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Norman Architecture

Abbaye-aux-Hommes, Caen. Greencastle, County Down. Castle at Raviscanina: redoubt of the rebel Andrew of Rupecanina.
The Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo. New Romney church tower, an example of English small-town Norman architecture. Durham Cathedral Nave by James Valentine c 1890
A Norman house in Mdina. Winchester Cathedral, an example of Norman architecture in England. A Norman Truss.
The nave of Durham Cathedral demonstrates the characteristic round arched style, though use of shallow pointed arches above the nave is a forerunner of the "Gothic" style.

The term Norman architecture is used to categorise styles of Romanesque architecture developed by the Normans in the various lands under their dominion or influence in the 11th and 12th centuries. They introduced large numbers of castles and fortifications including Norman keeps, and at the same time monasteries, abbeys, churches and cathedrals, in a style characterised by rounded arches (particularly over windows and doorways) and massive proportions.

These Romanesque styles originated in Normandy and became widespread in north western Europe, particularly in England, which contributed considerable development and has the largest number of surviving examples. At about the same time a Norman dynasty ruled in Sicily, producing a distinctive variation incorporating Byzantine and Saracen influences which is also known as Norman architecture, or alternatively as Sicilian Romanesque.

Origin of the term, development into Gothic
The term may have originated with 18th century antiquarians, but its usage in a sequence of styles has been attributed to Thomas Rickman in his 1817 work An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation which used the labels "Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular". The more inclusive term romanesque used of Romance languages in a letter of 1818 by Charles-Alexis-Adrien Duhérissier de Gerville was applied to architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by Gerville's friend Arcisse de Caumont in his Essaie sur l'architecture du moyen âge, particulièrement en Normandie, 1824.

As master masons developed the style and experimented with ways of overcoming the geometric difficulties of groin vaulted ceilings, they introduced features such as the pointed arch which were later characterised as being Gothic in style. Architectural historians and scholars consider that a style must be assessed as an integral whole rather than an aggregate of features, and while some include these developments within the Norman or Romanesque styles, others describe them as transitional or "Norman-Gothic Transitional". A few websites use the term "Norman Gothic", but it is unclear whether they refer to the transitional style or to the Norman style as a whole. [1], [2]

Norman architecture in Normandy
Viking invaders arrived at the mouth of the river Seine in 911, at a time when Franks were fighting on horseback and Frankish lords were building castles. Over the next century the population of the territory ceded to the Vikings, now called Normans, adopted these customs as well as Christianity and the langue d'oïl. Norman Barons built timber castles on earthen mounds, beginning the development of motte-and-bailey castles, and great stone churches in the Romanesque style of the Franks. By 950 they were building stone keeps. The Normans were among the most travelled peoples of Europe, exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences including the Near East, some of which became incorporated in their art and architecture. They elaborated on the Early Christian basilica plan, longitudinal with side aisles and an apse, and a western facade with two towers as at the Church of Saint-Étienne at Caen begun in 1067, which formed a model for the larger English cathedrals beginning some twenty years later.

Norman architecture in England
In England, Norman nobles and bishops had influence before the Norman Conquest of 1066, and Norman influences affected late Anglo-Saxon architecture. Edward the Confessor was brought up in Normandy, and in 1042 brought masons to work on Westminster Abbey, the first Romanesque building in England. In 1051 he brought in Norman knights who built "motte" castles as a defence against the Welsh. Following the invasion Normans rapidly constructed motte-and-bailey castles, and in a burst of building activity built churches and abbeys, as well as more elaborate fortifications including Norman stone keeps.

The buildings show massive proportions in simple geometries, the masonry with small bands of sculpture, perhaps as blind arcading, and concentrated spaces of capitals and round doorways and in the tympanum under an arch. The "Norman arch" is the round arch. Norman mouldings are carved or incised with geometric ornament, such as chevron patterns around arches. The cruciform churches often had deep chancels and a square crossing tower which has remained a feature of English ecclesiastical architecture. Hundreds of parish churches were built and the great English cathedrals were founded from 1083.

After a fire damaged Canterbury Cathedral in 1174 Norman masons introduced the new Gothic architecture. Around 1191 Wells Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral brought in the English Gothic style, and Norman became increasingly a modest style of provincial building.

Religious architecture
Oxford Castle 1074: church tower doubles as a place of refuge
St John's Chapel (ca 1087), Tower of London
Durham Cathedral (from 1093) was the first to employ a ribbed vault system with pointed arches
Winchester Cathedral (from 1079)
Ely Cathedral (1083–1109)
Peterborough Cathedral (from 1118)
Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire
Southwell Minster
Iffley church, Oxford. On a small scale certainly one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England[3]

Military architecture
White Tower (Tower of London)
Rochester Castle

Domestic architecture
Jew's House, Lincoln
Boothby Pagnell Manor, Lincolnshire
Oakham Castle, Rutland
Moyse's Hall Museum Bury St Edmunds Suffolk (c.1180)[4]

Norman architecture in Scotland
Scotland also came under early Norman influence, with Norman nobles at the court of King Macbeth around 1050. His successor Máel Coluim III overthrew him with English and Norman assistance, and his queen Margaret encouraged the Roman Catholic church. The Benedictine order founded a monastery at Dunfermline. Her fourth son who became King David built St. Margaret's Chapel at the start of the 12th century.

Religious architecture
Dunfermline Abbey, Dunfermline (founded about 1070 by St Margaret) grid reference NT089872
St Andrew Cathedral (from about 1070) grid reference NO516166
St. Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh Castle (early 12th century) grid reference NT252735
Dalmeny parish church (from about 1130) grid reference NT144775
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (from about 1137) grid reference HY449112
Jedburgh Abbey, Jedburgh (founded about 1138 by David I) grid reference NT650204
St Athernase Church, Leuchars (12th century) grid reference NO455215and they ate pie

Norman architecture in Ireland
The Normans settled mostly in an area in the east of Ireland, later known as the Pale, and constructed many Norman buildings including Trim Castle, Co. Meath , Swords Castle in Fingal (North Co. Dublin), and Dublin Castle.

Norman architecture in Italy

The Normans began constructing castles, their trademark architectural piece, in Italy from an early date. William Iron Arm built one at an unidentified location (Stridula) in Calabria in 1045. After the death of Robert Guiscard in 1085, peninsular southern Italy experienced a series of civil wars and fell under the control of increasingly weaker princes. Revolts characterised the region until well into the twelfth century and minor lords sought to resist ducal or royal power from within their own castles. In the Molise, the Normanas embarked on their most extensive castle-building programme. There they introduced the opus gallicum technique to Italy.

Besides the encastellation of the countryside, the Normans erected several religious buildings which still survive. They edified the shrine at Monte Sant'Angelo and built a mausoleum to the Hauteville family at Venosa. They also built many new Latin monasteries, including the famous foundation of Sant'Eufemia.


Sicily's Norman period lasted from circa 1070 until about 1200, debatable perhaps until the demise of Frederick II, in 1250, so can approximately be equated with the same period in England. Similar in many ways to the Norman architecture which evolved in England and northern France it also incorporated certain Byzantine influences. These Byzantine motifs were particularly obvious in the interiors of certain churches where the traditional Norman altar tribunes were decorated in gilded mosaics such as that at the cathedral at Monreale. The Palatine Chapel in Palermo built in 1130 is the perhaps the strongest example of this where the interior of the dome (itself a Byzantine feature) is decorated in mosaic depicting Christ Pantocrator accompanied by his angels.

During Sicily's later Norman era early Gothic influences can de detected such as those in the cathedral at Messina consecrated in 1197. However, here the high Gothic campanile is of a later date, and should not be confused with the early Gothic built during the Norman period, which featured pointed arches and windows rather than the flying buttresses and pinnacles later to manifest themselves in the Gothic era.

After its Norman conquest in 1091, Malta saw the construction of several still-surviving Norman pieces of architecture. Fortresses and houses still exist in Mdina and Vittoriosa.