Romanesque culture flourished in the Christian West between the 11th and 12th centuries and even the 13th, depending on the country. They are forms and techniques already used before but are now being used in a new spirit. The Romanesque is, above all, an architectural art. Painting and sculpture are commonly conceived as organic parts of the building.
The constructive experiences of the Germanic kingdoms before the 11th century (especially Carolingian and Ottonian), the Islamic and Byzantine influences, and contributions, together with the Roman architectural tradition, define the multiple regional varieties Romanesque culture. According to the moment and the regions, the existence of a great diversity of proposals makes it difficult to speak of an ideal Romanesque building model.
Three driving forces behind Romanesque culture
1. Materials and walls:
The construction system is based on a very particular type of very thick wall, made up of two walls made with rope facing and ashlar stain and an intermediate void that is filled with rubble, based on sand or masonry. From this derives, in principle, the importance of the stone, which depends on obtaining it, will have varied polychromes, which influences the appearance of the buildings.
2. The foundations and plant:
They are deep and allow us to know if they are preserved, many of the aspects of the construction if it has disappeared. Romanesque culture uses basilical plants (used by Romans and Byzantines), although Latin cross plants predominate, usually with three naves, the central one being taller and wider (usually double) than the lateral ones.
The intersection point of the central nave with the cross’s smaller arms, called the transept (early Christian origin), gives rise to the transept, where the dome is located. The apses are multiplied at the end of the naves and, at times, there are apsidioles and an ambulatory or ambulatory at the end of the main apse or head, which allows one to wander around the main altar. The church’s whole is usually completed with two twin towers (ascending direction) that flank the entrance. Sometimes the church is part of an abbey or monastery.
3. The arches, the supporting elements, and the roofs:
Romanesque culture is characterized by semicircular arches (already used in Rome) in the openings. This arch needs to be molded to gain depth and reinforce it (also due to the desire to enrich it), with another complementary arch. All this results in the characteristic flared openings that can be seen indoors and windows. At the end of the Romanesque, in some temples, the pointed or pointed arch, typical of the Gothic, begins to be used.
The powerful Benedictine order of Cluny contributes enormously to Romanesque culture’s vast expansion, as we have said before. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Cluny’s black monks undertook the construction of many monasteries and churches that line the pilgrimage routes. These buildings mark the different stages where pilgrims can rest and comfort both body and spirit by venerating the relics that, like true treasures, each church jealously guards.
Innumerable Romanesque castles, churches, and monasteries still stand out today in the European landscape, from southern Italy to Scandinavia, which, although subjected to disturbances, political divisions, etc., undoubtedly possessed a strong cultural unity.
The Carolingian and Romanesque buildings’ most notable characteristic is their combination of the solid enclosure (the solid predominates over the span) with a strong vertical direction (towers, dome). Thus, for the first time in culture’s history, the tower becomes a first-class formal element.
Another of the basic properties of Romanesque culture is the rhythmic articulation of space. Thus, the peculiar and characteristic way the building’s architectural elements are combined is highlighted. All this, together with the adoption of new techniques that make possible constructions unsuspected until now, and the new mentality of the time, make up Romanesque culture.
The origin of the Romanesque culture is not very clear. It is known that it was born in France, but it will be configured with a series of very varied precedents: early Christian, Roman, Byzantine, Carolingian, Asturian, etc.