Tedo Dundua, D.Sc. (Hist.), associate professor, Institute of History of Georgia, lecturer at the Institute of Europe, deputy dean of the Faculty of the Humanities, the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia).

Nino Silagadze, Ph.D. (Hist.), art historian, visiting lecturer at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia).



The history of the united Europe idea has come to the fore in the context of the European Unions obvious pull to the East. Today, public interest is not limited to the history of the political and economic integration of European countriesit goes much further, to the development of cultural integration zones inside the European home. The past of the European continent suggests that they practically coincide with the political and economic forms of European integration. This article covers the history of monumental architectural styles of Western and Eastern Europe and compares them with various forms of European unity.


The history of Western and Eastern Europe, two of todays integration zones, goes back to hoary antiquity. From time immemorial Christianity has been one of the most important and highly visual symbols of European affiliation while the continents division into West and East was confirmed by the countries confessional affiliation to Western and Eastern Christianity. The Catholic and Protestant countries, on the one side, and the Orthodox world, on the other, constitute two cultural communities with a rich history behind them. The present trend, which leads to a unified Europe, is the most important feature of Europes cultural development. Georgia, and the Caucasus as a whole, has a place of its own in East European integration and, via this, in the common European home. The history of monumental architecture in this region belongs to the same problem range.

Why is the history of architectural styles in Europe especially important in the integration context? Architecture, monumental architecture in particular, is part of the economic landscape of any country or region to a much greater extent than any other art. This means that it is much more closely associated than any other type of human creative effort with political and economic ideas embraced by those who call themselves Europeans.

Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Style of Monumental Architecture

The history of Christian monumental architecture goes back to the 4th-5th centuries, yet the official status of Christianity was conducive to a cosmopolitan style of sorts in art, and in architecture as its part. Stylistic unification makes Christian architecture typologically close to antiquity and sets it apart from the stylistically varied architecture of the Ancient East.

In the 4th century, when the Roman Empire fell apart, its Eastern provinces became the cradle of a new style of monumental architecture. At this stage (represented by the Early Christian art of Byzantium) the elements of Ancient Roman tradition, on the one hand, and the elements inherited from the architecture of the Empires oriental fringes, on the other, were easily discernable. This structure (which a casual observer may call dual) cannot conceal the main thing: Byzantine art was the heir to antiquity genetically connected with Late Roman art (in architecture this genetic kinship is confirmed by basilicas and central-plan buildings, groined vaults, domes, similar construction techniques, etc.).1

The monastery church at Daphne. Greece, 11th century

This time is marked by the popularity of the domed cultic constructions visible across the Orthodox world (the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean countries). The obvious bias toward architectural central plan (that predominated in the absolute majority of churches) and the highly developed dome forms and groined vaults in general can be described as special features of the Byzantine or Mediterranean-Black Sea style.2

Church in Katskhi, Georgia, 10th century

The fact that the domed construction came to the fore in East Christian architecture after a fairly short period of domination by the basilica form is worth special mention.3 What can be called the basilica stage in Byzantium and the Caucasus remained popular in the 4th and 5th centuries when there were no clear stylistic divisions between the architectural styles of the Western and Eastern parts of the former Roman Empire. Rome and Ravenna in the West and Constantinople, Asia Minor, Syria, North Africa, Caucasian Albania, Georgia, and Armenia in the East are classical examples of the early Christian basilica. They stand side by side with circular shaped cultic objects of simple central-plan forms: rotundas, the Greek cross, etc.

The Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin on the Nerl River, Russia, 12th century, reconstruction

Under Justinian the situation in the Eastern Christian world (represented by the Byzantine Empire and the Christian states of the Transcaucasus) evolved toward the central-plan forms that gradually moved to the fore in cultic architecture; they were represented either by pure (central-dome buildings) or synthetic (domed basilica) forms. The latter is a splendid achievement of Byzantine architecture: a cross between the Basilica Maxentius and the domed Parthenon was unthinkable in antiquity. St. Sophia in Constantinople bears witness to the extreme fruitfulness of the idea.4

The above suggests that the architecture of the East European integration zone (represented at its earliest stage by Byzantium and the Caucasus) demonstrated a two-stage development pattern:

(a) the 4th-5th centuries dominated by the basilica;

(b) the 5th-6th centuries when domed buildings came to the fore to remain unchanged throughout the lifespan of the Byzantine style.

This can easily be traced in the architectural forms of Constantinople, the Balkan and Eastern provinces,5 Georgia,6 Caucasian Albania, and Armenia. In the vast integration zone of Eastern Europe exceptions were inevitable. This relates primarily to the areas which embraced Christianity much later and which, therefore, developed monumental architecture in the 9th-10th centuries and in some cases in the 11th-12th centuries. We have in mind Russia and the Southern Slavs who missed the earliest (basilica) stage. The Hellenistic basilicas dated to the 9th-10th centuries scattered across Bulgaria are the only exception in the Slavic world. All other more or less important earliest Christian architectural monuments found in this country belong to the synthesized cross-dome type of church architecture borrowed from the contemporary architectural schools of Constantinople and Thessaloniki. This means that the Slavic countries joined the common East European home somewhat later.

Western Europe and its Specific Integration Style

A unified stylistic complex of any economic-geographical region is a logical phenomenon; it serves as the cornerstone of the large, epoch-making architectural styles that spread to countries bonded by zonal and confessional principles. Domed buildings were the hallmark of the Byzantine or Mediterranean-Black Sea style. Western Europe developed its own style, which reached its summit in the Romanesque and Gothic periods. It has nothing in common with the style popular in Byzantium and the countries in its sphere of influence. The Romanesque and Gothic styles mainly originated from France.7 Here we shall discuss them as a single phenomenon because of certain shared characteristics (geography of genesis and distribution, the typological range, other stylistic features, etc.).

The Amiens Cathedral. France. 12th century

The main distinguishing feature of the Byzantine style is the domed forms absent from the Romanesque-Gothic architecture. In Western Europe church architecture was dominated by the so-called Latin basilica. The process of the eviction of the domed forms from the typological range of the new barbarian states (earlier accepted in Western Europe under Roman and Byzantine influence) is easy to trace. The central-plan buildings quite frequent under the Merovingians (the 7th-8th centuries) and Carolingians (the 8th-9th centuries)8 became an exception in the Romanesque period (the 9th-11th centuries) limited to certain peripheral non-classical schools only to completely disappear during the Gothic period (12th-15th centuries). The domed churches reached their peak of popularity during the Crusades: Europe imitated, with enthusiasm, some of the cultic buildings in Jerusalem (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and others being pertinent examples).9

The Parma Baptistery, Italy. 12th century

Both the West European and the East European integration zones are rooted in antiquity even though the young barbarian states that had established themselves on the ruins of the Roman Empire and drew on late Roman traditions frequently turned to Byzantine architecture. The traces of the Byzantine influence in West European architecture indicate the still far from fully developed West. In the Romanesque period the West freed itself from this influence (in the case of architecture this is confirmed by the noticeably fewer central-plan buildings). The opposition to the East developed the Romanesque style into its classical form.

The above suggests that the two architectural styles correspond to the two main European integration zones: Byzantine in Eastern Europe and Romanesque-Gothic in Western Europe.

Italy with its somewhat dualistic architectural style stands apart: up to the Renaissance it had been developing both the basilica and central-plan forms. There were neither classical, Romanesque, nor Gothic schoolsItaly created its own highly specific Gothic style (it was an Italian who coined the term Gothic to describe the architecture beyond the Alps); on the other hand, it never forgot the late Roman traditions of domed buildings.

Baroque as a Common European Integration Style

Both the Byzantine and Romanesque-Gothic styles remained popular until the 15th century when Gothic entered its last stage of development. In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, yet the Byzantine style remained popular by momentum in some of the East European countries (Georgia, Armenia, Russia, etc.), although its end was just around the corner. Gothic was also retreating from its position in Western Europe; the Renaissance and later Baroque moved in to change the face of Europe beyond recognition.

Tempietto, Italy, 16th century

The Renaissance and Baroque were universal styles that covered vast expansesthis was their main feature. The Renaissance architecture quickly conquered France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain while Baroque moved even further, to Eastern Europe and even far-away Russia.

The European capitals and cathedrals acquired a more or less unified, European, style. Baroque changed the image of many cities: Rome, Paris, and London; St. Petersburg acquired new buildings that very much resembled what had already been built elsewhere. Compare St. Pauls Cathedral in London, the Panthéon and Hotêl des Invalides in Paris, the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, the Cathedral of San Isidro el Real in Madrid, and the Lisbon Cathedral.

European architectural styles reached the Caucasus, and Georgia as its part, much later, in the 19th century.


To sum up, we can say that Europe is most aptly described in cultural-geographic terms: this definition describes Europe in a much wider sense than its geographic definition alone. Since antiquity the Caucasus has been and remains a target of European integration; this is even more correct if we take into account that the region belongs to the European architectural context.

1 See: S. Kaufman, O vzaimosviaziakh rannevizantiyskikh svodchatykh perekrytiy s pozdenrimskimi, in: Vizantiyskiy vremennik XX, Moscow, 1961, pp. 214-215. Back to text
2 See: J. Boshkovich, Soobrazhenia o vzaimootnosheniiakh mezdu srednevekovoy arkhitekturoy i skulpturoy Gruzii i Sredizemnomoria, in: II mezhdunarodnyy simposium po gruzinskomu iskusstvu, Tbilisi, 1977, pp. 42-43. Back to text
3 See: G. Chubinashvili, K voprosu o nachalnoy forme khristianskogo khrama, in: II mezhdunarodnyy simposium po gruzinskomu iskusstvu, p. 3; Kh. Faenzen, K voprosu o zarozhdenii arkhitetury tserkvey s krestoobraznym osnovaniem i tsentralnym kupolom, in: II mezhdunarodnyy simposium po armianskomu iskusstvu, Erevan, 1981, pp. 200-201; G. Chubinashvili, Arkhitektura Kakhetii, Tbilisi, 1959. Back to text
4 See: K. Afanasiev, Geometricheskiy analiz khrama Sophii v Konstantinopole, in: Vizantiyskiy vremennik V, Moscow, 1962, p. 207; J.D. Alchermes, Art and Architecture in the Age of Justinian, in: The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 343-375; R.G. Mainstone, Hagia Sophia: Architecture, Structure and Liturgy of Justinians Great Church, London, 1998. Back to text
5 See: D.T. Rice, The Art of the Byzantine Era, London, 1985. Back to text
6 See: G. Chubinashvili, Gruzinskoe iskusstvo VIII-IX vv., ego kharakter i istoricheskoe mesto, in: N. Chubinashvili, Samshvildskiy Zion, Tbilisi, 1989, pp. 46-50; P. Zakaraia, Georgian Central-Dome Architecture of the 11th-18th Centuries, Tbilisi, 1975 (in Georgian). Back to text
7 See: The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe, ed. by G. Holmes, Oxford, 1992. Back to text
8 See: J. Beckwith, Early Medieval Art, London, 1964. Back to text
9 See: P. Frankl, Problema Vostoka v romanskom stile, in: Istoria arkhitektury v izbrannykh otryvkakh, Moscow, 1935, pp. 285-289. Back to text

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