Medieval Architecture in Eastern Europe

Medieval Architecture in Eastern Europe

Medieval Architecture in Eastern Europe

Medieval Architecture in Eastern Europe

Excerpt

In the early and intermediate years of the Middle Ages, the culturally and economically developed regions of eastern Europe and the Balkans were the equal of western Europe. Travellers from the Frankish and German Empires, and even from the Islamic east were impressed with the glittering palaces and prosperous mercantile cities of Bulgaria, Russia and Serbia. By the tenth century, Preslav and Kiev were important European cities, and Novgorod with its vast hinterland had become a respected partner of the Hanseatic League. Then a period of adversity swept across eastern Europe. The Mogul invasions in the thirteenth century set the development of almost the whole of Russia back for centuries. Finally, the conquest of the flourishing Balkan states by the Turks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries reduced the former to provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The rift between the church of Rome and Byzantium resulted in the alienation of the two parts of Europe. Moreover, with the opening up of the sea routes to India and East Africa in the sixteenth century, eastern Europe lost her importance as a trade route. Numerous factors thus contributed to the way in which western Europe gained a marked ascendancy over eastern Europe in terms of social evolution during the time of the early bourgeois revolutions. The vast distances between the isolated economic and cultural centres were a further disadvantage to eastern Europe. Peter the Great's transfer of the Russian capital to the Gulf of Finland, where he founded St. Petersburg to serve as a gateway to central Europe, could be seen as a delayed consequence of these developments. These shifts in power, rooted in worldwide historical developments, affected the way in which history was subsequently written. The architectural history of Europe was charted exclusively from the monuments of central and western Europe. The stylistic sequence of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance, which was adopted as a methodological framework in the nineteenth century, could not be applied to eastern Europe. East European architecture was regarded as an offshoot of Byzantine art. Yet the architectural forms of eastern Europe are possibly even more varied than those of the Roman Catholic west, if we consider the monumental quality of Bulgarian and Serbian churches, the decorative extravagance of Moldavian monasteries or the colourful, multiple towers of Russian cathedrals, let alone the vitality of the regional traditions of wood carving used in wooden architecture.

For the purposes of this work, the frontiers of eastern Europe are taken to encompass the feudal states under the aegis of the Orthodox Church, corresponding roughly with Bulgaria, Rumania, and Serbia and Macedonia in Yugoslavia. In the Soviet Union they include the regions of the Grand Principalities of Kiev and Moscow. However, Greece, which always belonged to Byzantium, is not included. In this study the architecture of Byzantium is only dealt with as the starting-point for . . .

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