The Traditional Architecture of France

Major phases in French architectural design

Gothic architecture

This type of architecture is reputed to have been the first type of architecture which was replicated in the whole of Europe. Some of the most impressive buildings of this style are the Saint Denis Basilica, Notre Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dam de Reims where French kings were crowned. In addition to these churches, religious palaces were also built with the Palais des Papes being a surviving monument.


Like all of Western Europe, except Spain and Portugal, who chose to adopt the Mooresqure architecture, France also adopted the Romanesque style architecture, a mixture of old Gothic and Roman architecture. The most important surviving token of this style is Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse, the largest Romanesque church in Europe.

Architecture in the Middle Ages

This was the era of fortified castles where the lords of the manor exercised their authority over their serf subjects. Fortified cities eventually developed and most of the French castles fell into ruins. Castles like Richard the Lionheart’s Château Caillard was demolished as was the Château de Lusignan, the huge Château de Vincennes and the Cather Castles.


After the 100 Years War ushered in an era of further architectural transition, it was the time of the French Renaissance when architects from Italy and Spain added their style to French architecture in a style of architecture known as the Baroque style mainly in the Loire Valley. The style flourished mainly in the Loire Valley where impressive residential palaces such as the Château de Chambord, the Châtaeu de Chenonceau and the Châtaeu d’Amboise were built. The architecture also flourished in the secular domain with the Palace of Versailles and the dome of Les Invalides.

Post revolution architecture

Neoclassicism was the main feature of post revolution France, although the style had existed well before the revolution in buildings such as the Parisian Pantheon and the Capitole de Toulouse. The most representative structures of this type are found in the Arc de Triomphe and Sante Marie-Madeleine.

Under Napoleon III

When Napoleon’s nephew ascended the French throne as Napoleon III during the Second Empire, a new wave of urban architectural design and renovation swept the country. Extravagant buildings called Second Empire architecture, such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier, began to appear while Haussmann started the renovation of Paris. Simultaneously, there appeared a resurgence of the Gothic style across both Europe and France graced with the presence of architects such as Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and the famous Gustave Eiffeil whose ingenuity created the iconic Eiffel Tower.

20th century architecture.

A combination of both modern and traditional architectural styles was adopted by French architects of the period which was exemplified in the Louvre Pyramid. Because of the unique and diverse types of architectural buildings existing in the country, as well as having low profiles, it was difficult to blend skyscrapers with traditional buildings. For this reason, only one area, the financial district of La Defense accommodates a large number of skyscrapers. Large bridges also present a forbidding structure to integrate into the architectural environment.

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