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
One of the earliest buildings ever to feature these elements is the Abbey of Saint-Denis (included below) in Paris. So-called high Gothic years (Mid 13th to 14th Centuries) were ushered in with the construction of the Chartres Cathedral (also included below) in France.
It would be the French who would excel in this form throughout the period. The British, Spanish and Germans would follow suit and develop their own variations on the general Gothic theme.
Italian variations on Gothic Architecture would stand out from the rest of Europe by its use of brick and marble rather than the stone of other nations. The Late Gothic Period (15th Century onwards) would reach its peak in Germany with their magnificent vaulted hall churches.
In the following article, we'll explore 39 magnificent examples of Gothic Architecture from around Europe.
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 again in the 1840's with its final completion in 1880 to the original plans. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It also has the second tallest spires which are 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 large tank battle between German and American divisions in March of 1945. After the war, the cathedral underwent extensive repair works a process ongoing to this day.
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 bulk of the construction wasn't completed until well into the 19th Century in 1865. Building work was further stalled during WW2, thanks to allied bombing of Milan.
The building in its current form was finally completed in 1965. Construction was initially very rapid with half the cathedral actually 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.
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 that was 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, 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.
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 went through 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.
5. Canterbury Cathedral, England - The Cathedral of Canterbury
Canterbury is one of the oldest cathedrals in England. It has a long history that can be traced back to the 6th Century.
The original church was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077 with the east end being 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 finally settle a long-held dispute between the two men.
It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
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 per year. 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 which was 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.
7. Salisbury Cathedral - The Home of the Magna Carter
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 both the UK and democratic nations at large, one of the original copies of the Magna Carter is housed there.
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 the John the Baptist. The relic was brought to Amiens from Constantinople after it was 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 is pretty much unchanged since then. Today it is both a place of pilgrimage and a major tourist attraction.
It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is said to house the tunic of the Virgin Mary.
10. The Duomo: The Cathedral of Florence by Brunelleschi
Florence Cathedral, aka the Duomo, dominates the skyline of Florence. It is most famed for its incredible brick dome that is 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 it is still a mystery how he did it.
It is one of Italy's largest churches and its dome is still the biggest brick dome ever built.
11. The Black Church, Romania - Important Lutheran Place of Worship
The Black Church is a magnificent Gothic church in Brasov, Transylvania. It was originally built by the German community of the city and it 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 largest and most important Lutheran places of worship in the area.
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 actually 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 was seen as a symbol of unity for Germany, notably during the 19th Century.
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 literally dominates the city. It dates from around the 13th to 15th Centuries.
Its tower is still the cities tallest structure standing at 115 meters. Till 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 Nazi's in 1944.
14. Leuven Town Hall, Belgium was bombed during WW2
Built in the later Gothic Architecture style, Leuven Town Hall is a landmark in the city of Leuven and Belgium in general. 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 works in the 19th Century. It completely survived the devastation of WW1 but was struck by a bomb in WW2. It was not until 1983 that repairs were completed.
15. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the most eminent Gothic edifice in Austria
St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna is widely considered as the most eminent Gothic edifice in the entire city. Currently, it houses a large proportion of Vienna's art treasures.
Its existing form is actually a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic forms. was built in 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 down their shops ahead of Soviet troops entering the city.
16. Belfry of Ghent, Belgium
The Belfry of Ghent is the tallest one in Belgium today and is one of three medieval towers that overlook the city.
It stands at 91 meters tall and is built in the Gothic style of architecture. Construction began in 1313.
It was designed by master mason Jan van Haelst and was completed in 1380.
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 stye southeast of the Alps.
The entire building is typically Gothic, especially its sacristy which is highly valued as a piece of architecture. The original building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242, but it was rebuilt a few years later.
The cathedral was later fortified just prior to 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.
18. St. Sophia Cathedral, Northen Cyprus is now a Mosque
St. Sophia Cathedral in Nicosia, Northern Cyprus, is the largest and oldest surviving Gothic church in Cyprus.
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 the Sultan Selim II who led the previous conquest of Cyprus.
19. Saint Vitus Cathedral - The largest cathedral in Prague
Saint Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most eminent cathedral in Prague, 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 of the building began in 1344 with all additional works being completed as late as 1929.
20. Lincoln Cathedral - A Treasure of England
Lincoln Cathedral is widely thought of as 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 over several phases throughout the middle ages until 1311. It used to be the tallest building in the world until 1549 until its central spire collapsed.
It is the third largest cathedral in Britain and is highly regarded by architectural scholars and tourists alike.
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 and buttresses and glided stone figures, as well as towers placed beyond its sides.
22. Orvieto Cathedral - Stands on an Old Volcano
Orvieto Cathedral in Orvieto, Umbria is one of the most iconic Gothic cathedrals in Italy. 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 in nature.
23. Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona, Catalonia, Spain
Catalonia's Monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona is a Cistercian abbey situated in Urgell in Spain. It was founded in the 12th Century and is one of the most important monasteries in the region.
It represents, like some others on the list, a transition between Romanesque and Gothic Architecture. It was officially made a Spanish national monument in 1931.
24. Church of Our Lady of Breda - 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. One of its most prominent features is 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.
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 had suffered heavy damage during the Battle of Mir in 1812. After trading hands through various marriages reconstruction began in 1895.
Between 1921 and 1939, the castle actually belonged to Polish family until the Soviet Union occupied the area in 1939.
During WW2, it was used a Jewish ghetto by German forces after they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
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.
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 many centuries. It was originally 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.
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 1800's.
Corvin Castle featured in the video game Age of Empires II as the wonder of the Magyr civilization.
29. Zvolen Castle - 14th Century Gothic Castle
Zvolen Castle in Slovakia is a medieval castle located on the hill near the Zvolen in Central Slovakia.
It was mainly built in 14th Century in the Gothic Architecture style and was heavily influenced by Italian castles of the same period.
30. Wawel Cathedral - Crowning Polish Kings for 900 Years
The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill, or Wawel Cathedral for short, is a fantastic example of Gothic Architecture.
It is more than 900 years old and is the traditional site of Polish Monarch coronations. The current building is the third edifice of the site and was built in the 14th Century after previous incarnations were destroyed.
31. 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 is the capital of the Stargard County since 1999.
Before WW2, the town belonged to Prussia, Germany. Many of its historical buildings, including fine Gothic Architecture, were destroyed during heavy bombing during WW2.
Some of the more important buildings, like St. Mary's Church, have since been rebuilt. Yet others did survive the onslaught.
One example is the exquisite Gothic Tenement houses of the town.
32. Napolean Bonaparte once wanted to keep the Church of St. Anne
St. Anne's Church is a beautiful Roman Catholic church in the Vilnius Town in Lithuania. It is often cited as a great example of both the Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic Architecture style.
The church is a very prominent landmark in the old town and this part of the town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was built in around 1500 after the previous wooden church burnt down in 1419.
Legend has it that Napolean Bonaparte after seeing the church during the Franco-Prussian War of 1812 wanted to take it home to Paris "in the palm of his hand".
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.
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 the most famous Gothic churches in central Europe 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.
35. The Rector's Palace, Croatia
The Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik in Croatia used to serve 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 the Gothic style but also has Renaissance and Baroque elements to it. The building was badly 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.
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 as a masterpiece of civil Gothic architecture and more particularly of Brabantine Gothic.
Construction began in 1402 and was completed in 1420.
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 to 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.
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 primarily built in Bath stone.
Today, like many buildings of the period is a Grade I listed and protected.
39. Palace of Westminster - Seat of 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 specifically 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.
So there you go 39 great examples of Gothic Architecture. Have we missed any important ones? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below.