Rise of the Arch

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Christina Persaud

Art 1790- Final Project

Rise of the Arch

Arches are curved architectural structures that are used to support weight from above and to extend openings (Encyclopedia Britannica). The arch is an architectural marvel used by many civilizations such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks (Alchin, 2008). Although these societies used the arch the ancient Roman Etruscans are considered the first culture to employ the arch (J.M, 2000). Arches weren’t always used the way they are today for instance Egyptians used it in tombs and vaults, and the Greeks used it for minor construction purposes, however the uses for the arch of innumerable ( Encyclopedia Britannica). The arch has made a huge impact on the culture of ancient Roman society by allowing ancient Romans to carve into the arches their great achievements like in the case of the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Septum Severus as well as made the construction of bridges, building, and entrances easier.

To fully understand the importance of the arch we must first look at the components that make up one. The arch consists of many vital parts which include the voussoirs which are wedged shaped blocks that form the curved section of the arch (Encyclopedia Britannica). If the voussoirs aren’t perfectly even then they won’t fit into the construction and the arch will not look uniform and may not be able to support the rest of the structure. The keystone is the central voussoir block that is in the middle of the arch (Encyclopedia Britannica). The spring or spring line is a point in the structure when the arch rises from its vertical support (Encyclopedia Britannica). The two vertical supports that hold up the arch are known as piers (LOSWEGO). At the top of each pier there is a platform called the impost (LOSWEGO). When put together these parts create an elaborate arch that was used to beautify buildings and add support.

Although most arches follow a similar blueprint not all arches are the same. The Roman arch is quite different from other arches and has its own unique style. The Roman arch also known as the semi circular arch is just as the name suggest it has a half circle arc which distributes the weight evenly (Construct it all, 2011). The flat or jack arch is a horizontal arch held up by wedged shaped blocks (Construct it all, 2011). This type of arch is similar to that of a French arch which also has a straight archway (Construct it all, 2011). Another type is the Gothic arch which has a distinct point at the top (Construct it all, 2011). This style of arch originated during the middle ages and draws inspiration from Romanesque arches (Construct it all, 2011). These were a few of the arches that can be seen in different buildings such as places of worship or in castles.

However this is not the case in the Roman Forum where the Arch of Titus is located. In the Roman Forum the arch was not used to widen an entrance or hold up any extra weight instead it stood alone to depict the Roman’s victory in the war against Judaea (Test, 1998). Built in 80 A.D by Domitian it honors the father-son duo of Vespasian and Titus who is also his brother (Testa, 1998). The arch has relief sculptures which show the treasures taken from Jerusalem when it was ransacked by the Romans (Pope). Some of the reliefs show soldiers carrying an altar table, silver trumpets, and even a menorah from a Hebrew temple (Testa, 1998). Domitian included an image of Titus being guided by the goddess Roma on a four horse chariot (Testa, 1998). This arch was so durable and well built that it survived the Middle Ages and is fully intact except for the bronze chariot that used to be on top of the arch and is now the oldest surviving arch in Rome (Pope). The second arch that was used as a means of showing Rome’s grandeur is the Arch of Septimius Severus which shows the achievements of Emperor Severus and his sons Geta and Caracalla (Testa, 1998). This arch was built in 203 A.D and has three entryways and used to have a flight of stairs go through it, but in the 4th century it was replaced by a road (A view on cities). One panel of the arch shows the war between the Romans and Parthians and on the other side it shows Romans imprisoning barbarians (A view on cities). This arch like the arch of Titus is also intact and preserved giving the viewer an excellent idea of why these great men were honored.

Arches helped the Romans a lot when it came to construction with bridges, aqueducts, and entrances. Bridges were easier to make when they used connecting arches or even one large arch (Ryan, 2009). The Romans would create these stone arch bridges which were just stone arches and they would be able to sustain more weight from above and the stone material was easily available compared to brick and concrete (Ryan, 2009). Arches were even used during the building of the ceiling and passages of the Colosseum (Alchin, 2008). The arches gave more support without adding excessive weight (Alchin, 2008). With the use of the arch by Romans in architecture there were no need for wooden beams to hold up structures and that meant less work so that the structure could be built aster and more efficiently (Alchin, 2008).

The arch is truly an innovation that has changed architecture. It has given us the ability to make finer more elegant structures without adding bulk or burden. Credit must be given to the Romans who first decided to use the arch for this purpose as well as for documenting the triumphs of war heroes so that we can look back at them and see how history played out. The Arch of Titus and Septimius Severus are perfect examples of how the arch was used in that way. The Colosseum and bridges around Rome show the construction uses of the arches and how durable arches were compared to wood and other materials. The arch is still popular today and will always have a purpose in architecture.

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