royal
Weddings since 1100, the latest being the 2011 wedding of Prince William and
Catherine Middleton. It's also the final resting place for 17 monarchs, the last
of whom was George II in 1760.
2) Notre Dame de Paris, France
King Louis VII, former classmate of Archbishop Maurice de Sully encouraged
his friend to build a Cathedral worthy of Paris. With offering of money, labor
and knowledge from a variety of different sources, the Notre-Dame began
construction in 1163. Over the next 110 years, a whole host of carpenters,
masons, architects lent their expertise to the project.
The choir was built
first followed by the three bays in the nave, side aisles and the tribune from
1182-1190. Between 1190 and 1250, the Gallery of Kings, the upper gallery and
the side chapels were built. By the mid-14th century, it was done. The name came
from Maurice's desire to dedicate the cathedral to Mary, Mother of God and he
came up with the name, which translates as Our Lady of Paris; in the cathedral
there are over 35 representations of the Virgin Mary.
One of the most prominent features of the cathedral is the rose window, a
well-known sign of Gothic architecture. Made in 1258, by Jean de Chelles and
Pierre de Montreuil, the South Rose Window was a gift from Louis IX and is close
to 42 feet in diameter. Four circles and a total of 84 panes come together to
form this central element of the cathedral. Due to damage over the years, it was
restored in the 1720's but due to a fire, the poorly restored window was further
damaged during the revolution in 1830. It had to be rebuilt and to create the
necessary authenticity, Alfred Gerente, a master glassworker, restored the
stained glass and reunited the missing medallions. Pope John Paul II visited the
cathedral twice and when he died, tens of thousands came to Notre Dame to await
the election of the new Pope, Benedict XVI.
1) Canterbury Cathedral, England
Situated in Canterbury, Kent, this most famous and oldest Christian structure
in England is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Founded in 597 by
Augustine, Canterbury's first archbishop, the small church was later replaced by
a larger church and other structures were added.
In 1067, after the Norman Conquest, Canterbury succumbed to fire and was
rebuilt by the first Norman archbishop Lanfranc. He modeled the reconstruction
after the Abbey of St. Etienne and had stone specially brought from France. The
new cathedral was cruciform with an aisled nave, two west end towers, short
choir and other distinctly Gothic features.
From the Shrine of Thomas Beckett,
to the perpendicular vaulting in the monastic building, to the rebuilding of the
Norman northwest tower, Canterbury has experienced a lot of history within its
walls, much of which can be read about in the cathedral library.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the world, and while
it's arguably one of the best examples of amazing architecture and resilience,
it's not the only one. From the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi to Notre Dame
de Paris, Gothic architecture continues to awe many to this day. Stunning
examples of Gothic architecture can be found throughout Europe and the Middle
East, and more modern buildings all around the world continue to use elements of
this style. Whether you are looking for some stops to round out your next
vacation or are interested in more in-depth research or inspiration for a big
project, a visit to any of these locales can be just the ticket.