The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide

Gothic architecture dominated the high to late middle ages and has left many European cities with a wealth of beautiful buildings.
Christopher McFadden
  • Gothic architecture is a breathtaking style of building design that emerged in Europe during the late Middle Ages.
  • Known for its intricate and ornate details, soaring heights, and dramatic use of light and shadow, Gothic architecture is a visual feast for the eyes.
  • From the towering cathedrals of France to the castles of Germany, Gothic architecture left an indelible mark on the landscape of medieval Europe, and its influence can still be seen in modern architecture today.

Gothic architecture is a pan-European style that lasted between the mid 12th Century and the 16th Century. It is usually characterized as a style of masonry building that makes heavy use of cavernous spaces with walls broken up by overlaid tracery,

Typical architectural features include:

  • Rib vaults
  • Flying buttresses
  • Pointed Gothic arches
  • Stained glass windows were also common

It would be the French who would excel in this form throughout the period. The British, Spanish, and Germans would follow suit and develop variations on the general Gothic theme.

Italian variations on Gothic Architecture would stand out from the rest of Europe by using brick and marble rather than the stone of other nations.  The Late Gothic Period (15th Century onwards) would reach its peak in Germany with its magnificent vaulted hall churches.

Here we will explore the history, features, and enduring legacy of Gothic architecture, delving into the fascinating world of this stunning architectural style.

1. The Cologne Cathedral, left unfinished for 350 years

The mighty Gothic cathedral of Cologne is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne. The entire structure took around 600 years to build. Construction began in 1248 and was later abandoned in 1473. It would remain unfinished for over 350 years. Work resumed bombing in the 1840s, with its completion in 1880 to the original plans. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It also has the second tallest spires built in an entirely Germanic Gothic style.

During WW2, it sustained several bomb hits that badly damaged it. Despite the damage, it remained largely intact as the Cologne was flattened around it.

It also witnessed a significant tank battle between German and American divisions in March of 1945. After the war, the cathedral underwent extensive repair work, an ongoing process.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The stunningly beautiful Cologne Cathedral.

2. The Cathedral Church of Milan, the largest church in Italy

Milan Cathedral was another example of Gothic Architecture that took almost 600 years to complete. The ground was broken in 1386, and the construction wasn't completed until the 19th Century in 1865. Building work was further stalled during WW2, thanks to the allied bombing of Milan.

The building, in its current form, was finally completed in 1965. Construction was initially very rapid, with half the cathedral completed by 1402. After this point, a lack of funds meant construction stalled.

It is the third-largest cathedral in the world and is famous for its forest of spires and pinnacles. Not to mention its highly ornate facade. The complex forest of spires and pinnacles provides both aesthetic and structural purposes. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Milan Cathedral is the 3rd largest in the world.

3. The Basilica of Saint-Denis, France

The Basilica of St Denis, located in a suburb of Paris, is widely considered one of the first-ever Gothic-style buildings. Specifically, its choir, completed in 1144, shows many elements associated with the Gothic style.

The site it is built on was originally a Roman cemetery, the remains of which still lie beneath the building. It officially became a cathedral in 1966 and is now the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis. Although it is known as a basilica locally, it has not officially been granted that title by the Vatican.

This basilica is not only an important place of pilgrimage, but it also houses the tombs of most French Kings between the 10th and 18th Centuries. It is also the resting place of many older kings, including Charles Martel, who famously crushed the invading army of the Umayyad Caliphate at the critical Battle of Tours in 732.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The Basilica of St Denis is the resting place of many of France's kings.

4. Notre Dame de Paris, an Icon of Gothic Architecture

Notre Dame de Paris, or simply Notre Dame, is widely thought of as the finest example of French Gothic Architecture. It is, nonetheless, one of the largest and best-known churches in France, let alone Europe. Construction began in 1163 and was completed in 1345.

It underwent extensive alterations during the reigns of Louis XIV and his son Louis XV. During the tumultuous times of the French Revolution, Notre Dame was desecrated, with much of its religious imagery vandalized or destroyed. Extensive restoration works began in 1845. 

Notre Dame also suffered some damage during the Second World War. Stray bullets damaged several of its stained glass windows. These were later remade post-war into a more modern geometrical design.

She was also heavily damaged in 2019 when a severe structural fire broke out. Repair and reconstruction works are still ongoing at the time of writing.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The cathedral is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.

5. Canterbury Cathedral, England - The cathedral of Canterbury

Canterbury is one of the oldest cathedrals in England. It has a long history can be traced back to the 6th Century.

The original church was rebuilt between 1070 and 1077 to settle a long-held dispute between the two men. The east end was rebuilt again 100 years later following a fire in the English Gothic Architecture style.

Canterbury Cathedral, as seen today, largely dates from the 14th Century when the earlier Norman nave and transepts were demolished.

Probably, the most notable historical event to take place at Canterbury was the murder of Archbishop Tomas Becket. Henry II sent his knights to settle a long-held dispute between the two men. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest ones in England.

6. Notre-Dame de Reims, the Second cathedral of France

Rheims Cathedral, or Notre Dame de Reims, is another famous cathedral in France. It is also one of the country's most visited, with around 1,000,000 visits annually. This incredibly ornate building was built in the High Gothic style in the 13th Century. It was built on the site of an older church destroyed by fire in 1211.

The older church was, in fact, also built on the site of the basilica where Clovis I (the first king of the Francs) was baptized in 496. The building is now most famous for its general use as the coronation site of many French kings. This, in turn, was built on the site of a former Roman bathhouse.

Since 1991 it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
View from the North-East of Rheims Cathedral.

7. Salisbury Cathedral - The home of the Magna Carta

Widely recognized as one of, if not the, finest examples of English Gothic Architecture, Salisbury Cathedral is a truly magnificent building. It is not only beautiful, but it is also a record breaker. 

It has the tallest church spire in the UK and was built between 1220 and 1258. It also has the largest cloister and largest cathedral close in Britain.

Salisbury houses one of the world's oldest working clocks too. Most importantly for the UK and democratic nations, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is housed there. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Eastern view of Salisbury Cathedral.

8. Amiens Cathedral - The Tallest Cathedral in France

Amiens Cathedral is another fine example of Gothic Architecture and the tallest cathedral in France. It was built between 1220 and 1270. Minor works would continue on the cathedral until the year 1288. It is believed that Amiens Cathedral houses the head of John the Baptist. The relic was brought to Amiens from Constantinople after being sacked in 1204.

9. The Chartres Cathedral, France

Chartres Cathedral is another magnificent example of French Gothic Architecture. It also happens to be one of the best preserved in Europe.

It was built between the late 12th and Mid 13th Centuries and has remained unchanged. Today it is both a place of pilgrimage and a significant tourist attraction.

It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is said to house the tunic of the Virgin Mary.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
View of Chartres from the South East.

10. The Duomo: The Cathedral of Florence by Brunelleschi

Florence Cathedral, aka the Duomo, dominates the skyline of Florence. It is famed for its incredible brick dome, the biggest ever constructed.

The dome was designed and built by Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The dome was built between 1420 and 1436, and how he did it is still a mystery.

It is one of Italy's largest churches and is still the largest brick dome ever built.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
View of Florence Cathedral from Michelangelo Hill

11. The Black Church, Romania - Important Lutheran place of worship

The Black Church is a magnificent Gothic church in Brasov, Transylvania. It was initially built by the German community of the city, and it is still Romania's main Gothic-style monument.

Construction began in the late 14th Century, perhaps between 1383 and 1385. It was completed soon after 1476.

It is also one of the area's most significant and critical Lutheran places of worship.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The exterior of the Black Church, Brasov, Romania.

12. Frankfurt Cathedral - Technically not a cathedral

Frankfurt Cathedral is the largest religious building in the city; it was also a former collegiate church. Despite it being called a cathedral in English, this is not technically true.

It is a Kaiserdom or ancient imperial great church. The current building is the third church built on the same site and was completed around 1550. Frankfurt Cathedral symbolized unity for Germany, notably during the 19th Century.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Frankfurt Cathedral is not technically a cathedral. Source: Commons

13. Church of Our Lady - Second largest brick tower in the world

Generally accepted as the high point in medieval art in Bruges, The Church of Our Lady dominates the city. It dates from around the 13th to 15th Centuries.

Its tower is still the city's tallest structure, at 115 meters. Today it is the second-tallest brick tower in the world.

It is most famed for housing a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. This statue has been captured and recovered twice in history.

Firstly from French Revolutionaries in 1794 and then the Nazis in 1944.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Church of Our Lady has an enormous brick tower.

14. Leuven Town Hall, Belgium, was bombed during WW2

Built in the later Gothic Architecture style, Leuven Town Hall is a landmark in Leuven and Belgium. It was built between 1448 and 1469 and is famous for its highly ornate exterior and spires. 

After centuries of neglect, the building underwent renovation in the 19th Century. It ultimately survived the devastation of WWI but was struck by a bomb in WW2. It was not until 1983 that repairs were completed.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Leuven Town Hall.

15. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the most eminent Gothic edifice in Austria

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna is widely considered the most eminent Gothic tower in the entire city. Currently, it houses a large proportion of Vienna's art treasures. 

Its existing form is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic forms. It was built around 1160 and has since seen many of the city's most important historical events.

The building was saved during WW2 from demolition by retreating German forces when the officer in charge disobeyed direct orders to do so. Sadly the roof collapsed after catching fire when locals burnt their shops ahead of Soviet troops entering the city. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

16. Belfry of Ghent, Belgium, is another impressive Gothic building

The Belfry of Ghent is the tallest one in Belgium today and is one of three medieval towers that overlook the city.

It stands 91 meters tall and is built in Gothic architecture. Construction began in 1313. It was designed by master mason Jan van Haelst and was completed in 1380. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The Belfry still dominates the City of Ghent.

17. Zagreb Cathedral - The most sacral Gothic building SW of the Alps

Zagreb Cathedral in Kaptol is the tallest building in Croatia. It is also the most sacral building built in the Gothic Architecture style southeast of the Alps.

The entire building is typically Gothic, especially its sacristy, which is highly valued as a piece of architecture. The Mongols destroyed the original building in 1242, but it was rebuilt a few years later.

The cathedral was fortified before the Ottoman Invasion of Croatia in the 15th Century. It was also later heavily damaged during the 1880 Zagreb Earthquake. It would later be restored in the current Neo-Gothic style.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Zagreb Cathedral.

18. St. Sophia Cathedral, Northern Cyprus, is now a Mosque

St. Sophia Cathedral in Nicosia, Northern Cyprus, is Cyprus's largest and oldest surviving Gothic church. 

Construction began in 1209, with much of its form completed by the end of the Century. It was heavily damaged during the 13th and 14th Centuries by earthquakes.

It was converted to a mosque in 1570 when the Ottomans captured Cyprus. In 1954 its name was officially changed to the Selimiye Mosque in honor of Sultan Selim II, who led the previous conquest of Cyprus.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
St. Sophia Cathedral, now Selimiye Mosque is an interesting mix of Gothic and Muslim Architecture.

19. Saint Vitus Cathedral - The largest cathedral in Prague

Saint Vitus Cathedral is Prague's largest and most eminent cathedral, not to mention the Czech Republic. It has been used to house the remains of many prominent people in the Czech Republic. 

It is located within the equally stunning Prague Castle and contains the remains of many a Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor.

Construction began in 1344, with all additional works being completed as late as 1929. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Eastern facade of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

20. Lincoln Cathedral - A treasure of England

Lincoln Cathedral is considered one of the most precious pieces of architecture in the British Isles. Its Nave and rise windows are particularly stunning. 

Construction work began in 1088 and continued throughout the middle ages until 1311. It was the tallest building in the world until 1549 when its central spire collapsed.

It is the third-largest cathedral in Britain and is highly regarded by architectural scholars and tourists alike.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Lincoln Cathedral as viewed from Lincoln Castle.

21. Wells Cathedral - A beautiful early English Gothic cathedral

Wells Cathedral was the first monumental cathedral to be built in England. It was built between 1175 and 1490.

It is a beautiful example of Early English Gothic Architecture. The original cathedral also had richly painted niches, buttresses, glided stone figures, and towers placed beyond its sides.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Front facade of Wells Cathedral.

22. Orvieto Cathedral stands on an old volcano

Orvieto Cathedral in Orvieto, Umbria, is one of Italy's most iconic Gothic cathedrals. It stands on top of an isolated volcanic plug above the confluence of the Paglia and Chiana Rivers.

It is most noted for its Silver Shrine and magnificent western facade and was built mainly throughout the 14th Century.

Although its construction began in the Romanesque style, later phases transitioned to distinctly Gothic. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Orvieto Cathedral.

23. Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona, Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia's Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona is a Cistercian abbey in Urgell, Spain. It was founded in the 12th Century and is one of the most important monasteries in the region.

Like others on the list, it represents a transition between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It was officially made a Spanish national monument in 1931.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona.

24. Church of Our Lady of Breda is a Latin-cross Gothic cathedral

The Church of Our Lady of Breda, aka Grote Kerk, is an iconic monumental building built in the Brabantine Gothic style. Its most prominent features are its 97-meter tall tower and cruciform floor plan.

The ground was broken in 1410, and construction was completed in 1547.

Its Latin cross or cruciform floor plans are typical of Gothic cathedrals of this period.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Church of Our Lady of Breda.

25. Mir Castle, Belarus - A Gothic Castle

Mir Castle is a Belarusan Gothic-style castle built by Juryj Ivanavič Illinič in the 16th Century. 

It was abandoned in about 1717 and suffered heavy damage during the Battle of Mir in 1812. After trading hands through mixed marriages, reconstruction began in 1895.

Between 1921 and 1939, the castle belonged to the Polish family until the Soviet Union occupied the area 1939. During WW2, it was used as a Jewish ghetto by German forces after they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
View of Mir Castle Complex.

26. Old Town Bridge Tower, Czech Republic

The Old Town Bridge Tower in Prague is an impressive Gothic monument built in the late 14th Century.

It was designed by Petr Parléř and built under the rule of Emperor Charles IV. Construction began in 1357 and was completed in 1380.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Old Town Bridge Tower.

27. Westminster Abbey - A London tourist's must-see

Westminster Abbey is one of the most iconic landmarks in London. It is a large, primarily Gothic, abbey church in the City of Westminster, London.

It has been the traditional place of coronation for English monarchs for centuries. It was initially a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539.

William the Conqueror was the first King to be coronated in the Abbey in 1066, and all monarchs since have followed suit. Today, it is one of the most visited tourist sites in London.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Westminster Abbey.

28. Corvin Castle appeared in Age of Empires II

Corvin Castle, aka Hunyadi Castle, is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara, Romania. It is today one of the largest castles in Europe and is listed as one of the seven wonders of Romania.

Construction began in 1446, with additional phases of work continuing until the 19th Century. It would fall into disuse and partial ruin before heavy restoration in the 1800s.

Corvin Castle is featured in the video game Age of Empires II as the wonder of the Magyr civilization.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Corvin Castle.

29. Zvolen Castle - 14th-century Gothic castle

Zvolen Castle in Slovakia is a medieval castle on the hill near the Zvolen in Central Slovakia.

It was mainly built in the 14th Century in the Gothic Architecture style and was heavily influenced by Italian castles of the same period.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Zvolen Castle.

30. Wawel Cathedral - Crowning Polish Kings for 900 Years

The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on Wawel Hill, or Wawel Cathedral for short, is a fantastic example of Gothic Architecture.

It is over 900 years old and is the traditional site of Polish Monarch coronations. The current building is the third tower on the site and was built in the 14th century after previous incarnations were destroyed.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Wawel Cathedral.

31. These Gothic tenement buildings were almost destroyed in WW2

Stargard is a city in Northwestern Poland. It has a population of just over 70,000 and has been the capital of Stargard County since 1999.

Before WW2, the town belonged to Prussia, Germany. Many historical buildings, including exemplary Gothic Architecture, were destroyed during heavy bombing during WW2. 

Some more substantial buildings, like St. Mary's Church, have since been rebuilt. Yet others did survive the onslaught. One example is the beautiful Gothic tenement houses of the town.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Gothic tenement houses.

32. Napolean Bonaparte once wanted to keep the Church of St. Anne

St. Anne's Church is a beautiful Roman Catholic church in Vilnius Town in Lithuania. It is often cited as a great example of the Flamboyant and Brick Gothic Architecture styles.

The church is a prominent landmark in the old town, and this part of the town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was built around 1500 after the previous wooden church burnt down in 1419.

Legend has it that after seeing the church during the Franco-Prussian War of 1812, Napolean Bonaparte wanted to take it home to Paris "in the palm of his hand." 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
St. Anne's Church is a great example ofFlamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic.

33. Siena Cathedral - A mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architecture

The cathedral of Siena is a medieval church in the picturesque city of Siena in Italy. It used to be the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Siena.

The ground was broken in 1196, and the church was completed in 1348. The building is a mixture of Italian Gothic and Romanesque Architecture.

The cathedral is built in the Latin cross form with a slightly projected transept. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Siena Cathedral.

34. St. Barbara's Church is now UNESCO protected

St. Barbara's Church is a magnificent example of Gothic Architecture in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. It is one of central Europe's most famous Gothic churches and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Construction work began in 1388 but was not completed until 1905.

The church was intended to be much larger, but construction costs depended on the town's silver mine. These became considerably less productive over time.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
St. Barbara's Church is a magnificent Gothic church.

35. The Rector's Palace, Croatia

The Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik, Croatia, served as the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Rugasa between the 14th and 19th Centuries.

It used to house an armory, powder magazine, watch house, and prison for the town.

The Palace is built in Gothic but also has Renaissance and Baroque elements. The building was severely damaged in 1463 from a gunpowder explosion leading to non-Gothic, Renaissance-style repairs.

Later, earthquakes in the 16th and 17th Centuries would lead to further reconstruction works in the Baroque style.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The Rector's Palace, Croatia.

36. Brussels Town Hall - Masterpiece of Brabantine-Gothic architecture

Brussels' Town Hall is a magnificent Gothic-style building built during the middle ages. It is located on the famous Grand Place in the center of Brussels, Belgium.

It is the only remaining medieval building of the Grand Place. It is also considered a masterpiece of civil Gothic architecture and, more particularly, of Brabantine Gothic.

Construction began in 1402 and was completed in 1420. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Brussels Town Hall.

37. Roskilde Cathedral - The first brick Gothic cathedral

Roskilde Cathedral in the city of Roskilde, Denmark, is a Lutheran church and the first Gothic cathedral built from brick.

Its construction is widely accepted to have encouraged the spread of Brick Gothic Architecture through the north of Europe.

It was built between the 12th and 13th Centuries and is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles. It has been the burial site of Danish Monarchs since the 15th Century.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Roskilde Cathedral inspired the proliferation of Brick Gothic buildings in northern Europe.

38. Bath Abbey - A Grade I listed Gothic abbey

Bath Abbey, or The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is a former Benedictine monastery and former co-cathedral for the city of Bath.

It was founded in the 7th Century, with the current building built between the 12th and 16th Centuries. The building is constructed primarily in Bath stone.

Today, like many buildings of the period, it is a Grade I listed and protected. 

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
Bath Abbey.

39. Palace of Westminster - Seat of the British parliament

The current Palace of Westminster is one of the rare examples of Perpendicular Gothic-inspired architecture during the Gothic Revival in the 19th Century.  

Built between 1840 and 1876, after the previous building was destroyed by fire, it is one of the most iconic landmarks of the United Kingdom.

The existing building was designed by the architect Charles Barry who was explicitly inspired by the English Perpendicular Gothic style of the 14th to 16th Centuries.

It is the seat of political life in Britain and is synonymous with the UK Parliament.

The 39 greatest examples of Gothic architecture worldwide
The Palace of Westminster is and 19th Century take on the Gothic style.

And that is your lot for today.

Gothic architecture is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and creativity of medieval builders. Its striking visual style, intricate details, and innovative engineering inspire awe and admiration to this day. From the soaring spires of Notre Dame to the elaborate carvings of York Minster, Gothic architecture has left an enduring legacy on architecture and art.

As we continue to marvel at its beauty and complexity, we can appreciate the incredible skill and craftsmanship that went into creating these magnificent structures and their enduring impact on our understanding of the past and our appreciation of the present.

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