Romanesque – ‘Kind of Roman’

This week you will do a short research and writing assignment, to practice for the final research project due at the end of Week 15.

From the references in this module, choose a specific work of Romanesque Architecture – a Monastery, Castle or Pilgrimage Church. Describe how your example drew inspiration from ancient Roman architecture, but put it to a new use. Use the prompt below to get you started. Include links to your academic sources and an image of the architecture you have chosen. Your text should be between 250 – 300 words and should:

  • Identify the work of Romanesque Architecture – Name, location, date, building type
  • Describe specific elements common to Romanesque and Roman architecture
  • Analyze how your chosen Romanesque architecture differs from ancient Roman architecture
  • Explain why the new Romanesque work changed to fit a new social need or use
  • Draw a conclusion about how architecture evolves in response to changing needs


Romanesque architecture is more than just a copy of the architecture of the Roman Empire. It was a response to the massive reorganization of society after the fall of the Roman Empire. As Europe emerged from the economic and social contraction that followed the fall of Rome, confidence, productivity and communication networks grew. State power became concentrated in the Church of Rome, and its network of monasteries, in partnership with the secular and military power of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (encompassing most of Western Europe). A unified society in an ordered world under a single religious model again seemed attainable.

Romanesque architecture involved the rediscovery of ancient building techniques. Ancient Roman buildings throughout Europe provided a model for what was technologically possible. But, while the monumental arch and vault, the massive stone walls, and the scale of construction were eventually matched by medieval builders, the purpose to which they were put was quite different: 

  • Monasteries started as remote places of religious retreat and their successful, idealized model turned them into the administrative centers for extended religious and secular communities that comprised the Holy Roman Empire.
  • The medieval castle, which started as a simple defensive stronghold, evolved into a political, economic, and military machine supported by the feudal system.
  • Pilgrimage churches adapted the traditional basilica format to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims visiting relics and the liturgical needs of the clergy. 

How much does Romanesque Architecture really owe to its ancient Roman precedents?