Glossary of Architectural Terms
Agora – a place in ancient Greek towns where markets and public meetings were held outside.

Altarpiece - an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing at the back of or behind the altar of a Christian church. 

Amphitheatre - a round or oval building without a roof that has a central open space surrounded by tiers of seats, especially one used by the ancient Romans for public entertainment.

Apse - a large semi-circular or polygonal recess in a church, arched or with a domed roof and typically at the church's eastern end. Where the altar is to be found.



Bailey - an area of land between the outer and inner walls of a castle.

Baldachin - (Baldacchino) a canopy made of cloth or stone erected over an altar, shrine, or throne in a Christian church.

Baptistery - (or baptistry ): Domed hall or chapel, adjacent to or part of a church, for the administration of baptism.

Baroque - a style of architecture which produces drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur its purpose is to impress. The style began around 1600 in Rome and was popular in throughout Europe in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Basilica - a large long ancient Roman building that has a round end or a large important Roman Catholic church.

Bas-reliefs - a style of sculpture in which the artist forms shapes in stone, clay, metal, etc., so that they stick out slightly from their background.

Buttress - an architectural structure built against or projecting from a wall which serves to support or reinforce the wall.


Capital - head of column or pilaster immediately under the entablature.

Carolean (Restoration) Architecturerefers to the style popular following the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660.

Cavetto cornice - a concave architectural moulding the outline of which is a quarter circle.

Chancel - the part of a church where the priests and choir sit during a religious ceremony (sometimes called the Presbytery).

Churrigueresque - also less commonly known as "Ultra Baroque". It refers to a Spanish Baroque style of elaborate sculptural architectural ornament which emerged as a manner of stucco decoration in Spain in the late 17th century and was used up to about 1750.

Ciborium - a canopy over an altar in a church, standing on four pillars.

Classical - following the original or traditional standard for something.

Classicism - a style of art or literature based on ancient Greek and Roman styles that is beautiful in a simple controlled way.

Clerestory - a portion of an interior rising above adjacent rooftops and having windows admitting daylight to the interior.

Cloister - a covered path around an open area in the centre of a large building such as a cathedral or monastery.

Coffer - deeply recessed panel in a ceiling 

Colonnade - a row of stone columns.

Convento - a group of buildings or rooms including residences built around a square and connected to a mission church. 

Corinthian columns - relating to a style of architecture that uses tall thin columns with a decorative capital at the top

Crossing - in ecclesiastical architecture is the junction of the four arms of a cruciform (cross-shaped) church.



Diocese - an area that a bishop, a senior Christian priest is in charge of.

Doric columns - built in a plain ancient Greek building style with a plain Capital at the top  



Ecclesiastic - a Christian priest, minister, etc.

Entablature  the horizontal member carried by the columns in classic architecture.

Episcopal - Relating to, or involving church government by bishops. Relating to a bishop or involving church government by bishops.

Epitaphs - a short piece of writing that honours a dead person, especially one written on their grave.


Façade - the front of a building, especially one that is large or impressive.

Flying buttresses - a curved structure that supports the wall of a building.

Frescoes - a picture that is painted onto wet plaster on a wall, for example in a church.


Gable - the top part of a wall of a building just below the roof, that is shaped like a triangle.

Gothic - a style of architecture and building that was common in Europe during the high and late medieval periods. Originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century. It is characterised by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.

Greek Revival - an architectural movement that began in the middle of the 18th century but which particularly flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, predominantly in northern Europe, the United States and Canada, and in Greece itself following its independence in 1832.

Groin - the angles formed by the intersection of two vaults crossing each other,


Historicism - a style that draws its inspiration from recreating historic styles.

Hypostyle Hall - a hall filled with columns.



Iconostasis - a screen on which icons are mounted, used in Eastern Orthodox churches to separate the area around the altar from the main part of the church.

Ionic columns - made in the style of buildings in ancient Greece, with tall stone posts that have round bases and a scrolled capital



Lapis lazuli - a bright blue stone, used in jewelry.

Loggias - a covered open-sided walkway, often with arches, along one side of a building or a balcony in a theatre.

Lunette - a half-moon-shaped architectural space, variously filled with sculpture, painted, glazed, filled with recessed masonry, or void.




Mannerist - a style in European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520, spreading by about 1530 and lasting until about the end of the 16th century in Italy, when the Baroque style largely replaced it.

Marquetry inlay - a design or picture made with several different types of wood attached to the surface of a piece of furniture.

Medieval - relating to the period of European history between about the year 1000 a.d. and the year 1500.

Mihrab - semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca.

Minaret - a tall tower that is traditionally part of a mosque (a Muslim religious building) where someone stands to call people to prayer.

Minbar – a pulpit in the mosque where the imam stands to deliver sermons.

Motte and bailey - a fortification consisting of a fortified courtyard overlooked by a wooden castle built on a mound of earth.



Narthex - a portico or lobby of an early Christian or Byzantine church or basilica, originally separated from the nave by a railing or screen. Or- an entrance hall leading to the nave of a church.

Nave - the long central part of a church where people sit.

Neoclassical  - began in the mid-18th century in Italy and France. It became one of the most prominent architectural styles in the Western world and incorporated ideas or art similar to ancient Greek or Roman ideas or art.

Neo- a recent or new kind of a former system or style.



Obelisks - a tall pointed stone pillar that has been built to remember an important person or event.

Oculus - an architectural feature that is round or eye-shaped, e.g. a round window or a round opening at the top of a dome.

Oeil-de-boeuf - a comparatively small round or oval window, as in a frieze.



Palisade - a strong fence made from tall posts with pointed ends.

Pendentive - a curved triangle of vaulting formed by the intersection of a dome with its supporting arches.

Pilasters -​​​ a flat column that is slightly farther forward than the rest of a wall, which is usually for decoration rather than for supporting something.

Pinnacle - an architectural element originally forming the cap or crown of a buttress or small turret, but afterwards used on parapets at the corners of towers and in many other situations. The pinnacle looks like a small spire. It was mainly used in Gothic architecture).

Plinth - a square piece of stone that forms the bottom of a column or statue.

Polyptych - a painting, typically an altarpiece, consisting of more than three leaves or panels joined by hinges or folds. 

Portcullises - a heavy iron gate that can be lowered in front of the entrance to a castle as a defense.

Portico - a structure with no sides that has a roof supported by columns, usually built at the entrance to a building.

Presbytery - the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary (sometimes called the Chancel).

Propylaea - a colonnaded gate or entrance to a building or group of buildings, especially to a temple.


Renaissance - the period in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries when there was increased interest in ancient Greece and Rome, which produced new developments in art, literature, science, architecture, etc.

Reredos - a large altarpiece, a screen, or decoration placed behind the altar in a church. It often includes religious images.

Roco​​​​​​co - built or designed in a style with a lot of delicate decoration that was fashionable in Europe in the 18th century.

Retablos - a frame or shelf enclosing decorated panels or revered objects above and behind an altar.

Romanesque - a style of architecture and building that was common in Western Europe from about 900 to 1200 AD they are characterised by round arches, curved ceilings, thick walls and large pillars.



Sacristry - a room in a church where a priest prepares for a service, and where vestments and articles of worship are kept.

Spire - a tall, slender, pointed structure on top of the roof of a building or tower, especially at the summit of church steeples

Stellarof or pertaining to the stars; consisting of stars.

Stupas - domed structures housing Buddhist or Jain relics.



Topaz - a clear yellow stone used for making jewellery.

Tower - a tall structure, taller than it is wide, often by a significant factor.

Transepts - one of the two parts of a church that are built across the main part and make the church form the shape of a cross.

Travertine - a form of limestone.

Tromp l’oeil – a visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object:

Tufa - a porous rock formed from deposited calcium carbonate and found near mineral springs.

Turret - a small tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building such as a medieval castle. Turrets were used to provide a projecting defensive position allowing covering fire to the adjacent wall in the days of military fortification. 

Tympanum - the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door, or window.



Vault - an underground room where people’s bodies are buried, especially under a church.

Vaulted - curved structures supporting or forming the roof of a building.

Vestry - a room in a church used for storing things.


              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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