Polish Gothic Architecture: History & Characteristics

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

This lesson explores the Polish Gothic architecture. You'll learn about the main characteristics of this medieval style and discover some remarkable religious, military and civic examples of this period of Polish architecture.

History of Polish Gothic Architecture

Take a look at the picture.

Olsztyn Castle in Poland
Olsztyn Castle in Poland

The image might make you think about medieval times. That's because the picture features a Gothic castle in Poland. Those castles, with their distinctive steep red gable roofs and tall brick walls, were built during the Gothic period of Polish architecture. Gothic architecture has always inspired legends and tales, and it is probably one of the most remembered styles of the Medieval Period, also known as the Middle Ages.

The Gothic style evolved from the Romanesque style and arrived in Poland with the Franciscan and Dominican orders during the first half of the 13th century. It was a time of prosperity for the lands of Poland, so the style flourished widely and was adopted not only by the church for cathedrals but also by governors for civic and military constructions, including new castles, town halls, wall gates, and even houses. The diverse uses set Gothic architecture in Poland apart from Gothic architecture in other parts of Europe. The style continued to evolve until the late 15th century when the Renaissance arrived.

Characteristics of Polish Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture brought new ideas and constructive elements that deeply changed the aspect of buildings and gave origin to many of its representative characteristics. One of the most important design concepts introduced was the sense of verticality, especially in religious buildings. It was an interpretation of the search for God, with the idea that a taller building will be closer to heaven and thus closer to God.

The pointed arch was another constructive element used in Polish Gothic architecture. It served the aesthetic purpose of enhancing the vertical aspect of the building, and it also helped constructively to better distribute the weight. Sometimes the pointed arches were used merely as decoration for the facades.

Vault ceilings continued to be used in Gothic architecture, but they became the cross-ribbed vault. This type of vault was reinforced with ribs, making the roof lighter and allowing for more open space. As Gothic architecture evolved, the vaults became objects of art, incorporating very complex and diverse designs.

In the construction of churches and cathedrals, we often see the use of buttresses. These constructive elements were incorporated as a structural reinforcement to support the weight of the roof without needing thick massive walls. It allowed for more space for windows on the facades. In Poland, it was usually attached to the walls, although there are some examples of flying buttresses, very characteristic from French Gothic.

In Poland, Gothic architecture combined the new techniques and constructive elements coming from Western Europe with traditions from the Central European tribes, also known as Teutons. That combination made Polish Gothic architecture very unique and created a lasting image of medieval constructions. One traditional element that continued to be used was the gable roof. The roofs were often very steep in order to prevent snow from accumulating and increasing the total weight of the structure. Roofs were covered with clay roof tiles or slate tiles.

Brick continued to be used as the main construction material. This traditional material was used for all types of constructions, and only small details were made out of stone. In southern Poland, there are a few examples of stone constructions, but brick was usually the material used.

Examples of Polish Gothic Architecture

Let's look at a few examples of Polish Gothic architecture.

Castles, Gates and Military Buildings

Kwidzyn Castle (Kwidzyn, 1233)

Kwidzyn Castle is a great example of Polish Gothic castles. The arch is widely used in the composition, both for constructive and aesthetic purposes. The construction has traditional Teutonic characteristics like the use of brick and the steep gable roofs with clay roof tiles.

Kwidzyn Castle
Kwidzyn Castle

Bishop Castle (Lidzbark Warminski, 1401)

Bishop Castle is made from brick and has a regular rectangular shape with steep gable roofs. The pointed arch was used and defensive towers were built on each corner.

Bishop Castle in Lidzbark Warminski
Bishop Castle in Lidzbark Warminski

Civic Buildings

Torun Old Town Hall (Torun, 1274)

As was the case with most Polish Gothic buildings, Torun Old Town Hall is made out of brick and has a gable roof. It also has a pointed arch.

Old Town Hall of Torun
Old Town Hall of Torun

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