Lantern (architecture)

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Petrikirche in Riga , Latvia , with three lanterns and three slightly bulged domes and a dome with a pointed helmet

A round, square or polygonal tower-like tower on a building is called a lantern ( ancient Greek λαμπτήρ lamptér = "candlestick", "torch"; English lantern ; French lanterne ) or roof lantern . It can be open to the side or with a window; it is usually closed at the top. Flat roof glazing is summarized in German under the term skylights .

Lantern as a dome attachment

Sectional drawing of a dome with a lantern ( Santa Maria Maggiore , Rome)

In older domed buildings , the lantern is an openwork structure above the dome eye. Similar to an Opaion (example: Rome, Pantheon ), the lantern was used to illuminate the interior of the dome and the part of the room below. The daylight entering through a lantern is more subdued than with an open Opaion, but in contrast to this it also offers protection from the weather.

Lantern to illuminate the interior ( San Luigi dei Francesi , Rome)

Not found in ancient architecture and rarely found in medieval Romanesque and Gothic architecture (exceptions: Baptisteries of Lenno , Lomello and Florence ; Cologne, St. Aposteln ; Palermo, Dom ; Ely, Cathedral ; St-Michel d'Entraigues ; Milan , Santa Maria delle Grazie ), the lantern in churches and representative buildings of the Renaissance and Baroque almost always forms the end of a dome or a vault and is also an important source of daylight.

On the other hand, since the 18th century at the latest, most of the dome lanterns (e.g. Aachen Cathedral , Cathedral of Périgueux , Abbey Church of Souillac , Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre ) no longer served to illuminate the interior, but are primarily used as a representative and the building To see 'excessive' decorative elements.

Lantern as tower attachment

Openwork tops on towers are also known as lanterns, although they did not serve to illuminate the building below. The tower lanterns, which are often comparatively large compared to the dome lanterns , had warning functions ( lighthouses ) or watch functions ( church , town hall and family towers ) in antiquity and in the Middle Ages . Later on, the lanterns, which have now become smaller, have become functionless, and have been used purely as architectural decoration since the late Renaissance (see below) and in the Baroque era.

Coin images of the Pharos of Alexandria


The origin of all architectural lanterns lies in the ancient lighthouses (e.g. Pharos of Alexandria , Tower of Hercules in A Coruña ), in whose lanterns a beacon - possibly reinforced by mirrors - was lit every evening .

While the tradition of erecting lighthouses in the Mediterranean area gradually disappeared during Islamic times, it continued almost uninterrupted in northern Europe well into the 20th century.


Minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque , Marrakech

Long before lanterns were adopted as an architectural element in Christian-European architecture, lanterns were found on top of minarets , the architecture of which - especially in North Africa - was sometimes deliberately based on ancient lighthouses.

Some of the early minarets in Islamic art already have lantern-like spiers (e.g. Kairouan , Samarra ). They experienced a heyday under the Moroccan Almohads : with a lantern as the top of the tower, the Great Mosque of Taza , the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech and the Giralda , as the former minaret of the Cathedral of Seville is called, were built in the 12th century . Their factual or symbolic function, however, is unclear: a shelter and / or sound amplifier for the muezzin or a pure - but sky-facing - architectural element? However, minarets were also used as watchtowers - the lanterns could have served as a shelter for the tower guard (s).

Lanterns can also be found sporadically on purely - yet representative - functional buildings in the Islamic world (e.g. Seville, Torre del Oro ).


Renaissance lantern on a late Gothic tower of Rodez Cathedral

While most of the Romanesque or Gothic church towers in Central and Northern Europe mostly ended in pitched or pitched roofs or in - partly openwork - pointed helmets, there are also some towers that end with platforms and stepped, lantern-like attachments, which probably also had a watch function ( e.g .: Trani , Dom-Campanile; Modena , Dom-Campanile; Salerno , Dom-Campanile; Cefalù , cathedral facade towers). These - more in the south of Italy and in Sicily, d. H. found close to the Mediterranean Sea and the Islamic cultural area - however, the architectural tradition ends with the blossoming of the Renaissance. Examples of late Gothic tower lanterns can be found on the Strasbourg cathedral (approx. 1429–1439) and on the north tower of the cathedral in Rodez (approx. 1513–1526).

Building owners and architects of the Renaissance - in conscious reference to antiquity - largely avoided all types of tower buildings (exception: Dijon , Saint-Michel).

Only since the late Renaissance, in the age of the Counter-Reformation , which was again linked to medieval ways of thinking and building , have church towers been built again and closed with domes or domes on which small lanterns sit; however, the domes or hoods now only have a load-bearing or mediating function and are only illuminated in the interior in exceptional cases by the lanterns, which have become functionless and are mainly meant to be decorative or representative. It is possible that it is the towers of the church of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (1563–1584) commissioned by Philip II , which established this new building tradition, which became more and more prevalent in the Baroque period (e.g. Zaragoza, Basílica del Pilar ; Pilgrimage Church of the Fourteen Saints ).

Large baroque church tower lanterns without intermediate domes can be found in London (e.g. St Paul's Cathedral , St Mary le Strand ), later also in northern Germany - largely untouched by many building traditions (examples: Dresden, Hofkirche ; Hamburg, St. Michaelis ).

Town hall towers

In the city-states of northern Italy, but also in other cities in Europe, the secular rulers were often in competition with the clergy - a fact that is also reflected in the architecture, because often enough an inner-city competition for the tallest and most beautiful tower broke out. Towers were erected on or next to the Palazzi Comunali , many of which also have lantern-like attachments in the center of a walk-around platform (e.g. Volterra , Florence , Siena , Modena , Ferrara ). Since most of the towers were used as watchtowers, it is very likely that these lanterns served as shelters for the tower guards, who were also responsible for ringing the warning bells - on or in the lanterns.

Gender towers

In two of the 15 surviving medieval towers in San Gimignano (Italy) to stone lantern-like essays received. Whether the other towers were erected without lanterns or whether they had wooden towers - which have since been destroyed - is still an unanswered question. In any case, these towers are likely to have had similar watch functions as the church tower and town hall lanterns that were erected at the same time.

Clock towers

Lantern stands can be found on many clock towers built by the British in their homeland and in their (former) colonial empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. With their representative and sovereign implications, the lanterns underline the stately symbolism of the clock towers.


United States

Tower-like towers called lanterns were also erected on some skyscrapers from the first half of the 20th century, the architecture of which is graduated in height and is based on ancient lighthouses or minarets (e.g. Singer Building , New York; Wrigley Building , Chicago; Woolworth Building , New York; Metropolitan Life Tower , New York). With the increasing dominance of the so-called “International Style” in high-rise architecture in the second half of the 20th century, the roofs of the skyscrapers remained flat and without attachments (e.g. MetLife Building , New York; John Hancock Center , Chicago; World Trade Center , New York).

Eastern bloc countries

The Socialist Classicism d. H. the high-rise architecture of the post-war period, which was influenced by Stalinism (e.g. Lomonossow University in Moscow ; Palace of Culture in Warsaw ; Palace of Culture in Riga ), in turn, is based on American models from the first half of the 20th century. On the top of the buildings there are lantern attachments that are meant to be representative.

Russian Embassy in Berlin , modern lantern with a square floor plan above the central part

Modern lantern attachments

A fine example of a modern lantern can be found on the lantern tower of the Rabat Cathedral (Morocco), which was built around 1920 . At the turn of the millennium, lanterns were also built as building tops; some work as a play of light every evening (e.g. Cologne, Medical Center on Neumarkt). In this context, the spotlights on the Eiffel Tower or on high-rise buildings should also be mentioned.

Lantern as a column attachment

Pillar of light in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid of Ahmedabad , India

In medieval Europe (especially in Aquitaine ) lanterns were often found at the end of - mostly in cemeteries - free-standing columns or pillars ( death lights, death lanterns ). With the advent of the Renaissance, however, this tradition - which was more based on popular belief and superstition - ended.

In India, pillars of light were sometimes also used to illuminate mosque courtyards early in the morning or late in the evening .

See also


  • Hermann Thiersch : Pharos. Antiquity, Islam and Occident. A contribution to the history of architecture . Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner-Verlag, 1909
  • Günter Brucher: The sacred architecture of Italy in the 11th and 12th centuries . Cologne: DuMont 1987. ISBN 3-7701-1815-4
  • Rolf Toman (ed.): The art of the baroque. Architecture, sculpture, painting . Cologne: Könemann-Verlag, 1997. ISBN 3-89508-991-5
  • Andres Lepik: Skyscraper . Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2005. ISBN 3-7913-3454-9

Web links

Commons : Lantern  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Lantern  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilfried Koch: Architectural Style. Gütersloh / Munich 2009, p. 463.