Gargoyles in Gothic Architecture
The word gargoyle comes from the French term gargouille, meaning throat, which is appropriate due to the way they divert water from buildings. The history, versatility, and functionality of gargoyles run through many cultures. When thinking about the decorative touches that delight and add to the distinctive design of a building, the best-known is probably the stony gremlin faces of gargoyles in gothic architecture. These grotesque decorations around Notre-Dame de Paris were made famous in Victor Hugo's book, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, as the watchful companions of Quasimodo. In truth, the rise of gargoyles holds a historical and functional place in architecture that pre-dates the setting of the book.
Types of Gargoyles
Gargoyles add visual interest and decoration, but the purpose of gargoyles in architecture is to route water away from buildings. Most gargoyles have water spouts to clear flat surfaces of pools of water. These spouts direct watch through a tube in the mouth of the design to another location for collection or to a distribution area like a fountain.
Flying buttresses with aqueducts channel water off of the surfaces of the building usually into the street. The flying buttresses are recognizable as faces or designs that leap off the side of the building several feet to redirect water from rooftops. The aqueducts in the center of the gargoyles are the modern-day gutters used to protect the building from water damage.
Cultural Significance of Gargoyles
Many cultures use gargoyles to enhance the design of a building and protect the surface of the walls. Although most known in French gothic architecture, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Egyptians all used carvings or flying buttresses with water spouts on buildings to protect the surfaces. The type of animal or representation changes from culture to culture to adapt to local beliefs or purposes. Gargoyles are primarily identified as demon-like figures on Christian churches to reinforce a theme of good and evil; however, gargoyles appear all over the world as real and mythical animals like dragons, fish, lions, and dogs as well as folklore representations such as fairies and trolls.
Learn more about the use of gargoyles in gothic architecture to protect buildings.
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