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Sunday, 23 January 2011





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Even though you may be aware as to what the word 'arch' stands for, you are sure to be puzzled about triumphal arches. An arch is a curved structure that you see in a building. It can support itself over open spaces by the pressure of stones, one against the other. So, let's check out as to what triumphal arches, mean.

If you look at some of the architectural feats of the ancient world, especially in the Roman Empire, you would notice some exquisitely sculptured arches in various buildings. The Romans erected these arches throughout their territories in order to celebrate military victories. That is why they were known as triumphal arches. Such arches were erected even in France in ancient times as well as in modern times.

As the Roman Empire extended over a large area of land, triumphal arches proclaiming the glory of Roman Generals and their troops dotted ancient Rome. They became a standard feature of all Roman capitals in the empire.One such triumphal arch is the Arch of Titus, erected between the imperial fora and the Colosseum of Rome. It was constructed to celebrate the Roman army's success in capturing Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple, in A.D. 70. The victorious Roman soldiers bringing back the spoils of war are depicted in the relief sculpture (a way of decorating on stone/wood so that same parts are sticking out more than others). This arch is a permanent example in stone of the many such arches erected in Rome as a tribute to the Generals for their triumph in the battlefield.

Another exquisitely sculptured triumphal arch erected by the ancient Roman emperors as a celebration of military victory is the Arch of Constantine in Rome. This beautiful arch which is decorated with reliefs depicting emperors and their military exploits served as an emblem of power for ancient Romans.

Why were such triumphal arches built in France? It is because about seventeen hundred years later, Napoleon Bonaparte borrowed this concept from his predecessors by erecting a triumphal arch in the heart of Paris.The Arch de Triomphe which was built between 1833 and 1836 forms the epicentre of avenues that radiate outward from the monument in a star-like pattern. This arch symbolised Napoleon's military victories abroad and stirred patriotism among the citizens of France.

The famous French tomb of the unknown soldier lies below this giant arch. The Arc de Triomphe depicts the ideals of liberty and freedom with the numerous dramatic relief sculptures on it. The construction of such arches in France did not end with Napoleon because the concept was followed in modern times too.

There are beautiful triumphal arches built even in Russia. The Palace Square in St. Petersburg is decorated with a triumphal arch which has bronze statues depicting soldiers and a parade of horses in a similar fashion to the tops of triumphal arches of ancient Rome.

Triumphal arches have continued to be built even into the modern era. Several such structures, inspired by the ancient Roman architecture can be seen in many cities of the world.If Adolf Hitler accomplished his goal, we would have seen the world's largest triumphal arch in Berlin, Germany. Designed to be 550 feet wide, 92 feet deep, and 392 feet high, this arch would have been big enough for the Arc de Triomphe of France to fit into it 49 times.

The names of the 1.8 million Germans who died in the First World War were to be carved on this arch. However, as it never became a reality, the world's largest arch ended up being built by Kim Sung of North Korea. Built in 1982 in Pyongyang, this arch is decorated with sculptures and reliefs depicting the 'triumphal return of the victorious Great Leader to the country.

Based on triumphal arches, many monumental memorial arches to immortalise the war dead or to serve as monumental entrances to a city have also been built today. Even in our country war memorials are there but they do not follow this architectural concept.


What are triumphal arches?

They are monumental structures built in the shape of an archway which originated in Rome. Often designed to span a road, they generally have one or more arched passageway. Even in the simplest of triumphal arches there are two massive piers connected by an arch with a flat attic, where a statue might be mounted or commemorative inscriptions can be carried.

The main structure of such arches are usually decorated with exquisite sculptures. The ancient Romans built these arches not only to commemorate victorious Generals but also significant public events, such as the founding of new colonies, construction of a bridge or road, the accession of a new emperor or the death of an imperial family member.


Fact file

* Following the Renaissance many rulers associated themselves with the Roman legacy and started to build triumphal arches.

* Aragonese Arch at the Castel Nuovo in Neples erected by Al Fonso V of Aragon in 1443 is one of the earliest such arches.

* The French led the way in building new permanent triumphal arches.

* The Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel in Paris is modelled on the Arc of Septimius Severus in Rome.

* By the 4th Century A.D. there were 36 triumphal arches in the city of Rome. Three of these have survived. They are the Arch of Titus (AD 81) the Arch of Septimius Severus (203 - 205) and the Arch of Constantine (312).

* Single arches were common but many triple arches were also built. The Triumphal Arch of Orange (circa AD 21) is the earliest surviving example.

* Arch building in Rome and Italy diminished after the time of Trajan (AD 98 - 117), but it remained widespread in the provinces during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

* The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Washington Square Arch in New York City, although patterned after triumphal arches, serve a different purpose; they were not constructed to celebrate a military success or a General.



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