Durham is located in northeast England, near Scotland. Therefore, it was an important frontier town after the Norman Conquest and grew to include a Romanesque fortified castle, a monastery, and a cathedral, all constructed from around 1075 through the 1100s. The sole entry into the enclosed castle complex was across a drawbridge flanked by guard towers. While many castles were surrounded by a moat, here the Wear River acted as a natural water boundary with stone walls built upon the natural rocky outcrop. The castle is a fine example of the motte-and-bailey type. Visitors then entered into the bailey, with the keep to the right, or east, and the Great Hall, once the largest in all of England, located straight ahead, while the cathedral was built to the south. The Great Hall was used for public meetings by the Prince-Bishops of Durham, who lived in the adjoining castle, which is all part of Durham University today. The Durham complex was originally constructed in timber, and gradually replaced by stone through the years. A small chapel located next to the keep may have been the first stone building constructed, commissioned by William the Conqueror and built around 1075. The Cathedral of Durham was begun in 1087 to house the relics of Saint Cuthbert and is one of the best examples of Norman Romanesque architecture in Europe. The interior features an arcade of beautiful nave pillars carved in geometric chevrons and diamond-shaped patterns that alternate with compounded piers, all of which are topped by rounded arches, a short triforium gallery on the second story, and clerestory windows on the upper nave walls. Unlike Gothic churches, this design provides an A-B-A-B rhythm down the nave that is carried through in the ceiling as well. The cross-vaulted ceiling is one of the tallest in the Romanesque period, with intersecting ribs that span two bays instead of one, while in the transepts, the earliest example of four-part vaults arranged in rectangular bays appears. From Durham, this vaulting system then spread to continental Europe; it is found, for example, at Saint-Étienne at Caen in France.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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