I had often wondered why our ancestors bothered so much perfecting edifices until I read the following eye-opener text by Victor Hugo.
Until the invention of Gutenberg printing in the XVth century, architecture served as the main register of human civilisation. All important thoughts were noted in buildings of stones. Those immortal books of rock obeyed ideas aspiring to conserve themselves and to leave a mark.
Architecture developed in line with the range of human ideas and it followed the advances of civilization. Firstly, traditions were recorded by erecting simple monuments of rock piles. Later, sophisticated cultures and symbols urged the emergence of complex edifices throughout millenia.
Then in the Middle Ages, Christianity striving to establish a new hierarchic society communicated by means of the austere Romanesque style. Each arch reflected authority, horror of progress, the preservation of traditional lines and the priest everywhere.
Rome’s gradual decline made Romanesque architecture fade. Cathedrals got occupied by the bourgeoisie and fell into the competence of artists. Popular architecture reflected progress, originality and perpetual movement. It was separated from religion enough to consider and take care of shere beauty. This liberty of architecture meant liberty of press for thoughts spread through buildings.
Pretenting to build churches for religious reasons, all intellectual resources nurtured architecture and produced the tremendous number of cathedrals in Europe. Invaders throughout the history added their own words to that codex. Although the ancient symbols on the facade of cathedrals got replaced by new hieroglyph, one can see the remnants appearing here and there.
The invention of printing, the new self- expression requiring only paper, ink and pens, dethroned architecture in the XVth century. Once its artistic omnipotence was abolished, sculpture, music and painting liberated themselves to begin their own art-historic journeys.
Source: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo