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What Is The Arcade In Ottonian Architecture?

May 10, 2023

The Arcade in Ottonian Architecture

The Ottonian style of architecture, which emerged during the reign of the Ottonian dynasty in Germany during the 10th and 11th centuries, was marked by its use of arches in its buildings. One of the most prominent features of Ottonian architecture is the arcade, an architectural element that consists of a series of arches supported by columns or piers. In this article, we will explore the significance of arcades in Ottonian architecture and their role in shaping the style of that period.

The Function of the Arcade

The arcade played a significant role in the design and function of Ottonian buildings. One of its primary functions was to provide support for the structure above, distributing the weight of the walls, roof, and vaults down to the ground. By using arches and columns, the arcade could also achieve greater heights and more expansive spaces than other architectural forms, such as the barrel vaults of earlier Romanesque architecture.

In addition to its structural functions, the arcade also played a decorative one, serving as a rhythmic element that broke up the monotony of the walls. By placing a series of arches in a repetitive pattern, architects could create a sense of movement and rhythm. This use of the arcade was most evident in churches, where the arcade was used to organize the interior space into bays or compartments.

The Characteristic Forms of the Arcade

The arcade took on a variety of forms in Ottonian architecture, each with a distinct character and purpose. The most common form was the round arch arcade, which consisted of a series of semicircular arches supported by columns or piers. This type of arcade was used extensively in the nave and aisles of churches, where it helped to organize the space and accentuate the verticality of the building.

Another form of the arcade was the pointed arch arcade, which emerged towards the end of the Ottonian period. This form of arcade consisted of a series of pointed arches supported by columns or piers. The pointed arch allowed for greater height and a more intricate design than the round arch, and it was particularly well-suited for the ribbed vaults that became popular in the Gothic period.

The arcade also took on a variety of decorative forms. One of the most intricate was the compound arcade, which consisted of two or more arches that intersected or were layered over one another. Compound arcades were often used as decorative elements in doorways or at the entry to apses.

The Use of Materials in the Arcade

The materials used in arcades were also significant in shaping the style of Ottonian architecture. Stone was the most common material, and it was used to create the large, sturdy columns that supported the arches. Stone was also used to create intricate carvings and reliefs in the arches, adding to the decoration and complexity of the arcade.

Another important material in Ottonian arcades was brick. Brick was used to create the arches themselves, and it was often combined with stone to create intricate patterns and designs. This combination of brick and stone was particularly effective in creating visually striking arcades that accentuated the verticality and depth of the building.


The arcade was one of the most important elements of Ottonian architecture, both structurally and aesthetically. It provided support for the building above while also serving as a decorative element that conveyed a sense of rhythm and movement. The various forms and materials used in the arcade contributed to the distinctive character of Ottonian architecture, and their influence can still be seen in the Gothic and Romanesque styles that followed.


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