Heritage in Europe- History often shapes the present and future of cities, and architecture is no exception to this. Architecture has always been influenced by the social, political, economic, and physical conditions of the city. So if Churchill was right about saying that history was written by the victors, then art and architecture are no exception to this concept either.

In a city, the historical buildings have stood the test of time and belonged to the most powerful societies of their times. These structures are often called heritage structures and government officials and activists often take special care to look after these structures. Typically, a heritage building means a structure that requires preservation because of its historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic, or ecological value. These buildings not just tell us history but keep the ancient character of the city alive. Keeping these in mind, one of the best-kept ancient architecture is that of the Roman empire.

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World Map showing the location of Europe_©Freepik

Europe narrates a mesmerizing tale of architecture evolving and changing with time. It is rich in culture and heritage. It is a story of wars, kings, kingdoms, different cultures and traditions, movements and religions, and the people here. Heritage in Europe boasts of a long and strong history that influenced architecture and created a distinct character in the city. The different styles of architecture capture the changing spirit of the changing ages perfectly. We see remnants of structures that were built for sacral purposes, religious purposes, and buildings that were built for the people. As they had a strong belief in the afterlife, structures like tombs and mastabas were quite famous.

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Famous Monuments of Europe_©Rethinking The Future

Europe has made a lasting impact on the architecture of the world. Starting from classical architecture which consisted of the style and design of buildings in ancient Rome and Greece. From the rise of ancient Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire, the concepts and principles of design formulated by them made their impression on the architecture of the world as well. Theories by Marcus Vitruvius, a Roman Architect greatly changed the dynamics of architecture. Vitruvius wrote in his famous treatise De Architectura or Ten Books on Architecture. In his writings, Vitruvius introduced the Classical orders, which defined column styles and entablature designs used in Classical architecture. The earliest Classical orders were Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These styles of columns can be seen to be used in all styles around the world. 

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An Ancient Roman City_©Socks_Studio.com
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A city  map of Rome _©Kayla Baker

The Classical architectural era can be distinguished into Greek (700 to 323 BCE), Hellenistic (323 to 146 BCE), and Roman (44 BCE to 476 CE). The invention of Roman Concrete also helped them in the construction of arches, domes, and vaults. The invention of this material changed the game of construction in the country. 

As the Roman style spread across Europe, the architecture became sturdier and thicker. Vaults and arches were constructed profusely and churches and castles were observed to be built with thick walls and heavy piers. Roman aqueducts were the first structures to transport water from such faraway places.

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Ancient Roman Aqueduct_©National Geographic Society

The early 12th century saw the coming of Gothic architecture, which gave us churches and other public buildings soaring to new heights. Elements like pointed arches were used for openings; flying buttresses were used for supporting the high-rise structures, and stained glass was used in windows and doors. Some of the most famous churches are from this period, including Chartres Cathedral and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in France and Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Adare Friary in Ireland

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Notre Dame in Paris, one of the most notable examples of Gothic architecture_©National Geographic

Original gothic architecture was called the French Style, but after the renaissance, this style had fallen out of fashion. Artisans started to mock this style and coined the term gothic, which suggested that these buildings were the work of German (goth) barbarians. 

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Gothic stylein Rome vaults_©1New Dawn
churchs and cathedrals_©Matadornetwork.com
churchs and cathedrals_©Matadornetwork.com
stained glass_©Travelsignpost.com
stained glass_©Travelsignpost.com

Heritage in Europe – 1400 to 1600 saw the advent of the Renaissance style of architecture. Renaissance means the revival or the rebirth of something and here it was the age of awakening when builders and architects found inspiration in the Classical style of architecture. They had a revived sense of awe for the well-proportioned buildings of the classical era. The early 1600s were the time of Baroque architecture. It was an elaborate and new style of construction that saw bold contrasts, opulent paintings, and lavish ornaments in the design. In Italy, this style was reflected in the construction of churches which had irregularly shaped plans and are heavily ornamented. In France, the Baroque style was combined with the remaining classical style. The baroque style was reflected not just in architecture, but also impacted the music and art domain. 

Heritage in Europe – The 1700s to 1800s was the era when people started going back to the classical style of construction in Europe. It was called the neoclassical age when people started developing nostalgia towards the older structures and started incorporating the classical order and design into their structure. Arts-nouveau or the New style became prevalent in France from 1890 to 1914. These buildings often have asymmetrical designs and shapes.  The style spread to architecture and furniture in the 1890s as a revolt against industrialization turned people’s attention to the natural forms and personal craftsmanship of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It gave a break from the traditional style of architecture, which had mass production of steel, and revolutionized the field of construction. 

Wilbury House in UK_©Hawkley and Dawson
Wilbury House in UK_©Hawkley and Dawson

Heritage in Europe – The 20th and the 21st century have seen dramatic changes and diversity in their design. Art nouveau was a clear step that said that we were done with the classical style and that we were stepping into something new. Modernism is not just a style but it was a way of thinking. This is due to several reasons, but it is appropriately illustrated by a single sentence signed by Louis Sullivan: Form follows function. Modernism made architecture free from ornament.

All the history today makes Europe one of the most sought-after places for tourists, architects, conservationists, etc. People have understood the importance of the preservation of historic structures and the cultural landscape of the place too, which has greatly helped to preserve some iconic masterpieces here. Heritage anywhere must be conserved and for this purpose, many charters and strategies have been drawn up by governments. The Council of Europe declared 1975 the European Architectural Year, leading to the adoption of this Charter, which aims to develop a common European policy for the protection of architectural heritage. Structures are identified, their heritage value is evaluated and then the most important step of preserving them in the best condition possible is done, to keep passing the cultural value and history of the city from generation to generation. 


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Renuka is an Architect and an Urban Designer, based in Bangalore. Her interests lie in understanding public places' role in an Indian context. She has taken an active part in interactive workshops, where the emphasis was placed on the conservation of history in an ever-changing city. Urban design and architecture always tend to pique her interests.