Catalan Gothic, or southern Gothic, could be defined as the variant of the Gothic style that developed in the European Mediterranean area, and that was especially relevant in the territories of the Crown of Aragon.
A new king and a new style
King James II the Righteous is usually considered as the introducer of the Gothic style in Catalonia. James II reached the throne of the Crown of Aragon in 1291, on the death of his brother, Alfonso III. Until then he had been king of Sicily. His first wife, Blanca de Anjou, although borned in Naples, belonged to one of the most important dynasties in France at the time. Perhaps through her, he got to know that new style that was prevailing in Europe.
Thus, it will be at the end of the 13th century that the new style will begin to replace the Romanesque constructions that until then had been built in Catalonia.
And it will be above all an urban style, that historic moment coincided with the greatest commercial expansion of the Catalan-Aragonese Crown throughout the Mediterranean. And with it, the great growth of cities.
A gothic with its own characteristics
We often speak in our tours of Catalan Gothic as a style, especially in architecture, with certain differences from the Gothic that can be found in northern Europe; in France, Germany or England, to give some examples.
Among these differences, there are always two of them easier to understand than it may seem: horizontality and single space. In fact, both are related and the second is a consequence of the first.
If we had to define Gothic architecture with a single adjective, it is likely that it was vertical. Technological innovations made it possible to construct ever higher buildings and theology was in charge of interpreting them as elevations towards heaven that brought men closer to God. If we think of the great French cathedrals, started in the 12th century, this is the feeling they give us.
To support these heights, a system of buttresses and flying buttresses was necessary to allow the weight of the vaults leaning on the ground. In this leaning system, the lateral naves played an important role. Even being inside the church, its function was more structural than liturgical. Much narrower and of lower height, they became differentiated spaces from the central nave, the true worship space.
More width than height
But the southern Gothic arises almost a century later. Therefore, technological innovations had advanced and allowed us to go a little further. Spaces of a certain height but much wider could be built.
The discharge of the tensions of the vault were therefore more distributed and since the interior pillars, they could be more separated, the resulting spaces were wider.
And if they are wider, it means that the interior space will not be so divided, it will be more unitary.
Also, as the spaces are wider, the feeling of height is reduced. And although we have a few meters high to the vault, the feeling that it produces is that the set is lower. And it’s not that it’s much lower; what happens is that everything is much more proportionate.
When this technology advances even more, parttioned spaces will eventually disappear and single-nave churches will be built, such as the church of Santa Maria del Pi, from the mid-14th century or the great Gothic nave of the cathedral of Girona, started in 1417.
In this same line, buttresses and flying buttresses, the most relevant physical elements of the exterior of a Gothic building, have a different role in Catalan Gothic.
But we will tell you about this another day. We hope this post has not been too heavy for you. And we hope to show all the practice of this theory on your next visit. The Gothic Quarter, a walk through medieval Girona or a visit to the Santes Creus monastery are just some of the tours where you can learn much more about Catalan Gothic.