Glossary of Architectural Terms

Agora – a place in ancient Greek towns where markets and public meetings were held outside

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 entertainments

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

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)

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

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 period. Originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century. It is characterised by pointed arches, the ribbed vaults and the flying buttresses.

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

Historicism - a style that draw 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

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  - 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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 taken by and copyright of Ron Gatepain

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