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Triumphal Arch

A triumphal arch, was a structure erected by the Romans across roads, or at the entrance of cities, in honor of victorious generals. The original triumphal arch was the Porta Trinmphalis, one of the gates of Rome through which the triumphal procession entered the city. Among the earliest detached arches built at Rome was that built by Scipio Africanus (190 BC) on the Capitoline Hill. Under the emperors, these structures became numerous and magnificent, and were decorated with baas-reliefs and Inscriptions. Three of what were properly triumphal arches still remain in Rome, those, namely, of Titus, Septimius Sevenis, and Constantino. Numerous similar monuments exist also in other parts of the old Roman empire, as at Rimini, Susa, Verona, Ancona, Orange (in France), Capura (in Spain).

Of the triumphal arches those of Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Marcus Aurelius, and Trajan have disappeared. The Arch of Septimius Severus, which spanned the Sacred Way just as it began to climb the Capitol, remains in a fair state of preservation. At the other end of the Forum, also spanning the Sacred Way, is the Arch of Titus, with the well-known reliefs representing the spoils from the Temple at Jerusalem. A little farther south, where the Sacred Way joins the Appian Rood, stands the Arch of Constantine, fronting the Colosseum and the three huge arches of the Constantine Basilica. The so-called Arch of Drusus crosses the Appian Way where it passes through the Aurelian Wall. The Arch of Dolabella, built in 10 AD, is almost hidden in the brickwork of the Aqueduct of Nero, called the Aqua Claudia; and the Arch of Gallienus on the Esquiline, erected in 262 AD, is in the degraded style of the time.

The triumphal arch originated with the Romans. In the earliest times of the republic, the gate through which a returning conqueror passed on entering the city was decorated with garlands of flowers, leaves, emblems of victory, and trophies of arms taken from the vanquished. In course of time these gates came to voice a spirit of power and exultation. They were solidly built, and adorned with a certain exuberant magnificence.

Sometimes these triumphal gates had but one arch, like those at Ancona and Benevento and the celebrated Arch of Titus. Others had two arches, one for entrance, the other for exit; and some had three arches, the smaller ones on the sides being for pedestrians. It was natural that the builders should desire their trophies of victory to take permanent form.

In the course of time the triumphal arch developed into an important and pretentious structure over the route of the triumphal cortege, at the crossing of several highways or at the head of a bridge. It still recalled the primitive arrangements with one grand arcade, sometimes accompanied by smaller ones. The earliest arches were made of wood, and seldom survived the war in honor of which they were raised; but now stone, marble, and bronze were called upon to reproduce the ephemeral monuments, and to pass on to posterity their consecrated forms.

Not all the triumphal arches of the Romans were in honor of victories in war. That of Rimini was constructed in commemoration of the opening of the Flaminian Way, bringing that city in touch with Rome, during the reign of Augustus. The arches adorning the ancient bridge of St. Chamas, in Provence, grew out of a similar sentiment, for in their inscriptions is the record of the priest anmed Dominus, who ordered their erection. The disposition of these latter arches is very happy. The Corinthian pilasters on their entablatures perform the office of buttresses, and contribute most effectively to their stability of construction as well as to their decoration. The entablature is of rare vigor, and the framing in of the arcade is admirably conceived. Small as they are, they have a monumental character, and are graceful in proportions and strictly harmonious. They have frequently furnished the modern world with valuable suggestions for the piers of suspension bridges.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:51:05 ZULU