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I'm currently reading some books about romanesque architecture. I would like to know the roles of towers that many religious buildings have. I have some guesses, so I would like you to tell me if these guesses are true or wrong.

First example : St. Pierre Cathedrale (Treves) enter image description here

We can see small rounded towers. My guess, everytime, that kind of tower is used for stairs, eventually to defend the building at some point.

The squared towers, my guess, are present as a symbol of the gate of the celestial Jerusalem, but for what else are they used ? My personal experience pushes me to say: for bells, but bells don't occupy the whole tower.

Also, I'm curious if the ground section of a tower is linked to its height.

Another example : St. Michel (Hildesheim) enter image description here

As we can see, there are only crossing towers and small rounded towers. I guess, the squared towers are used for bells too.

the part in italics contains mistake, see the comments

To finish, it seems (maybe I'm wrong on that point) that temples used before Christianity, Romans/Greeks (pagan) had twin towers (like the one we can see on the picture of St. Pierre). So I would like to know if the celestial representation of Jerusalem has its origin in Roman/Greek temples (pagan).

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    wikipedia says the arrangement of towers varies by region and country. That would seem to undercut the hypothesis.
    – MCW
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:54
  • @MarkC.Wallace what I read at your link is already in my books. I want more precision. Anyway thank you Jul 14, 2014 at 15:35
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    not just that, but the assumption that pre-Christian temples had towers at all is wrong. See the Parthenon, see the Roman Pantheon, see many many others. Most had no towers at all.
    – jwenting
    Jul 17, 2014 at 13:42
  • I think it would be impossible to define it in simple rules, as they mentioned it depends on the country, which movement was influenced, if they had enough material to build an entire new tower or next to the apse,...Two examples here in Spain: An abbot in Catalonia went to Italy to see how churches were build there and was influenced by the lombardic architecture, but if you go to Segovia there is a church that was used by templars and its said that was based in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The church of Segovia (Veracruz) was the guideline for others as well.
    – AlexBcn
    Jul 18, 2014 at 17:53
  • @jwenting your guess sound right. I re-read the part of the book where I thought have read my assumption. It's not about pagan temple but "early Christian" in Roman era. Jul 19, 2014 at 1:14

3 Answers 3

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You say, "My personal experience push me to say : for bells, but bells don't occupy the whole tower."

They do not have to occupy the whole tower, but for maximum effect, they have to be hung quite high - which means that you need the rest of the tower to give height to the bell chamber and - at least in the English tradition - to give enough space for efficient work on a bellrope.

So the question might be - "What other uses did people make of the towers which they needed for bells?"

Seriously, however, I suspect the most important factor is an artistic/cultural one. Most churches from the Romanesque period onward were designed not just to be a place for communal worship. They were statements about the wealth and power of the community which built them, or the local magnate who paid for them or even about the beauty which could be produced by the work and dedication of the builders (e.g. at Chartres).

The model for ostentation was the defensive structure of the castle or the great house. These usually had towers for military reasons, but that establishes towers as a part of the "building to impress" vocabulary. As you have pointed out impressive gates at the entrance to a city are not new - cities have been guarding their entrances with fortified structures with good vantage points for almost as long as there have been cities.

So what more natural, when you want "look at me" architecture, than a building which rises high above its surroundings and can be seen from miles away? It's worth it - when thinking about medieval architecture - to imagine any town and most cities as places where nearly all the available buildings were no more than 1 or 2 stories high and built of wood. Towers of stone, reaching up to God's Heaven were a powerful statement and a psychologically unsubtle reminder of the importance of that building and those who controlled it.

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  • your post make sense let me some time to reread and think about it. Jul 22, 2016 at 1:29
  • I was thinking today about the bastides occupied by the cathars. I heard that the towers of churchs were used to keep an eye on the surroundings.Your answer seems good enough to me to be accepted. Thank you (2 years after the initial post). Jul 23, 2016 at 23:50
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I read on wiki some old monasteries and cathedrals include conjuratories in their towers, small religious buildings from which ceremonies were conducted to bless the fields and ward off calamities caused by the weather. People believed in weather spells during the romanesque period.

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Romanesque architecture It is an early architectural style characterised by thick walls and narrow windows.

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    I don't see how this addresses the actual question.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 18, 2016 at 17:01
  • I feel kind of leaning towards calling this a link-only answer. Apr 19, 2016 at 0:22

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