The word Gothic, when used in context and in describing the type of architecture seen during the late medieval period in Europe, can be pointed to be directly related to some discernable architectural features seen in a cathedral or church. Gothic architecture evolved to be the most known and most common type of architecture seen in European churches and abbeys. In describing Gothic architecture, primarily in churches, one must look for some structures and characteristics present on these types of buildings.
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The first one is the pointed arch, which is thought to be of an Islamic origin, where mosques are filled with small and slender pointed arches. This is very different from other types of churches, such as those of Greek and Roman temples where arches are usually almost flat, following the roof or ceiling of the structure. Another is the presence of ribbed vaults in Gothic cathedrals. These vaults function as supports, and the Gothic architecture exploits these ribs in their construction of structures. There are a lot of Gothic churches containing ribbed vaults as their primary roof support. Some even lacks inner pillars, relying on the vaults alone as support for wooden roofs. Basilicas and other kinds of cathedrals also contain vaults, but they are semi-circular in shape. The unique interlocking property of Gothic vaults makes it appropriate in supporting odd-designed roofs, such as trapezoids.
Finally, as a third of the important features of Gothic architecture, flying buttresses are added. Their main function is to provide additional support on the vaults. The load lies on the top of the buttresses, so one can remove the bottom area, creating an arc-shaped structure capable of supporting the same amount of load. This gives the buttress a feel of flying, and provides the same support for much less materials. The spaces made by the buttresses also allow more light to enter the building in a very fashionable way.
A very famous Gothic cathedral is the Orvieto Cathedral found in Italy. It, together with other Gothic churches can be easily compared to a castle. It has “wings”, all with pointed tops and sharply pointed arches. There is a large “rose window” in the front, a circular glass opening and gold plated mosaics. This window is again common in all Gothic cathedrals, although they differ in shape, size and design. The interior is designed perfectly, with the vaults on the side acting as pillars to the almost triangular roof. Inside, pointed arches are still scattered around the entrances and exits.
Gothic churches are very interesting to study, since they embodied a mixture of great architecture with great art. The features discussed above not only decorate the overall look and design of these churches; they also improve on the structures stability and durability. Over all, Gothic architecture took cathedral building in a totally new level.
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