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Civil gothic architecture

12th Century AC - 15th Century AC
During the gothic period, not all buildings were religious. From the thirteenth century until practically the beginning of the sixteenth century great civic projects, factories, bridges and military facilities were constructed. One of the most emblematic examples, which has endured until our time, is Barcelona’s shipyard.

Gothic architecture, like most old architectures, is known and defined principally by its works of a religious nature, that is, by the sacred spaces of the temples and their annexes. There is no doubt that these were, of all classes, those that achieved maximum development and received the greatest artistic elaboration, but they did not diverge from the architecture of a secular or civil nature. On the contrary, they shared forms and solutions, both in construction as in decoration, and so each constituted a coherent whole. We must consider that secular architecture is a relevant part of the gothic work, with high quality accomplishments and an ample typological repertoire, which includes the factories being of a residential and work nature, as well as bridges and military buildings, were always in a gradation of intensity with elaboration dictated by the function and hierarchy of the edification and its promoters.

In gothic Europe, architecture is represented by different schools, being geographically, culturally and politically defined. Under overlapping formulations, both secular and religious architecture developed in the continental Catalan territories of the Principality and the Valencian County, as well as on the insular territories of the Balearic Islands. Even though it is true to say that this constitutes a subgroup within the production of the so-called Meridian or Mediterranean gothic, it is also true that it represents a marked character that spread, or visibly influenced the counties dominated by the estate of Barcelona, which also exerted a contrary influence. Gothic-Catalan architecture emerged throughout the thirteenth century and lasted until the turn of the fifteenth-sixteenth century, when it began its decline, though not brusquely, but rather in a progressive languishing which, in certain circumstances, almost endured until the seventeenth century.

The fusion between civil and religious works in Catalan gothic architecture is not based upon a mere stylistic agreement or decorative unit, but on a congruency of architectural, structural and composition base in the industrial buildings, even though these belong to spaces of a different nature. In fact, all of the architecture was raised from the basis of two fundamental constructive solutions: the cross, and beamed vault, which often had diaphragm arcades. The buildings thus generated were always of simple volume, with flat terrace over the vaults or slightly inclined roof on wooden coverings, having interior spaces free of supports, which were to be provided by the use of external buttresses. The internal ambience remained very open, or was divided into naves separated by arcades or columns in exceptional temples or lodges. Horizontalness predominated in the building, with enormous flat surface facades, where the fullness imposed itself on the emptiness of the portal and window openings. A severe or contained ornamental load did not disfigure the architectural morphology, but underlined it with linear resources such as cornices, or frivolous flats and projections.

The crossed vaults and the diaphragm arches were adopted throughout the thirteenth century to the detriment of the construction of Romanesque roofs of pipe vaults, which almost became extinct. The first examples, from the most simple to the most complex, and begun well into the fifteenth century, sheltered not only ecclesial naves such as small chapels, but also the castle-like rooms of Bellver in Majorca, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, and the lower floors of the great urban hospitals from the turn of the fifteenth century. Throughout the fourteen hundreds they were used in the manner of church chapter rooms, and in the engagement of the majestic Majorcan and Valencian lodges, until reaching their maximum potential in the room of the Barons of New Castle in Naples. With the naves covered with beamed roofs, especially on top of the diaphragm arches, many types of buildings were joined together; from the most simple to the most opulent, both in the rural and urban nuclei. These bodies formed churches, dormitories or monastic refectories, such as those seen at Poblet and Santes Creus, or later, like those at Pedralbes and Vallbona de les Monges. They also modelled a minion of palatial or castle-like rooms, amongst which there are significant examples in the fortresses of Peratallada, Vall-de-roures or Verdú and within the palatial complexes of Barcelona, City of Majorca and Perpignan. As well as the hospital-like rooms of Barcelona or Vic, the naves of Barcelona’s shipyard and the Grau of Valencia, the representative rooms of the lodge, and the estate of the City of Barcelona, as well as many cellars, warehouses and rooms of all types, were always of a corporative or lordly nature.

The principle monuments of the gothic secular architecture can quite easily be found in the great cities of the Catalan region, where they constitute great civic edifices, an expression of the municipal, class or corporative powers that were in charge and of their commercial power, as well as their regal authority and military capability, as expressed by walls and arsenals. In this sense we must point out the municipal government headquarters of the village or city Town Halls, with their greatest expression, seen in Barcelona, where, during the last third of the fourteenth century, a noble building was erected which is dominated by a large rectangular room covered with a flat beamed roof and supported by diaphragm arches of round point: the salon of Cent. The facade that leads onto the street of the City was made more magnificent, having elaborate ornamentation and realistic sculpture details, in part, the work of the known master Arnau Bargués at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On the same thoroughfare in the section known as Bisbe street the principal frontispiece of the estate of the General, or palace, of the Generalitat, was set out. Here, a portal of lowered arch was crowned by a banister with a splendid central medallion that represents the legend of Saint George, sculpted by Pere Joan about 1416-1418. The palace was constructed in the manner of the great patrician estates, and specifically has two parallel bodies linked together with a graceful gallery of arcades on the principal floor, to where one arrives by climbing a solemn exterior staircase. It also had a small truncated chapel, with highly worked ornamentation on its facade.

The lodges, which are very representative of the strength of the mercantile corporations who built them, are profane buildings, where gothic architecture accomplished one of its best representations, which is unique in the European panorama. The most important ones are those of Barcelona, City of Majorca, Perpignan and Valencia. Those in Catalonia which were built around the second half of the fourteenth century are on a single plain, having a wide room with a beamed roof supported by extremely high, graceful arcades. Both the Balearic and the Valencian buildings are industrial buildings from the fifteenth century, architecturally and sculpturally more elaborate, consisting of one building block occupied by a great room of crossed vaults generated by helix shaped columns, and closed by cupolas having skilfully elaborated large windows. Less architecturally unique were the hospitals established in many towns, often having a mixed civil and religious character which, in accordance with their importance developed constructive programmes of more, or less, ambition. Amongst these facilities there are those from the fifteenth century of Lleida, Montblanc and Solsona, constructed in the manner of the patrician estates with four wings surrounding a patio. Another typology had developed after the fourteenth century, or earlier which consisted of naves of great height and diaphragm arches, which could be of one room or organised into wings around a patio like that of the large Barcelonan complex of the Santa Creu, whose construction commenced in 1400 but was never completed, where the big rooms towered above a covered lower floor with flat brick vaults and bestowed with a beautiful surrounding cloister

Another one of the major gothic creations which is exceptional in the Mediterranean context, even though it has an analogous installation in the Grau of Valencia, is the arsenal, or shipyard of Barcelona. In the beginning it was comprised of a vast open patio, encircled by a wall with towers on its angles, and was occupied by ephemeras installations in the interior. On this site they started to build, well into the fourteenth century, and until they completely covered it, a series of parallel naves communicated by big arcades with pillars that had, at the same time, the diaphragm arches that support the roofs on parallel sides which rhythmically enclose the space, giving a grand plastic art effect. The primitive enclosure was the object of successive amplifications since the fifteenth century and up to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which always followed the initial gothic formulation. We must also mention that the sovereign had residencies in the different cities of his dominion that were more or less established and sumptuous, although the principle ones were to be found in Barcelona and were called the Palau Reial Major and Menor [Major and Minor Royal Palace], resulting from the transformation of Romanesque or older constructions. Both had important contributions from gothic architecture, such as the ample and solemn rooms of decoration, built with great half point diaphragm arches and of which there remains to this day the so-called Tinell, built by Peter the Ceremonious towards 1350-1370 with the master Guillem Carbonell.

Urban habitation was developed in different residential typologies, from the most singular to the unique and monumental patrician estates, which became emblematic of the civil gothic work. These estates notably differed from the rest of the urban construction, formed by a monopolising predominance, both in the major nuclei and the small villas of humble habitation made up of one block of rectangular base and parallel or perpendicular disposition to the street, with two or three floors of elevation. The most enriched were embellished with the characteristic round point portals and the odd decorated pointed arch window. The aforementioned patrician residences were very different, exceptionally constituted by different blocs of edification, where up to four were articulated around a central patio which was endowed with a monumental staircase which lead to the first or principle floor. In this level we find the elegant arched gallery which linked the different wings and led on to patios of unique beauty. This residential type can be found in the formulations of complete gothic in the baroque as seen in all the great Catalan cities as well as those of the other Mediterranean cities under the influence of the estate of Barcelona. Amongst the most notable there are the estates of the Barcelonan streets of Lledó and Montcada, the estate Julià in Perpignan, the so-called Royal Palace of Vilafranca del Penedès, the estates of the Almirall and the Bou in Valencia, the palace Abbatelli of Palermo and the palace Bellomo of Syracuse.

All of these demonstrate a common formulation of a principle facade, framed by an oblong rectangle, where the full dominated over the empty, and the tendency towards symmetry never managed to impose its will. The picked stone added nobleness to the wall, without much more decoration than some sculptural elements on the openings. The bottom floor was solemnised by the round ‘voussoir’ portal, accompanied by few and small openings. The noble floor always presented a series of windows of small arches separated by thin columns of two, three, and exceptionally, four false-cut little arches on a lintel supported by small columns. On top of, and under, the extensive side of the roof, there was a loft or arcade with pillars or small arches. Very often in the corner there was the body of a tower, slightly elevated on top of the highest part of the roof that divides it into two parts. The covering of brown coloured Arab tile, broke the dominance of the greys and golden stone tones of the facade.

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