The Classical Language of Architecture


Chapter 3 – Sixteenth Century Linguistics

analysis Kenan Özcan

Çeviri (Translation): Turgut Saner, Homer Kitabevi, 2005

Architecture students should read the publications accepted as a masterpiece of architectural history, from the early years of their education. This is one of those mustread classical books.


If we sum up the first and second chapters of the book so far; the focus is on the functioning of classical architecture as a language. The mechanical aspect of the work is described with examples. The nature of the five orders, the use of full, half and three-quarter columns, pilasters, the conjunction of columns with arches, intercolumniation, etc.

The third chapter focuses on handling of this grammar by some of the great innovating personalities of the sixteenth century. Bramante is undoubtedly the most competent person who uses the classical language of 16th century architecture in his applications. Sarlio states in his book that he revived the buried architecture of antiquity.

For Serlio, Bramante was the exact equivalent of the Antique Age. Tempietto is a reconstruction by Bramante of an ancient Roman circular temple – or so it seems first. However, as a result, the design embodies many innovative ideas. It is an extension of an idea borrowed from the Romans. A circular Roman temple was revived by Bramante’s in 16th century Rome. This rebirth, as an advanced example of development, has been imitated many times.

The author describes Bramante’s Tempietto as “a perfect piece of architectural prose.”

I strongly recommend you to visit this architectural monument in Rome. It is as important and well-known as Pantheon or Arch of Constantine. Besides Tempietto, London’s Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral (1696-1709) should also be visited. St. Paul’s Cathedral is inspired by Tempietto, but it is not a duplicated, large-scale reconstructive version of it. In fact, it is a masterpiece that carries the design a step further.

A circular building from antique age had inspired Bramante to build Tempietto in the 16th century, and Tempietto inspired Wren to build St. Paul’s Cathedral between the years 1696-1708.

This cathedral, where the wedding ceremonies of Prince Charles Philip Arthur George and Princess Diana had been held, was taken over by Wren in 1668 for the maintenance and repair work after the great London fire and the renovation started in 1675. The dome, inspired by the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome, is decorated in a
simple British Baroque style. The cathedral, which consists of three towers, was opened in 1708 on Wren’s 76th birthday.

Circular, columned temples are very common in Rome. Temple of Vesta located near Tiber River is an example of such structures. In Istanbul, there is a couple of successful examples of the aforementioned architectural development.

Hagia Sophia is a domed basilica that combines the basilica plan and central plan and is considered as an important milestone in the history of architecture with its dome transition and carrier system. The central dome of Hagia Sophia, which is the largest dome of the period, collapsed many times during the Byzantine period until Mimar Sinan added retaining walls to the building.

It is said that due to the accumulation of stones, soil, and debris on the edge of the Tophane (a district of Istanbul located near the sea); the first mosque over the sea was built by Grand Admiral Kılıç Ali Pasha in 1581. Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque, with its half-domes on both sides of the main dome, arches and supporting walls on the other, is actually a smaller scale of Hagia Sophia.

This building, built by The Great Architect Sinan during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, built upon a church plan type. The mosque’s plan is focused on the mihrab. Hagia Sophia, on the other hand, was built over a typical cathedral plan with its side naves placed on the right and left sides of the middle nave.

The question is, why did The Great Architect Sinan choose Hagia Sophia in Suleiman the Magnificent period? In fact, when you look carefully it is not a reconstruction just as in Tempietto and then many years later St. Paul in London. In other words, Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque is not a small-scale revival of Hagia Sophia. It is an advanced version, which has been made pure and simple in many ways, and improved example of much better and more robust in terms of its structure. Just like St.Paul’s being an advanced and improved example of Tempietto.

Sinan, in fact put his stamp on history. Hagia Sophia was reborn as a very advanced version with Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque. Especially by placing the weight towers on the right and left wings of the central dome perpendicular to the apse, which were not supported by the half-dome has become a solution to the stability problem of Hagia Sophia’s central dome, which has been an open wound of the structure for centuries.

Bramante led architecture in Italy to that stage of complete conquest of the antique and complete confidence in extending and adapting it which we call; in all the arts, the High Renaissance. It has never been a period of imitation, a reconstructive period, or an era of borrowed ideas. There has been an age of enlightenment with new designs and ideas that pushes the existing forward. The next generation after
Bramante also embraced his ideas including architect and painter Raphael, Peruzzi, Antonio da Sangallo, and so on.

Bramante died only three years before Palladio was born. Palladio spent most of his life in a rather provincial little north-Italian town called Vicenza. However, both in Vicenza and in Venice, he used the classical language of architecture in a very bright and memorable way.

Palladio overtook Bramante’s mastery of the grammar of Roman architecture and when opportunities came to him, he built buildings in which the language of Rome was more eloquent, more articulate, than it had ever been.

All the features of the classical language can be observed on the west side of S. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

The church was designed by Palladio and started to be built in 1566. After the death of Palladio, the facade was completed by Scamozzi in 1610 over Palladio’s sketches

Giulio Romano: Rustication

“As the word rather implies, it (rustication) was at first conceived to mean a rough countrified way of laying stones, each particular stone retaining some of the individuality it had when hewn from the quarry. However, this rustic roughness was recognized as having character – artistic possibilities – and it became in due course the subject of extreme sophistication.” (The Classical Language of Architecture, John Summerson, 2005, p. 50)

Serlio describes rustication as being fundamentally a mixture of the nature and artificial.

After answering the question of what rustication is, the question of why it is significant is more important. Rustication, followed Bramante, Palladio and Rafaello and made a positive contribution to the development process. Giulio didn’t invent rustication. The Romans used it before. But he did bring it to a pitch of expressiveness which no one else had dreamed of and from which very few architects after his time failed to benefit.

Much later than rustication and its great master Giulio Romano, a pioneering and creative new name emerges: Michelangelo.

Michelangelo was not an architect but a sculptor. However, he contributed more to the rise of architecture compared to many of his contemporary architects. The issue of how it is possible to outrage the authority of the High Renaissance can be explained by his revolutionary works.

“But I must end up by introducing you to a much greater revolutionary than Giulio Romano, to the man who really did outrage the authority of the High Renaissance and turn classical architecture into new courses – Michelangelo.” (The Classical Language of Architecture, John Summerson, 2005, p. 52)

Michelangelo was not an architect but a sculptor. However, he contributed more to the rise of architecture compared to many of his contemporary architects. The issue of how it is possible to outrage the authority of the High Renaissance can be explained by his revolutionary works. Revolution can only be possible through freedom, free thought and design and also with broking patterns, interpretation and application of habitual orders in such a way that is unique and never seen before.

“No architect – anyway no young and impressionable architect – who visited the Medici Chapel when Michelangelo had done with it could ever feel quite the same about architecture again.” (The Classical Language of Architecture, John Summerson, 2005, p. 53)

Architectural works are renowned sometimes because of their designers, sometimes because of their design excellence, and sometimes just because they are first and pioneers. Up to date, I’ve seen, visited and examined many buildings. The Medici Chapels in Florence is one of them. For me, it is not its designer or its design excellence of the overall structure that distinguishes it from other works. What is important to me is a part of a building, a detail in the whole of its facade rather than the overall structure. Architectural poetry only in a niche… I am impressed by the inability of technical descriptions and recipes in the history of architecture to describe this niche. The expression of the degree that the architecture without emotion and the emotional integrity of architecture can reach together… It’s a small niche, but a great lesson.

Kenan Özcan, Mayıs (May) 2019, İstanbul