The term Romanesque, like many other stylistic designations, was not a term contemporary with the art it describes but an invention of modern scholarship to categorize a period. The term "Romanesque" attempts to link the architecture, especially, of the 11th and 12th centuries in medieval Europe to Roman Architecture based on similarities of forms and materials. Romanesque is characterized by a use of round or slightly pointed arches, barrel vaults, cruciform piers supporting vaults, and groin vaults. The great carved portals of 12th century church facades (see Church of St. Trophime) parallel the architectural novelty of the period—monumental stone sculpture seems reborn in the Romanesque.
Romanesque appears to have been the first pan-European style since Roman Imperial Architecture and examples are found in every part of the continent. One important fact pointed out by the stylistic similarity of buildings across Europe is the relative mobility of medieval people. Contrary to many modern ideas of life before the Industrial Revolution, merchants, nobles, knights, artisans, and peasants crossed Europe and the Mediterranean world for business, war, and religious pilgrimages, carrying their knowledge of what buildings in different places looked like. The important pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, modern north east Spain, may have generated as well as spread some aspects of the Romanesque style.