Plan of a Western cathedral, with the narthex in the shaded area at the western
Floorplan of the Chora Church
, showing both inner and outer narthex.
The narthex is an architectural element typical of early Christian and Byzantine basilicas and churches consisting of the entrance or lobby area, located at the west end of the nave, opposite the church's main altar. Traditionally the narthex was a part of the church building, but was not considered part of the church proper.
In early Christian churches the narthex was often divided into two distinct parts: an esonarthex (inner narthex), between the west wall and the body of the church proper, separated from the nave and aisles by a wall, arcade, colonnade, screen, or rail, and an external closed space, the exonarthex (outer narthex), a court in front of the church facade delimited on all sides by a colonnade as in the first St. Peter's Basilica in Rome or in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan. The exonarthex may have been either open or enclosed, with a door leading to the outside as in the Byzantine Chora Church.
By extension, the narthex can also denote a covered porch or entrance to a building.