Renaissance architecture was a predominantly Western European style that developed alongside the conscious revival of intellectual thought in the 14th through 16th centuries. Renaissance style buildings put emphasis on symmetry, geometry, and regularity. Many of the most famous buildings had hemispherical domes and interior niches. The buildings often echo classical antiquity, especially ancient Roman architecture.
The Renaissance-style replaced the complex and irregular profiles of Gothic and Medieval buildings and was followed up by the much more decorative Baroque architecture. Here are 10 of the most amazing Renaissance buildings that are still standing today.
10 Kronborg: Helsingør, Denmark
This castle is probably most famous for being Shakespeare’s inspiration for Elsinore, the castle where Hamlet lived. However, the name Elsinore is actually an anglicized version of the town the castle resides in, Helsingør. The castle was first built as a fortress in the 1420s but was extended steadily fo the next 200 years until Flemish architect Anthonis van Obbergen was brought in in 1578 to make the castle larger and more magnificent.
A fire in 1629 burned much of the castle, and the exterior was restored in keeping with the original Renaissance design. Today guests can still visit the Royal Apartments, the Ballroom, the Little Hall, and the Chapel. It is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe. In 2000, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
9 Zamość Old City: Poland
In Poland, the city of Zamość is incredibly unique because it is one of the oldest surviving examples of a Renaissance planned town. It retains the original layout and fortifications that were laid out in the 16th century, as well as many of the original buildings. The buildings were later painted in the Mannerist taste, and have retained those colors, but the architecture itself follows the Italian theories of the “ideal town.”
Impressive Renaissance features include an arcade gallery around the main square, as well as the Armenian Tenants with their decorative Tuscan columns and pediments. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8 Augsburg Town Hall: Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany
The administrative center of Augsburg is also considered one of the most significant secular buildings of the Renaissance style north of the Alps. It was built quickly, from 1615-1624, and was a technological marvel for its time. It was the first building in the entire world to be more than six stories tall.
A few pale green onion domes top the geometrically perfect building. The building is also famous for its austere white exterior, which was characteristic of the German Renaissance. In WWII, the exterior of the building was devastatingly burned. It was rebuilt to its original splendor, though the interior was simplified dramatically. Guests are free to enter to see the exhibits of the history of the city.
7 Villa Farnese: Caprarola, Italy
The Villa Farnese is a mansion in central Italy, not far from Rome. It’s a massive Renaissance construction, one of the most important ones left in Rome. The pentagonal plan was executed in a reddish goldstone, with white Ionic columns in a central gallery. The villa opens up onto beautiful ancient woods on volcanic hills. Ornament is used very sparingly, which means the design - despite being enormous - still complements the surrounding area.
Today, the in-house casino and gardens are one of the homes of the Italian President, but the main villa is open to the public for viewing.
6 Jaén Cathedral: Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
Construction of the impressive Jaén Cathedral began in 1249, atop the ruins of a mosque that had belonged to the Almohad Caliphate in Iberia until the Castillian branch of the Reconquista drove the Moors out in 1225. It’s a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and still in use as a church today. It took several hundred years to build because it was damaged several times. The largest part of the Cathedral was built by Andrés de Vandelvira.
The facade includes two tall bell towers, and the central nave features a half dome with an arched gallery on top. It is being considered to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
5 Uffizi Gallery: Florence, Italy
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is one of the most important Italian museums, as well as one of the most visited. Inside are some of the most famous works of art in the world, including Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
Initially, Uffizi was built in 1560 to be an office building, hence the name "Uffizi." An upper gallery was later added for family members in the 1580s. The famous courtyard is long and narrow, and bordered by articulated galleries divided by classic Tuscan columns. The Renaissance-style niches are filled with sculptures by famous artists of the 19th century. Guests to the museum are welcome Tuesdays through Sundays.
4 Krasiczyn Castle: Krasiczyn, Poland
Construction for the castle began in 1580 and was finished in 1633, making it one of the most efficient building projects on this list. It began as a fortress, but Italian architect Galeazzo Appiani was brought in to beautify the building and make it a proper castle.
The white stone exterior follows the Renaissance ideals of orderly design that shows itself for what it is. There are sculpted portals, long arcades, and an extremely unique sgraffito wall depicting Polish kings, Roman emperors, and saints. Unfortunately, most of the ornamental decoration was destroyed during World War II. A hotel in the side wing of the castle accepts guests year-round.
3 Château De Chenonceau: Chenonceaux, France
This astounding picturesque castle spans the River Cher in a series of beautiful arches that look straight out of a Disney fairytale. The bridge was built in 1556-59 by French Renaissance architect Philibert de l'Orme, and the gallery was built in 1570-76 by Jean Bullant.
The architecture is technically a mix of Late Gothic and Early Renaissance, but the exterior contains many of the classic Renaissance features, including the unadorned walls and triangular pediment over the windows. After the French Revolution, the Château de Chenonceau became the property of the government. Most of the castle and all of the gardens are open to the public, and it is the second most visited château in France, after Versailles.
2 Schwerin Palace: Schwerin, Germany
This magnificent Schloss (castle) looks like it belongs in a fairytale and is located on an island in the city’s main lake. The warm towers rise high above the trees around the Schwerin Palace, and one half-expects Rapunzel to let down her hair from the highest turrets.
The building went through several lives, first as a fort in 1160, then as a Renaissance palace built in the mid-16th century. The current style was achieved by Georg Adolph Demmler, who was brought in to restore that castle in the early 19th century. It is built in the French Renaissance style. For some time, the building was used as a museum, then as a school for kindergarten teachers. Today, the Schwerin Castle is a government building and said to be haunted by the little and friendly Petermännchen.
1 Château de Chambord: Chambord, France
This castle in north-central France is renowned for its distinctive French Renaissance architecture. It was built as a hunting lodge for Francis I. No one is sure who the architect is, but many speculate Leonardo da Vinci himself may have been involved in the design. Amazingly, the Château de Chambord was actually never completed, though to see it today it certainly looks complete.
The massive chateau has wide picturesque gardens as well as a moat surrounding it. There are four immense bastion towers at the corners, but the real architectural marvel is the roofscape. It has eleven different kinds of towers, three types of chimneys, and several cupolas. Nevertheless, the effect is one of symmetry and enlightenment. Naturally, Chambord is one of the most popular châteaus to visit in France.