monumental architecture definition & Monuments


What are Monumental architecture?

Monumental architecture definition: Monumental architecture is Large aspects of material culture built to convey a message to those who interact with them.

• Typically structures

Monuments represent collective social identities and values

• You may not agree with them, but their meaning is so entrenched in social fabric that you intimately understand the message.

Conveying Meaning Through Constructed Space

Monuments are formally placed
• The space around them has to be negotiated, and outsiders are forced to confront their realities.

Monuments are Built to Last… Usually

• Cultural meanings are considered permanent
• Considerable money spent in establishment
• High quality building materials

• Some regions don’t use some materials
• In some places, wood is more prevalently used as a building material, and when it is, special care is taken to ensure the survival of these structures.

Why Build Monuments?

• To Personalize the Landscape
• To Display Wealth (Conspicuous Consumption)
• To Mark Territory
• To Protect Oneself
• To Venerate a Deity
• To Commemorate an Experience or Event

Portals gateways and territorial markers

represent interesting facets of monumentality because today they are often found in rather odd places due to the spread of urban environments in some places like zuoying taiwan city gates can be found in traffic circles .

disarticulated from the walls they were once connected to in other places like york old city gates .

act as choke points along important thoroughfares left up because of their importance to the city’s heritage but inconvenient to its modern inhabitants.

some territorial markers still make sense in light of urban change though for instance the gate to chinatown in san francisco still demarcates one end of the neighborhood’s boundaries


city walls are another example of monuments that have not stood up well .against the spread of urban environments returning to the example of zwaying some communities.

have opted to make parks around the remaining city walls. turning an area that was once meant to divide communities into a gathering point other cities such as havana cuba have chosen to leave parts of their city walls up interspliced throughout the urban environment likewise watchtowers and bastions that were once meant to demarcate.

the bounds of a settlement are often seen much closer to the center today examples of these like the tori lingi and trapanee sicily have become symbols of the city.

Homes: palaces castles, and mansions

other aspects of monumentality that have become symbols of places or regions were once home to elites palaces castles and mansions are some of the most dramatic examples of monumental architecture.

today the best examples draw millions of visitors from all around the world but not for the reasons you might think dune castle for instance is a stunning example of 15th century.

scottish residential architecture however today many of its visitors are only there because the castle was once prominently featured in the movie monty python and the holy grail and more recently featured in the tv show.

outlander likewise olnwick castle in northern england has become a mecca for harry potter fans because many of the scenes in that franchise were filmed there conversely castles like zvashnov and the czech republic are equally important for their historical value but see far fewer visitors because they were never prominently featured in aspects of popular culture.

Monumental Architecture Religious

unlike monumental residences monumental religious structures often see far more visitors because of their importance embedded in deeply held belief systems for instance according to the googles the tower of london .

took in about 2 million visitors last year whereas Notre dame de Paris before it burnt down was taking in 12 million annually to put that in perspective whereas both London and Paris are enormous cities that bring in millions of visitors every year the tower of London got only about as many visitors as Jackson square and the st louis cathedral in new Orleans new Orleans.

being a much smaller city with a much more modest cathedral churches aren’t the only monumental religious architecture that are commonly visited either in Istanbul for instance millions of people visit their mosques and the same is true for Greek roman and other iron age temples in the Mediterranean as well of course these are just the western examples in Asia there are tens of thousands of temples that bring in millions of visitors just like my other examples

Monumental architecture Memorials

closely related to monumental religious architecture are memorials. memorials are constructed in remembrance of important political and spiritual leaders.

fallen heroes and past loved ones they may also be built to commemorate pivotal historical events .one of my favorite monuments is the buddha memorial temple at fo guangchan seen here but whereas the buddha memorial temple is kind of hard to get to most of the more well-visited monuments tend to be in capital cities.

so here we have the washington monument and lincoln memorial in washington dc and the monument to chiang kai-shek and taipei all three monuments were built to commemorate leaders who took charge during pivotal moments in national histories


Tombs are another form of monumentality built to commemorate. the dead here we have perhaps the two most famous examples the pyramids of giza and the taj mahal.

both took fortunes to construct and highlight the extreme difference in wealth between those who were buried in them and those who built them

Monuments of the macabre

this brings us to monumental architecture of the macabre many cultures have a fascination with death and the darker aspects of human nature .

the three examples chosen to give you here are the seedily ossuary at kutnahora in the czech republic auschwitz and Poland and the trinity site.

the sedlec ossuary is a small chapel that essentially acts as a mass grave bones have been arranged all over the interior into ornate decorative patterns in spite of its macabre appearance .the idea behind it wasn’t all that sinister what ended up happening was that the chapel was built on a really important burial site for central Europeans.

during the crusade someone had gone to the holy land and brought back earth from the place where Christ was supposedly crucified because this earth was sacred everyone in the surrounding area wanted to be buried at.

the cemetery after the black death struck europe and with the hussite wars raging across bohemia there just simply wasn’t enough room for the bodies of all the dead so some of the older graves were exhumed and put in this ossuary to make room for newer graves .

unlike with the sadlak ossuary the construction of auschwitz was really sinister there’s just no sugar coating it it was a german-built death camp for jews and other people the nazis felt were undesirable today it’s a monument not because we’re obsessed with death like we are with the sadler gossowari but because it’s a stern reminder of what can happen.

when racism xenophobia and nationalism take control of a country I’m not really going to get into it because you should all know about Auschwitz but if you don’t there’s hours worth of video on YouTube you can check out and you really should because it was horrible turning to the trendy site this hole in the ground represents a monument because it’s the first place where an atomic device was detonated despite.

its status as a national landmark the trinity site is only open to the public twice a year because you guessed it it’s radioactive so i’ve included this here as a monument to the macabre because even though i don’t think anyone has died here it was a test run for hiroshima and nagasaki .

so while on the one hand the trendy site is important because it represents the transition into the atomic age on the other hand it also represents the death of millions of Japanese people

Reappropriation : change over time

mixed feelings about monuments are totally normal because monuments change over not talking about changing an architectural appearance although that does sometimes happen but the meanings behind them might change and adapt to better fit .

the needs of subsequent generations so the two best examples i have for this are the castello san angelo in rome and fort anping and tainan so the castelo san angelo started as a mausoleum to the emperor hadrian and over time was converted into a defensive work .

so that the pope could potentially leave the vatican and take shelter in this castle should the need ever arise thus the monument was converted from a memorial for an important leader to a defensive work to protect a current .

leader in the case of fort and ping the structure there represents two different colonial events the first is the dutch colonization of the island fort anping was originally fort zealandia.

when the dutch built a castle there this castle was sieged when the fujinese pirate lord koshinga chased the dutch off the island and it subsequently fell into ruin over the next couple centuries when the japanese took over the island at the beginning of the 20th century .

they built their own monument right on the spot where the dutch fort once stood and so monuments can be reappropriated they can be reappropriated by descendant communities who no longer see eye to eye with their ancestors or they could be reappropriated by newcomers to an area who take over places of power and try to rewrite history by setting up their own places of power right on top of the old ones

Modern Monumental architecture

so up until this point many of the monuments i’ve shared with you are functional as well as meaningful this isn’t always the case for modern monuments.

modern monuments tend to be more about commemorating the past or scientific achievements and technology so you get more statues like you see here with this dragon statue along the love river in gaoshan taiwan .where you get buildings that survive great disasters like the chicago water tower .

you also get nations competing for who has the best monuments one of the big ones is who has the tallest tower when i was a kid the sears tower in chicago was the world’s tallest building when i was in middle school in 1999 that was supplanted by taipei 101.

Conclusions: Monumental architecture

Obviously, there is no real clear-cut distinction between monumental architecture

• Castles provide the perfect example. They demarcate territory, provide
shelter, and act as defensive works.
• Territorial markers can also provide monuments that are functional, such
as lighthouses

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