Renaissance Ideal Cities

During the Medieval period, a vast array of unique architectural structures were created, many of them religious in nature. The Latin cross plan was a very common design found in churches and other religious buildings created during the Medieval period. Many religious structures were also heavily influenced by the older Roman basilicas and by Byzantine and Greek architecture.

Though many past architectural styles and achievements were drawn upon, the Middle Ages also saw the creation of some new styles of architecture, including the Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, and Gothic styles.

While Pre-Romanesque styles actually encompass a wide range of different styles, inspired by an even wider range of older architectural forms, the Romanesque style was, of course, heavily influenced by traditional Roman architecture. As expected, structures that were considered to be “Romanesque” in appearance and design typically featured rounded arches, piers, and barrel vaults. Gothic styles became popular in the 11th and 12th centuries eventually surpassing the Romanesque style. Stone and glass were common materials used in Gothic structures, and common features include flying buttresses, pointed arches, stone vaults, clustered columns, spires, pinnacles, stained glass, and churches that reached toward heaven.

Castles were also being built during the Medieval period, and despite the beauty of many such structures, they were functional in nature. Castles of the time were built as places of defense and refuge and featured fortified walls and battlement shelters where archers and other territory defenders could hide.

Obviously, there were all kinds of exciting and innovative things going on in the Middle Ages, architecturally speaking. Some architectural achievements are considered more impressive and more indicative of the time they represent and the ideals held so dear in that time than others. These include such structures as the Palazzi Rucellai, Riccardi, the Florence Stock Exchange, and Monticello.

Palazzi Rucellai

The Palazzi Rucellai looks like a palace, but, in actuality, it is really just a grandiose townhouse built in the 15th century. Located in Florence, Italy, the palace was built between 1446 and 1451.

Though there is some debate over which architects designed and constructed the elaborate town home, it is widely accepted that Leon Battista Alberti came up with the structure’s design. Alberti was a well known Italian architect of the time, one who also dabbled in writing, creating art, studying linguistics, and philosophizing, among other things. Another architect whose name is often synonymous with the structure is Bernardo Rossellino. Most scholars believe that, while Alberti came up with the design of the townhome, it was Rossellino who actually erected it.

The most important feature of the Palazzi Rucellai is its facade, which utilizes proportional pilasters and entablatures in its design. These features, now considered common to Renaissance architecture, may have made their first appearance here.

The famed facade resembles a grid in its design and features a stone veneer and several three-story bays. Each story of the building itself is representative of a different classical order. Other notable features include the round-arched windows, voussoirs, and the off-center court.


For a true Italian palace, one has to look no further than the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, sometimes called the Palazzo Medici or just the “Riccardi” for short. The palace can be found in Florence, Italy where it has stood (at least partially) since 1444. That’s the year construction on the palace began though it wasn’t completed until 1484.

The palace, which was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, has definite Roman and Brunelleschian influences. The rusticated masonry, for example, is very Roman in nature, as is the cornice. Other notable features include the stone masonry and the tripartite elevation which serves to section the palace into three stories, each one shorter than the one before it.

Today, the Riccardi serves not only as a testament to architectural styles and influences of the time, but also as a testament to the great wealth and power of the Medici family, for whom the palace was originally crafted.


Monticello is representative of an ideal city in that it was Thomas Jefferson’s, the third President of the United States’, version of an ideal city. The president designed and redesigned the structure, which was used as a fully functioning plantation, to suit his ever-changing ideals and fancies.

Jefferson was particularly fond of the architectural influences popularized by famed architect Andrea Palladio, who was responsible for designing the Vila Rotunda. This fact is evident based on the neoclassical appearance of the plantation, which more closely resembles a villa than it does a 1768 (the year construction started) plantation. French influences are visible in the structure as well, making it a sort of hodgepodge of popular architectural styles and wonderfully symbolic of the way in which architectural styles evolve, meld, and change over time.