Study Aid 1: "Barbarian" and Carolingian Architecture

The collapse of Roman authority in Western Europe in the late 5th century ushered in an era commonly known as the "Dark Ages", (c.480-780 or 980 AD). The era was characterized by the frequent movement of various "barbarian" tribes whose economies were based on trading, warfare and small-scale agriculture. Such conditions provided little impetus for the creation of grandiose arhcitecture. Although small stone chapels (e.g. San Pedro della Nave, Spain, 680-711 AD) and houses continued to be built, most architecture was based on wood technology, (e.g. the Viking military camp at Trelleborg, Denmark, 981 AD). Both large and small buildings were erected with pole or timber frames with walls of logs, sawn planks or wattle and daub. Roofs were often sheathed in thatch. Although these buildings were simple or even primitive, the decorative arts of the barbarians was often dazzling, as seen in the grave goods found in the Royal Anglo-Saxon ship burial, (c.625 AD) found at Sutto Hoo, England.

Emerging from the "Dark Ages," the German emperor Charlemagne attempted to invoke the artistic and political glory of Rome within his own extremely large empire. The architecture of this period is called Carolingian. Very few designs from this era survive intact (e.g. gate house at Lorsch, Germany, late 8th century). Charlemagne's own Palatine Chapel at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Germany (792-804 AD architect: Odo of Metz) which partially imitates Justinian's church of San Vitale, Ravenna. The most important legacy of this period was the founding of numerous (and often large) monasteries based upon the rules of St. Benedict (e.g. the Plan of St. Gall, Switzerland, c. 830). Earlier Irish monasteries (e.g. Skellig Michael, 6th-11th centuries AD) consisting of a small cluster of individual cells around an oratory, grew out of the ancient ascetic tradition of isolated hermits that began in the Middle East. This type of monasticism was eventually supplanted by the more rigidly-organized "orders." The Benedictine-based monsteries established during and following the Carolingian era laid the intellectual, artistic and economic foundations for the resurgence of Europe in the new millennium.

Viking Military Camp

Date: 981AD
Location: Trelleborg, Denmark
Architect: Unknown
Patron: Chief Harold Blue-tooth (?)


Reconstruction - Site Plan

Aerial view today


Reconstructed House/Barracks

Reconstruction of a Barracks

View of an opening in the berms surrounding the camp


Interior Elevation - Reconstructed House/Barracks

Palatine Chapel

Date: 792-804AD
Location: Aachen, Germany
Architect: Odo of Metz
Patron: The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne


Plan of Charlemagne's Palace Complex


Bird's-Eye Cut-Away View of Chapel


Reconstruction - Elevation Views


View of Westwerk Today

St. Gall

Date: 830AD
Location: St. Gall, Switzerland
Architect: Unknown


Plan Showing Zones


Hall for Distinguished Guests Reconstruction - Section View


Reconstruction - Interior View of Church

Irish Monastery - Skellig Michael

Date: 6th-11th Century AD
Location: Southwest Coast of Ireland
Architect: Unknown


Aerial View of Island

Aerial View Monastery


Corbelled "Beehive" Cells

Reconstruction View of the hermitage or 'oratory' at the top of the island

Aerial View of Island