Parma: Romanesque Cathedrals
Parma is home to about a million churches, just like every other Italian city. But what makes Parma different is that nearly every one (at least, every one that I saw) is built in the Romanesque style.
Romanesque architecture is easily recognizable. It incorporates the architectural styles of ancient Roman and Byzantine churches with the following features: thick walls, rounded arches, large piers, barrel vaults, arcading, and towers. In short: kind of boring. Romanesque churches are typically smaller than later styles, and those that are large get their size from width, not height. They aren't as glamorous as the later gothic style, which tends to be saturated with intricate sculpture, stained glass windows, impressive cross-vaults with fancy fanned details, and enormous pillars.
Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan is a great example of Romanesque architecture. The facade is pretty plain; just a boring expanse of brick with very few decorative features.
Romanesque facades tend to eclipse all the business going on in the back of the church, where any number of domes and semi-circular apses - adopted from Byzantine architecture -overlap each other.
There's a Romanesque church on nearly every street in Parma. Some look like Santa Maria delle Grazie with plain, brick facades.
Others have had fancier plaster or marble facades overlaid at some point along with more decorative features, but the basic form is the same.
It's easy to see which facades aren't original and have been dolled up over the years - the rest of the church is still plain old brick.
Because it's a cathedral and not just a church, it's fairly large. The body of the church is best described as a collection of various geometrical shapes mashed onto one another.
I prefer Gothic exteriors to Romanesque, but when it come to the inside, Romanesque wins. Gothic interiors tend to be mainly stone and stained glass. Their sheer size makes them impressive, but they lack the frescoes that most Romanesque interiors are covered in.
Parma's cathedral is a prime example of these lavishly frescoed interiors - nearly every surface is covered.
And, like all cathedrals, it is made up of a nave (the main aisle) and two side aisles. Romanesque architecture utilizes rounded arches to separate the three aisles.
Parma's cathedral departs from the simple, basic piers that are a staple of Romanesque. Here, they've surrounded them with smaller shafts, just like Milan's cathedral (though they clearly lack the massive size of those in Milan).
The best part about Romanesque architecture is that it almost always involves a dome of some size. In the larger churches and cathedrals, this means that the interior will be beautifully painted. Wall frescoes are great, but the proportions of a dome make for a stunning perspective when painted.
Painted by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli in 1538, "Christ, Mary, Saints, and Angels in Glory" depicts...well, Christ, Mary, saints and angels in glory, I suppose. I guess they look like they're having a glorious time?