A Glossary of Architectural Terms
Ambone -- A pulpit, either serpentine or simple in form, erected in an Italian church.
Apse -- The half-rounded extension behind the main altar of a church; Christian tradition dictates that it be placed at the eastern end of an Italian church, the side closest to Jerusalem.
Atrium -- A courtyard, open to the sky, in an ancient Roman house; the term also applies to the courtyard nearest the entrance of an early Christian church.
Baldacchino (also ciborium) -- A columned stone canopy, usually placed above the altar of a church; spelled in English baldachin or baldaquin.
Baptistry -- A separate building or a separate area in a church where the rite of baptism is held.
Basilica -- Any rectangular public building, usually divided into three aisles by rows of columns. In ancient Rome, this architectural form was frequently used for places of public assembly and law courts; later, Roman Christians adapted the form for many of their early churches.
Caldarium -- The steam room of a Roman bath.
Campanile -- A bell tower, often detached, of a church.
Capital -- The top of a column, often carved and usually categorized into one of three orders: Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian.
Castrum -- A carefully planned Roman military camp, whose rectangular form, straight streets, and systems of fortified gates quickly became standardized throughout the empire; modern cities that began as Roman camps and that still more or less maintain their original forms include Chester (England); Barcelona (Spain); and such Italian cities as Lucca, Aosta, Como, Brescia, Florence, and Ancona.
Cavea -- The curved row of seats in a classical theater; the most prevalent shape was that of a semicircle.
Cella -- The sanctuary, or most sacred interior section, of a Roman pagan temple.
Chancel -- Section of a church containing the altar.
Cornice -- The decorative flange defining the uppermost part of a classical or neoclassical facade.
Cortile -- Courtyard or cloisters ringed with a gallery of arches or lintels set atop columns.
Crypt -- A church's main burial place, usually below the choir.
Cupola -- A dome.
Duomo -- Cathedral.
Forum -- The main square and principal gathering place of any Roman town, usually adorned with the city's most important temples and civic buildings.
Grotesques -- Carved and painted faces, deliberately ugly, used by everyone from the Etruscans to the architects of the Renaissance; they're especially amusing when set into fountains.
Hypogeum -- Subterranean burial chambers, usually of pre-Christian origins.
Loggia -- Roofed balcony or gallery.
Lozenge -- An elongated four-sided figure that, along with stripes, was one of the distinctive signs of the architecture of Pisa.
Narthex -- The anteroom, or enclosed porch, of a Christian church.
Nave -- The largest and longest section of a church, usually devoted to sheltering or seating worshipers and often divided by aisles.
Palazzo -- A palace or other important building.
Piano Nobile -- The main floor of a palazzo (sometimes the second floor).
Pietra Dura -- Richly ornate assemblage of semiprecious stones mounted on a flat decorative surface, perfected during the 1600s in Florence.
Pieve -- A parish church.
Portico -- A porch, usually crafted from wood or stone.
Pulvin -- A four-sided stone that serves as a substitute for the capital of a column, often decoratively carved, sometimes into biblical scenes.
Putti -- Plaster cherubs whose chubby forms often decorate the interiors of baroque chapels and churches.
Stucco -- Colored plaster composed of sand, powdered marble, water, and lime, either molded into statuary or applied in a thin concretelike layer to the exterior of a building.
Telamone -- Structural column carved into a standing male form; female versions are called caryatids.
Thermae -- Roman baths.
Transenna -- Stone (usually marble) screen separating the altar area from the rest of an early Christian church.
Travertine -- The stone from which ancient and Renaissance Rome was built; it's known for its hardness, light coloring, and tendency to be pitted or flecked with black.
Tympanum -- The half-rounded space above the portal of a church, whose semicircular space usually showcases a sculpture.
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