Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Comparing cathedral architecture in Florence, Vienna and Prague
While spending my semester abroad in Florence, Italy I took a class on Italian Architecture. With my Bartlett Grant I traveled to Prague and Vienna in order to compare the architecture of the two cities to that of Florence. Using what I had learned in my class I was able to identify if buildings were from the Gothic, Renaissance, or Baroque periods. In Vienna I found that there was hardly any Renaissance architecture at all. After doing some research I learned that the Turks had besieged Vienna periodically between 1529 and 1680, forcing most of the building resources to go towards strengthening the cities fortifications. Some of the only Renaissance influence I could identify was at Hofburg Palace. The Swiss Court, one of the earliest parts of the palace complex, shows the adaptation of the Florentine use of bugnato, which is a term for stones projecting from the wall. In Florence the bugnato style of rustication was used to make a building seem fortified and strong, and I assume the architect of the Swiss Court had the same motive in mind considering palaces need to be protected. Although lacking much Renaissance architecture, Vienna has an incredible Gothic cathedral, complete with spindle-like spires and flying buttresses, in the heart of the city, something you could never find in Florence. Something Vienna is not lacking is Baroque architecture, which in Florence is just as rare as the Gothic style. Some of the most notable Baroque buildings in Vienna are St. Peter's Church, the Belvedere Palace, Schonbrunn Palace, and the Karlskirche. During the Baroque period Vienna was experiencing an imperial splendor and rightly so, the Baroque style conveys a stately and grand feeling.
After leaving Vienna I was shocked by how much the architecture of a city created its atmosphere. Upon arrival in Prague I found something very different from both Vienna and Florence. Unlike Vienna, Prague did not convey a stately, imperial feeling and unlike Florence, it was not a predominantly Renaissance city. Rather it was an amalgam of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architecture. Old Town Square is a perfect place to see the collage of architectural styles in Prague. Surrounding the square is a cluster of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque house. Within the square there is the Baroque Kinsky Palace and Church of St. Nicholas along with the Gothic Tyn Church and Astronomical Clock Tower. The Prague Castle complex is also a prime site for the startling juxtaposition of architectural styles. My favorite site in Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral, is Gothic on the older, East-facing half while the West-facing sections are Renaissance in style. The Baroque style can be seen in the Spanish Hall, Lobkowicz Palace, and the Archbishop's Palace while the Renaissance style is magnificently displayed in Queen Ann's Summer Palace.
In comparing the architecture of Vienna, Prague, and Florence the observation that left the deepest impression on me was the atmospheres each city's architecture provided. In Florence, the clean lines and proportions of Renaissance architecture create a sense of harmony and balance. Quite differently, the grandiose and imposing Baroque architecture recall the great imperialism of Vienna during that time. Finally, the assortment of architectural styles in Prague, create a unique atmosphere of jumbled eras. The opportunity to apply what I had learned in the classroom to my travels was very rewarding. I can't adequately express my gratitude for the chance to see such incredible architecture first hand.