Romanesque architecture developed gradually in some regions of medieval Europe between the late 10th century and the first two decades of the 11th century. During this period, there is a striking dynamism in the definition of original plans, new building solutions and in the first architectural sculpture experiments, especially in regions that are currently part of France and Spain: Burgundy, Poitou, Auvergne and Catalonia.
This phenomenon should be understood within a more complex historical framework, marked by the expansion of monasticism and by an increase in the number of pilgrimages. Romanesque architecture was not exclusively religious. Castles, palaces, towers, bridges, roads and other public or private facilities were also built in significant quantity and variety.
It is between 1060 and 1080 that Romanesque architecture consolidates its main technical and formal innovations, taking advantage of a pre-existing knowledge that was then adjusted to fit new needs and purposes. In this sense, the plan of the Romanesque church, despite its diversity, is well defined around 1100; simultaneously, sculpture invades the building, covering the capitals and decorating façades and cloisters.
The Romanesque has been regarded as the first European style. While it is certain that Romanesque architecture and arts are a common phenomenon to the European kingdoms of that period, the truth is that one of its main stylistic characteristics is exactly its regional diversity. Despite the constant reassessments that have been conducted regarding the division of the History of Art into styles, these are still useful barometers in the definition of the history of shapes.
Their main purpose is to classify large groups of monuments and cannot have exclusive influence in the analysis on a given building. In fact, there are building and decorative systems that may be classified as part of a given style and, nonetheless, they do not necessarily correspond to its corresponding traditional concepts. That is why, regarding the Romanesque style, the peripheral names "popular", "rural" and "resistance" prove themselves increasingly reliable for the classification of any given architectural structure under study.
Together with its regional diversity, Romanesque architecture is characterised by a long diachrony. The persistence of its shapes over time, whose broad chronology may span between the late 10th century and the 15th century - in the case of Portugal and other Hispanic regions -, increasingly forces us to keep in mind the vernacularisation and popularisation of its shapes.
So, taking into account the reductionist nature of the concept of "style", instead of talking about a "Romanesque style", we should consider the broader notion of "Romanesque period", insofar it is more in line with the heterogeneity and variability that characterises this moment within the Middle Ages.
While talking about Romanesque architecture we should keep in mind that the buildings are not just a series of elements that, coordinated with each other, give rise to a given shape that is considered a "Romanesque construction". These are also, rather significantly, the result of conceptual combinations, but also of specific historical, economic, political, social and religious circumstances. In short, they are the result of human action.
A style is not just a series of formal solutions that the artistic and/or architectural object contains, but rather a combination of shapes, ideas and purposes. Architecture should be understood as the history of meanings, rather than the history of shapes.
The creation of regional groups, gathered under a heading called "Romanesque" is the result of the stabilization of the dominant technical, formal and functional solutions and, consequently, of different meanings. The art created across Western Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries and extended well beyond that period did not always show the same features everywhere.