Churches in the world and their styles

From antiquity to modernism: 8 main styles in architecture

Photo: GiuseppeT/

Architectural style – a set of details and features of the structure that indicate the time of its construction, purpose, historical value, region, and sometimes even the author. Different styles operate with different forms and materials, reflecting changes in fashion, beliefs, mind-holding ideas and technology. Some styles follow each other in chronological order, some develop in parallel over time.

More often than not, the change of dominant styles occurs gradually, as architects perceive the spirit of the time and adapt to new ideas. Together with the experts, we deal with the basic styles in architecture.

Experts in the article:

Ekaterina Svanidze, partner of the DVEKATI architectural studio

Nikolai Faneyev, lead architect, IND architects

1. antique style

Ancient Greek architecture appeared on the Greek mainland, the Peloponnese, the Aegean islands and the colonies in Anatolia and Italy in the period from about 900 B. C. to the 1st century A. D. The earliest preserved structures date from about 600 B. C.


Ancient Greek architecture is especially known for its temples. The second important type of building that survives today is considered an open-air theater. The earliest of them dates from about 525 to 480 B.C. The gates for processions (propiles), market squares (stoa) surrounded by colonnades, city council buildings (boulevteries), tombs (mausoleums) and stadiums are still preserved.


The main features of ancient Greek architecture:

  • balance and proportions;
  • Characteristic architectural order – definite form, composition and order of vertical (columns, pilasters) and horizontal (entablature) elements;
  • use of materials such as marble, brick and concrete;
  • colonnades;
  • stereobranches-the lower part of the temple or colonnade, the “plinth,” usually consisting of 3 steps;
  • caryatids;
  • portico with pediment.

Catherine Svanidze:

“The ancient style can include the architecture of Ancient Greece in the 7th to 6th centuries B.C. and the architecture of Ancient Rome. The prevailing typology at that time was temples designed in accordance with principles of symmetry, geometry, harmony of parts and whole, and perspective. The order system (Ionic, Doric and later Corinthian orders) which was later rethought by Romans – Roman Doric, Tuscan, Roman Ionic, Roman Corinthian orders and composite capitals appeared as a distinctive feature of Ancient style (especially in Greek architecture). The most notable examples of the ancient style include the Parthenon, built in the Acropolis of Athens in the fifth century B.C., and the Flavius Amphitheatre (Roman Colosseum), 72-80 A.D.”

2. Gothic

Gothic is a style particularly popular in Europe from the mid-12th to the 16th century, and in some areas survived into the 17th and 18th centuries. The style originated in the Ile-de-France region of northern France, evolving from Romanesque architecture.

Ile de France

One of the main engineering innovations of Gothic architecture was the frame system. It looked openwork and “compound” (the exact opposite of monumental Romanesque), it changed the distribution of loads in the building, lightened the walls and ceilings, made it possible to increase the height of buildings and their area, as well as to save building materials.


Examples of Gothic buildings can be found in Christian church architecture – cathedrals, abbeys and parish churches. Castles, palaces, town halls, universities, and even private residences were also built in this style. Many examples of medieval Gothic architecture are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  • pointed arches;
  • Ribbed vaults (the projecting rib of the vault);
  • stained-glass windows;
  • buttresses – a vertical projecting part of a wall or a freestanding support connected to it by an architrave;
  • arkbutans – stone half-arches connecting a vertical support to the wall;
  • pinnacles – pointed spear-shaped towers, most often located at the top of buttresses;
  • Verticality – all parts of a building tend upwards;
  • rich decoration – ornate colonnades, sculptural moldings, statues of saints and historical figures, towers and spires, as well as gargoyles, grotesque figures that can simultaneously be fountains.
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Nikolai Faneyev:

“Gothic architecture is mainly represented by religious structures. Of course, the Gothic is associated primarily with the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, the Cathedral of Chartres, the Abbey of Saint-Denis, the Cathedral of Cologne and others. English Gothic stands apart; it adopted the characteristics of the original French style, adapting it to its regional preferences. For example, the English Gothic, unlike the French, which tended as high as possible, emphasized the length of the building rather than its height. Examples include the cathedrals at Lincoln and York, the cathedral at Gloucester, etc.”

3. baroque

The Baroque is a decorative style that appeared in Italy in the early seventeenth century and gradually spread throughout Europe. The style reached its peak in the High Baroque period (1625-1675) when it was used in churches and palaces in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Austria. During the Late Baroque period (1675-1750) the style came to Russia as well as to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America.


Baroque architects developed the basic elements of Renaissance architecture (which in turn inherited the ancient style), including the characteristic domes and colonnades, to their limits and made them taller, more majestic, and more ornate. Trompe-l’oeil painting (also known as “trickery” – an image rendered so precisely that it could be mistaken for a piece of reality) was often used inside the building, combined with sculpture. The Baroque is characterized by excessive decor: numerous angels and painted figures on the ceiling, twisted columns, the abundance of decorative elements occupying the entire space. In Baroque palaces the grand staircases became a central element.


  • Repetition of the same decorative techniques in the facade of the building;
  • the abundance of details;
  • gilded sculpture;
  • bright colors;
  • fragmented or deliberately incomplete elements;
  • the use of a play of light and shadow;
  • brightly painted ceilings;
  • large-scale murals;
  • illusionary effects such as Trompe-l’oeil;
  • pear-shaped domes (more typical of the Baroque of Eastern Europe);
  • Twisted columns that seem to create the illusion of upward movement.

Catherine Svanidze:

“Baroque” (Portuguese for “irregularly shaped pearl”) was the style of the absolutist era (from 1600 to 1780), when the power of the church was solidarized with the secular. The splendor of the decor, the impressive size of the buildings and the special division of the Baroque rooms reinforced the authority of church and state – the Catholic Church appealed to the faithful through art and architecture. In this style all other arts – sculpture, painting – are subordinated to architecture. Complex architectural forms, usually based on the oval/ellipse, as well as dynamic opposition and interpenetration of spaces, grandeur, drama and contrast of light, lush forms and rich decorations are the characteristic features of Baroque. The grandiose creations of the Baroque are the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Lecce.”

4. Classicism

The roots of classicism go back to the temple architecture of ancient Greece and the religious, military and civil architecture of the Roman Empire. The style is characterized by the clarity and simplicity of traditional forms, such as columns, each with fixed proportions and ornaments. It developed in architecture during the Italian Renaissance, with early classicism represented especially clearly in the works and designs of Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi.


Classicism spread rapidly in Italy and then came to France, Germany, England, Russia, and other countries. In each of them it was interpreted in a different way, acquiring individual features. In the reign of Louis XIV in the background of absolutism appeared “Great Style” – it combined classicism and baroque. In Russia the military and patriotic themes were “superimposed” on the classical buildings in this style.

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  • symmetry and proportions: the columns and windows are arranged evenly;
  • the main entrance is made in the form of a portico and is topped by a pediment;
  • sturdy building materials;
  • high, floor-to-ceiling windows with fine glazing;
  • pilaster order;
  • the walls are devoid of decoration.

Nikolai Faneyev:

“At the turn of the 1800s, the old world order is changing – ideas of subjectivism, liberalism, and democracy are developing, the church is losing its former power, and church building ceases to be style-forming. However, to create a new style lacked knowledge and developed taste, so in this century turned to the forms of antiquity. The ideals of beauty of “archaeological classicism” were defined in the work “Thoughts on the imitation of Greek works in painting and sculpture” by Winkelmann. Characteristic features of the style: the segmentation of the building with pilasters and cornices, the facade resembles a Greek or Roman temple with a triangular gable or portico. A couple of examples of classicism in architecture are San Francesco di Paola in Naples and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in St. Petersburg.

5. Rococo

The Rococo style emerged in the 18th century as a reaction against the grandeur and symmetry of classicism. It is a smoother and more detailed style, incorporating ornate, asymmetrical patterns and working with pastel hues.

The style emerged in Paris in response to the heavy-handed architecture of the Baroque and was soon adopted in France, Germany, and Austria. By the end of the 18th century, Rococo dominance had largely been replaced by the neoclassical style.


Although there are many similarities between Baroque and Rococo architecture, one can also find differences. The appearance of Rococo buildings is more playful, lighter and with abundant use of curves. One of the fundamental differences is also that the rococo emphasizes the asymmetry of forms.

The walls, moldings (convex decorative details on facades) and ceilings of buildings in this style are decorated with numerous intertwined decorative details based on “C” and “S” forms, shells and other naturalistic forms.


Rococo colors are mostly pastel, ivory and gold are actively used, and the decor includes a lot of mirrors – to enhance the feeling of open space. The Azamkirche in Munich, the Palace of Sans-Susi in Potsdam, the Queluz Palace in Sintra, the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin and the Chapsky Palace in Warsaw were built in the Rococo style.

  • rocaille motif – sea shells, unusual curved forms imitating natural elements;
  • Absence of strict symmetry;
  • rich decorative furnishings;
  • pastel colors;
  • stucco, carving, and gilding are actively used in the interior;
  • relatively small size of buildings;
  • the use of cartouches (stucco decorations in the form of a shield or an unfolded scroll);
  • mirrors are an important element of the interior.

6. Empire

Empire as a movement in architecture, interiors and fine arts appeared in France during Napoleon’s rule. This style flourished in the first third of 19th century in Western Europe and then in Russia.


The style was actively promoted by Napoleon’s court architects Charles Persier and Pierre Fontaine. The décor of the palace interiors in the Empire style was distinguished by contrasting colors: blue, white, bright red, clear lines and an abundance of gilding. The walls were usually covered with brightly colored silk; the ornaments were diamond shapes, circles, military symbols – swords, spears and shields. Egyptian motifs, which came into fashion after the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon, were very popular.


The main structures that belong to this style are considered to be the triumphal arch on the Place Carrousel in Paris, the Vendome Column, the triumphal arch on the Place Charles de Gaulle. Interiors in the Empire style can be seen in the Fontainebleau Palace and the Grand Palais at Versailles.

  • grandeur;
  • monumentality;
  • Ancient Roman and Egyptian motifs in the ornaments and decorations;
  • Abundance of decorative elements;
  • cladding with multicolored stone;
  • Loggia instead of a portico;
  • gilding in the details.
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Nikolai Faneyev:

“The empire style emerged in France during the reign of Bonaparte (1804-1814), who considered himself the greatest emperor since antiquity and used architecture to create a visual connection and connotation between the French Empire and the Roman Empire. The structures of that era-mainly the triumphal arches-used symbols and ornaments borrowed from the ancient world (particularly the Roman Empire) extensively.”

7. Art Nouveau / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil

At the turn of XIX-XX centuries Art Nouveau style literally engulfed the entire European continent, appearing in different ways in each national context: in Germany and Austria it is known as Jugendstil or Secession style, in Belgium and France – art nouveau, in Italy – style liberti or stile floreale (floral style). The main statement of Art Nouveau: art and life are inseparable. Nature becomes the main source of inspiration for the movement, which sought full unity of structure and decor. Art Nouveau is characterized by sinuous lines and organic volumes, often found floral and animalistic motifs. The most striking example of Art Nouveau is the entrances to the metro station in Paris, designed by Hector Guimard.


  • natural ornamentation;
  • smooth, wavy, curved lines in the decoration of facades and interiors;
  • pastel, muted shades;
  • interior decoration with mosaics, stained-glass windows, enamel;
  • decoration of the building – wood, wrought iron elements of unusual curved forms;
  • rectangular doors and windows, quite often – arched.

8. Modernism

Modernism is an architectural style based on innovative construction technologies of the last century, in particular the use of glass, steel and reinforced concrete. The main criteria in architecture are functionality, minimalism, rejection of ornament. The style emerged in the first half of the XX century and became dominant after World War II and until the end of the 1980s.


Modernist architecture emerged as a result of a breakthrough in technology, engineering and building materials as well as a desire to break away from historical architectural styles and invent something new.

Crystal Palace

The use of cast iron, drywall sheet metal, and reinforced concrete allowed for structures that were stronger, lighter, and taller than ever before. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace at the 1851 World’s Fair is an early example of a revolutionary structure for its time made of iron and sheet glass

In 1884 the first steel-framed skyscraper was built, the ten-story insurance office building in Chicago by architect William Le Baron Jenney. The iron frame of the Eiffel Tower, at the time the tallest structure in the world, captured the imagination of millions of visitors to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.

  • emphasis on volume;
  • the asymmetry of the composition;
  • ribbon glazing;
  • lack of decor;
  • the main materials – reinforced concrete, steel.

Nikolai Faneyev:

“Modernism emerged in the first half of the 20th century and quickly became the leading style and even philosophy of architecture at that time. It was associated with a strictly rational use of materials, constructive innovations, an analytical approach to the functions of buildings. The main tenets were “form follows function” and “less is more.” The pioneers of the movement were Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, and among the brightest representatives were the German school of the Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright.”

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Churches in the world and their styles

Churches are buildings where Christians gather and worship God. As Christianity became an accepted state religion and a tool for governing society, churches became exclusive places of worship, and there was little Christian worship outside of these buildings.

Basilicas are large and important churches where the Pope performs special ceremonial rites.

Cathedrals are churches that serve as the residences of bishops.

Churches in the world and their styles - Photo 2

Churches in the world and their styles

Chapels are places of Christian worship and fellowship. Sometimes they are parts of buildings built for other purposes.

Throughout history, Christian churches have represented the embodiment of the architectural and artistic achievements of Western culture.

The First Christian Churches

It is difficult to name the oldest Christian church, since it is a religion descended from the older Jewish religions, and some doubts remain about the connection of some Jewish sects with Christianity.

Judaism and Christianity began to separate in the 1st century A.D., and Christianity became a clearly separate religion in the 4th century A.D. One of the earliest dated churches was located in Syria, at Dura-Europos – this abandoned city has a 4th century pel, sometimes dating from about 232 to 256 A.D. In the 4th century there are already churches in Armenia (the oldest Christian state in the world), Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Greece. There are also old churches in Italy, France, Egypt, Cyprus, and several other regions.

The unique rock-cut churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia from the 13th century should be mentioned separately. The carvings and frescoes here show some resemblance to Byzantine art.

Churches around the world and their styles - Photo 3

The First Christian Churches

Byzantine style.

The first truly magnificent-and for a long time unsurpassed-Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built in A.D. 532-537 and reflects well the power of the Byzantine Empire. Numerous churches of a similar style but much smaller size were built in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and other countries in the region over the following centuries.

The Byzantine style served as the basis for the development of unique church architecture in Russia. The design of the churches here has changed over the centuries, retaining its own distinctive style. Some of the striking examples of Russian Orthodox church architecture are the Vladimir Assumption Cathedral (Vladimir, 1160), St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, 1555 – 1561), and such a wonder of wooden architecture as the Transfiguration Church in Kizhi (Republic of Karelia, 1714).

Churches around the world and their styles - Photo 4

Byzantine style.

Romanesque style

The following majestic churches were built in Western Europe, indicating the growth of Western culture. The Romanesque style in architecture combined the achievements of Roman architecture with Byzantine and became the first architectural style of Western culture with the first early examples appearing in the 9th century in Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain. Among the original significant examples of this style were parts of Aachen Cathedral (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany). Later came the beautiful and impressive churches as the Speyer Cathedral (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, 1130 – 1106), the Basilica of San Marco (Veneto, Italy, 1094), the Angoulême Cathedral (Charente, France, 1110 – 1128).

Churches in the World and their Styles - Photo 5

Romanesque style

Gothic style.

An important stimulus for further development of architecture were the Crusades, leading to an intense exchange of knowledge and skills between the long-established cultures of the Near East and the vigorous, growing Western European culture. Next, after the Romanesque style, was the Gothic style – signifying the peak of the influence of Christianity on Western society. St. Denis Basilica in Paris (12th century) was the leader of the Gothic style, but soon after that some of the most magnificent Christian churches were built, such as Notre Dame de Paris (Paris, France, 1163. – late 14th century), Amiens Cathedral (Somme, France, 1220 – 1266), Burgos Cathedral (Castile and Leon, Spain, 1221 – 1567), Cologne Cathedral (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 1248-1880), and Milan Cathedral (Lombardy, Italy, 1386-1965).

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Churches in the World and their Styles - Photo 6

Gothic style.

Renaissance style.

Wealth, fierce competition from influential cities in Northern Italy, and a desire to revive the “Golden Age” led to the next major style in architecture and other arts, the Renaissance. The Renaissance is now considered the “golden age” of Europe.

An important step in the development of this architecture was the construction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo (Florence, Italy, 1419-1480s). Italy dominated this style – the main achievements of church architecture of the time are St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican, 1506 – 1626), the small but beautiful Tempietto San Pietro in Montorio (Rome, Italy, about 1502), with a magnificent church dome. Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence, Italy, 1469) and other churches. Outside Italy, the beautiful Catedrale of St. James (Sibenik, Croatia, 1402 – 1555) is worth mentioning.

Churches in the World and their Styles

Renaissance style.

Baroque and Rococo styles

The Baroque style emerged as an attempt by the Christian church to restore its former importance through an emotional and impressive rendering of religious themes – using ornate, opulent expressions of art and architecture. This lavish style was borrowed by European monarchies at the height of their influence, which is why the most famous examples of Baroque architecture today are palaces.

Famous Baroque churches include San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane (Rome, Italy, 1638-1646), San Giorgio Cathedral (Sicily, Italy, 1693), St. Paul’s Cathedral (London, UK, 1668-1697), Ottobeuren Abbey with its Rococo interior (Bavaria, Germany, 1737-1766), Vienna Karlskirche (Vienna, Austria, 1716-1737).

Meanwhile, the church was a conduit of Western culture for the “new lands”-these were the Baroque churches that first appeared in America, parts of Africa, and East Asia. Symbolically, one of the earliest forerunners of Baroque was the Church of the Gesù in Rome, Italy, built in 1568-1580. This church was the seat of the Jesuit order, which actively and with great success spread Christianity around the world. Magnificent examples of such colonial churches are the Mexico City Cathedral (Mexico City, Mexico, 1573-1813), the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús (Cuzco, Peru, 1668), and the Church and Monastery of San Francisco (Bahia, Brazil, 1708-1755).

Churches in the World and their Styles - Photo 8

Baroque and Rococo styles

Rococo originated in France and was expressed mainly in interior . Although it was widely believed that Rococo was a decadent, “overly edgy” baroque, the style generally exhibited more elegance and sophistication than many somewhat bland Baroque applications. This style was mainly used in other monuments of architecture , but mention should be made here of the grand Rococo interiors in some Bavarian churches – Ottoboyren Abbey, the Viskirche (1740s) and the Asamkirche in Munich (1733 – 1746).

Later styles.

As the Enlightenment began in the mid-17th century, the importance of the Christian church declined . The construction of new churches ceased to be a major item of public expenditure. On the other hand – the wealth of Europe was growing, especially when industrialization began . In general, no more grandiose Christian churches were built, but the construction of smaller churches, very often of elaborate architecture, was widespread, and much effort was also made to restore existing churches. But there is one notable exception: in 1882 in Barcelona, Spain, construction began on one of the largest and most majestic churches, the Sagrada Familia. This building is one of the forerunners of the Art Nouveau style, and architect Antoni Gaudi planned for the church not to be completed until several centuries of hard work had passed. But advances in computers and scientific technology promise completion by 2026.

Churches Around the World and Their Styles - Photo 9

Later styles.

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