Byzantine architecture took shape once Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 330 AD. While drawing on elements of ancient Roman architecture, the architectural style evolved. Churches were built with a Greek cross plan and brick and mortar were used to create elaborate geometric patterns as decoration. Architects took more liberty with the classical orders that had been defined since the Greeks. Though Byzantium has a long history, most of the iconic architecture comes from the middle period when the empire was at its wealthiest.
Early works, like the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, demonstrate the detailed mosaic decoration that would become the hallmark of the style. As the most iconic example of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia shows off the engineering prowess of the Byzantines with its series of domes—the minarets are an Ottoman addition not part of the original design. In fact, it remained the world’s largest cathedral until 1520. Long after the fall of Byzantium, cultures were influenced by its architecture. For instance, St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which was started in 1555, mixes Byzantine architecture with Russian tradition.
Timeline: 527 to 1453
Signature building: Hagia Sophia
Mesoamerican—or Pre-Columbian—architecture refers to the buildings constructed by the native cultures of what is now Central America, from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica. The period is most classically identified with Maya architecture and the great stepped pyramids of this civilization. Urban planning was guided by religious and mythological beliefs, as the cultures believed that the architecture was a tangible form of their faith.
Mesoamerican structures are noted for their heavy stonework and use of enormous manpower to overcome technological handicaps. While this limited their abilities to build things such as true arches, they adapted to invent a corbeled arch which supported less weight but was still functional. The El Castillo pyramid at the iconic Maya city of Chichen Itza exemplifies what we think of as Pre-Columbian architecture. The chunky architecture would later influence Frank Lloyd Wright, who in the 1920s and 1930s worked in a Mayan Revival style.
Timeline: 2000 BC to 1519 AD
Signature building: El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcan)