Architecture as a product of culture, history, science, technology, economics, society, religion, and state
FIVE THOUSAND YEARS OF ARCHITECTURE AND CITY PLANNING IN THE WESTERN WORLD
A journey through five thousand years of architecture and urban planning in the Western world
© HILA BERLINER
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Each generation writes its autobiography in the buildings it creates.
Friday, December 3, 2010
MEDIEVAL ARCHITECTURE Introduction
In the Middle Ages art was regarded as an occupation not necessarily intended to create beautiful things or fun. To the seven free arts have been added since the 13th century, seven sciences called "mechanicae", which were less appreciated. Among these was architecture. Free art related to free people who did not have to make a living from work, leaving them free time for thinking.
The perception of art did not exist in the sense that we know it today. Art was called "ars" meaning "a technique of making things", a word deriving from the word arete. meaning "excellence" in Greek. French architect Mignot, who helped the Italians in building the Cathedral of Milan, said, as Isidore of Seville (560-636) wrote, that practical work (architecture) without science (geometry), cannot exist (ars sine scientia nihil est) . Likewise, he said that the architect should be very much familiar with both (practical work and science). In contrast, the Italian architects said, "Theory is one thing and practice is another" (scientia est unum et ars est aliud).
Apart from the Christian faith, medieval culture combines the Greco-Roman tradition and the German Celtic spirit of the "barbarians", as the Romans called them. A building of architectural importance was generally associated with religious worship. Except for isolated cases, the church building was the most important building in the community. Built of stone, its chances of survival were high. Very little has survived of the public buildings which were not built for religious purpose, which is why the source of our knowledge of medieval architecture is the church.
Early Christian period and Byzantine architecture - since Christianity was recognized as an official religion in the fourth century to the middle of the sixth century.
Carolingian architecture - from the middle of the eighth century until the tenth century.
Ottonian Architecture from the mid-tenth century until the mid-eleventh century.
Romanesque architecture - from the middle of the eleventh century until the middle of the twelfth century.
Gothic architecture - from the middle of the twelfth century to the fifteenth century, and until the 16th century in Italy and to the north of the Alps.
The Symbolic Perception in Medieval Architecture
The transition from the architecture of antiquity to that of the Middle Ages, presents the progressive abandonment of classical forms in favor of a style based on the principles of Christian faith. Pagan buildings have been altered to suit the requirements of Christian ritual. Medieval architecture, more than architecture of any other time, is the direct result of the spirit of its time. Architectural symbols had a central role in creating a connection between the divine and the human.
Medieval conception of truth was different from ours today. No studies were carried out to get to the truth. In the medieval spirit, beyond the exterior of everything, there was a hidden symbolic meaning. Architecture, sculpture and decoration come together to perfection, and reflect the worldview of the period.
Hierarchy on earth represented the heavenly hierarchy. In the structure of the Christian church we can detect horizontal and vertical hierarchy. The horizontal is leading the believer from the entrance of the church located generally in the western side of the church, to the apse (semicircular niche) at the east end, which is the top of the hierarchy. The vertical hierarchy leading up the eyes of the believers from the floor of the church which represents the earth which is in the bottom of the hierarchy to the ceiling - heaven, the head of the hierarchy.
Medieval scholars, particularly scholars of the city of Chartres in France, were obsessed with math, especially geometry. Science of numbers was seen by them as the science of the world and the key to its secret. In the architecture of the great churches and cathedrals, Christian symbolism was mixed with the revelation of the world's laws of geometry and became a "sacred geometry".
Mathematics also expressed the relations between music and architecture. Pythagoras already presented direct relationship between musical notes and mathematical ratios. The basic principle in this context is the vibration of the string length translated into the mathematical ratio of 1:1. If the string will be shortened by half the ratio will be 1:2. Thus, one can create ratios such as 1:3, 1:4 and so on. A building designed according to ideal proportions echoes the harmony of the world and reflects the divine order.
According to Christian mystics like St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the night represents the devil, and light is associated with eternity. A Guide of the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, from 1139, attributed to Aymery Picaud De Partenay the old, compares the human body to the church. The main nave of the church is the the body, and the trancepts (the short arms in the crossed ground plan of the church) are the hands. The Church was built in human scale.
At a time when most of the population could not read and write and literary images were strangers to it, architectural symbolism naturally represented the structure of the world. The cathedral symbolized the world and the cosmic order. Its interior, the dome, the altar and chapels represented the structure of the world. Similarly, the details were filled with symbolic meaning. The believer saw in the cathedral the beauty and harmony of God's creation.
The location of the apse in the east is associated with the perception of the sun god in ancient times as representing truth and justice, as he who nothing is hidden from his eyes when he makes his daily journey in the sky.
The east had already been sanctified by the ancient Egyptians, and the Persians worshiped the sun and prayed facing east. The word "mizrach" (in Hebrew meaning "east") in the Bible indicates dawn - the appearance of light, while the west indicates the disappearance of light. The mystical meaning of the word "mizrach" is "enlightenment". According to the Bible, the terrestrial paradise is found in the east – "and the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east" (Genesis, 2:8). The doors of the world of death, Hades, according to Greek mythology, are in the West.
The connection between universal harmony and the temple, is very ancient. Architects in Egypt and Mesopotamia, Cabbalists and Neo-Pythagoreans also dealt with it.