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Romanesque Revival: Architecture & Style

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

You're probably heard the phrase, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.' During the 19th century, architects embraced the concept of, 'build as the Romans do.' In this lesson, you will learn about the architecture of the Romanesque Revival.

What Does It Mean to Be Romanesque?

First things first, what does the word 'Romanesque' mean? If you break the word into its root and its suffix you get 'Roman' and '-esque'. The root word is easy to understand...'Roman' means something from Rome, but what about the '-esque' part? The suffix '-esque' means 'in the style of.' So, during the Romanesque Revival, architects designed buildings in the style of the Ancient Romans.

The Man behind the Revival

During the 1800s, Europe still had a big impact on culture in the United States. Americans copied everything from European hairstyles to European buildings. Romanesque architecture was no different. The style became popular in Europe and made its way across the pond to the United States in the 1840s. A handful of Romanesque buildings popped up across the country, but the Romanesque Revival did not truly get its start until the 1870s, thanks to a man named Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson was a Boston-born architect who studied European design at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. His designs were so popular that other architects copied his distinct style around the United States.

What Makes a Building Romanesque?

Romanesque Revival buildings are built with design features made popular by the Ancient Romans, especially the use of arches and columns. Romanesque Revival buildings are characterized by several key elements:

  • wide, rounded arches
  • short and wide columns
  • pilasters that act as decorative columns
  • pointed towers

Like buildings from Ancient Rome, Romanesque Revival buildings are usually built with large, rough-hewn stones. Romanesque buildings look a lot like massive, solid castles.

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail is an example of a Romanesque Revival building.
Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail

Examples of Romanesque Revival Buildings

Romanesque Revival buildings were extremely expensive to build for two reasons. First, masonry, or building with stones and bricks, is very expensive. Second, because of the nature of their construction, Romanesque buildings required skilled laborers to put them together. As a result, most of the buildings constructed during the Romanesque Revival are for public use, like churches, train stations, university buildings, or courthouses. A very small number of private citizens could afford to build a Romanesque Revival home.

Trinity Church in Boston is in the Romanesque Revival style
Trinity Church in Boston

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