Round churches

Tempietto di Santa Croce

The Tempietto di Santa Croce is a small octagonal Romanesque chapel found in the upper city of Bergamo, near the Santa Maria Maggiore. The original building was constructed in the first half of the 11th century, though first documentation of the structure dates to 1133.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Bergamo, Italy

Cremona Baptistery

The Cremona Baptistery is annexed to the city's Cathedral. Built in 1167, it is characterized by an octagonal plan, a reference to the cult of St. Ambrose of Milan, symbolizing the Eight Day of Resurrection and, thenceforth, the Baptism. The edifice mixes Romanesque and Lombard-Gothic styles, the latter evident in the preference for bare brickwork walls. To the 16th century restorations belong the marble cover of s ...
Founded: 1167 | Location: Cremona, Italy

Rotonda di San Lorenzo

The Rotonda di San Lorenzo is the most ancient church in Mantua. It is now sunk below the level of the Piazza della Erbe. It probably stands on the site of a Roman temple that was dedicated to the goddess Venus. It was built during the reign of the Canossa family in the late 11th century. Inspired by the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem and dedicated to the martyr St. Lawrence, it has a central plan and has ma ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Mantua, Italy

Brescia Old Cathedral

The Duomo Vecchio or Old Cathedral (also called La Rotonda because of its round layout) is a rustic circular Romanesque co-cathedral standing next to the Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) of Brescia. It is one of the most important examples of Romanesque round church in Italy. While some claims for an earlier construction exist, the earliest documents state the cathedral was built in the 11th century on the site of ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Brescia, Italy

Rotunda of Mosta

The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, commonly known as the Rotunda of Mosta, is the third largest unsupported dome in the world and the third largest in Europe. Built in the 19th century on the site of a previous church, it was designed by the Maltese architect Giorgio Grognet de Vassé. Its dome is among the largest in the world, with an internal diameter of 37.2 metres. the rotunda walls are 9.1 metres thick (nece ...
Founded: 1833-1871 | Location: Mosta, Malta

Santo Stefano al Monte Celio

The Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Celian Hill (Basilica di Santo Stefano al Monte Celio), commonly named Santo Stefano Rotondo, is Hungary"s 'national church' in Rome. It is dedicated to both Saint Stephen, the Christian first martyr, and Stephen I, the sanctified first king of Hungary who imposed Christianity on his subjects. The earliest church was consecrated by Pope Simplicius between 468 ...
Founded: 468-483 | Location: Rome, Italy

Santa Costanza

Santa Costanza is a 4th-century round church in Rome with well preserved original layout and mosaics. It has been built adjacent to a horseshoe-shaped church, now in ruins, which has been identified as the initial 4th-century cemeterial basilica of Saint Agnes. Santa Costanza and the old Saint Agnes were both constructed over the earlier catacombs in which Saint Agnes is believed to be buried. According to the traditiona ...
Founded: 4th century AD | Location: Rome, Italy

Østerlars Round Church

Østerlars Church is the largest and, possibly, the oldest of the Bornholm island's four round churches. Built in about 1160, it was dedicated to St. Lawrence. It consists of an apse, an oval chancel, a large round nave and has three storeys. There is evidence the church was once fortified, the top storey serving as an open shooting gallery. The fieldstone wall stands on foundations of Bornholm limestone. The double ...
Founded: ca. 1160 | Location: Gudhjem, Denmark

Horne Church

Horne Church is the only round church on Funen. Originally constructed from granite stonework, it was modified in the 15th century with the addition of Gothic extensions on the east and west. The history of Horne Church is inextricably tied to Hvedholm Manor, located about 2 kilometres to the south and to the noble family Brahe associated with that estate. Several of the church's content items date from the 17th century a ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Faaborg, Denmark

Kilarrow Church

Kilarow Parish Church is a rare round church commenced in 1767. Daniel Campbell the Younger brought Thomas Spalding to Islay for the specific purpose of building the church which was completed in 1769 and is therefore, in Islay, the oldest church building in which public worship takes place on a weekly basis. The Round Church is 18.2 metres in diameter and the walls are 0.85 metres thick. The main central pillar is 0.48 m ...
Founded: 1767 | Location: Bowmore, United Kingdom

Rotonda di San Tomè

The Rotonda di San Tomè has a circular plan and is in the Lombard-Romanesque style, dating from the early 12th century, and dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle. History The church was built in the district known in ancient times as Lemine. The date of its construction is uncertain, as well as the existence of other churches on the same site, as it is known a reconstruction was carried on between the end of the 11th ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Almenno San Bartolomeo, Italy

Bromma Church

Bromma church is a medieval so-called round church. The oldest parts of the church were built in the later 12th century as a fortress church, and the church is among Stockholm's oldest buildings. Originally the church consisted of the round house and a choir on the east side. The nave and the sacristy were constructed in the mid 15th century, built in stone. In the 1480s Albertus Pictor or his pupils painted more than for ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Ny Kirke

Ny Kirke (New Church) is a 12th century round church located in the village of Nyker. Built in the Romanesque style with two storeys, it contains frescoes from various periods and a pulpit with 17th century-panels. Ny Kirke is normally considered to be the youngest of the island's four round churches. It was originally called "Ecclesia Omnium Sanctorum" (All Saints Church). The present name dates from the middle of the 16 ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Rønne, Denmark

Solna Church

The medieval church of Solna is a so-called round church. The oldest part of the church, the roundhouse, originates from the late 12th century, and was especially built for defense purposes. Attached to this round center is a weaponhouse (south), a rectangular choir to the east, and a rectangular nave to the west. North of the choir is the sacristy, and to the east an octagonal grave choir. There is a second grave choir o ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Olsker Church

Sankt Ols Kirke (St Olaf's Church), also known as Olsker Church, is a 12th century round church located in the village of Olsker. Built in the Romanesque style and reaching three storeys high, it has from the beginning consisted of a round nave, a choir and an apse. The church was named after the revered King Olaf II of Norway who fell at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. The church first belonged to the Archbishopric of ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Allinge, Denmark

Nylars Church

Nylars Church (Nylars Kirke) is a round church built around 1165. The church was dedicated to St Nicholas. Originally designed for a defensive role, the solid structure contains a series of 13th century frescoes, the oldest of Bornholm's four round churches. The three storeys are built of fieldstone and with window and door frames of limestone. The original defensive systems are largely intact. The decorated south door i ...
Founded: ca. 1165 | Location: Aakirkeby, Denmark

Orphir Round Church Ruins

Today Orphir contains the remains of Scotland"s only surviving circular medieval church. Built in the late 11th, or early 12th century, the Orphir Round Church is thought to have been built by Earl Hakon. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas, its design was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. At the time of the church construction, the Great Crusades were in full swing and the circular church had becom ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Orphir, United Kingdom

Vårdsberg Church

Vårdsberg church was built originally a round church. It is located on the river banks and in ancient times it was able to sail there from the Baltic sea. The church might have been built also for the stronghold against the pagan Baltic people, who made raids to Sweden. In the 13th century church was enlarged with a chancel and two transepts. The western tower dates from 1774. Mural paintings date from the 1400s and ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Vårdsberg, Sweden

Hagby Church

Hagby Church is one of Sweden's few preserved round churches, and is considered by many to be the best preserved one in the country. The predecessor of Hagby stone church was the wooded Saint Sigfrid chapel, which was located about two kilometres south of the present church structure. The construction of this stone church began in the late 12th century. The structure was meant to serve both as a sanctuary and a fortified ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Ljungbyholm, Sweden

Thorsager Church

Thorsager round church is the only one of its kind in Jutland (and one of Denmark's seven medieval round churches). It was built of brick around 1200 and is one of Jutland's oldest brick buildings - perhaps the oldest. Its thick walls (1m) are an indication of the defensive role it played. The church may lie on the site of a pre-Christian sacrificial place for the god Thor. The size of the church and its architecture s ...
Founded: c. 1200 | Location: Rønde, Denmark

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.