Roman Architecture | Arches, Gates and Forts in Roman Architecture

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Among the most solidly preserved of all Roman architectural inventions are the monumental arches, buildings of a type devised purely for display. This conversion to monumental form of the temporary structures created for the occasion of military triumphs in Rome is yet another instance of rapid evolution in Augustan architecture. The main arch passage, and any side passages, as on Trajan's Arch at Timgad and that of Septimius Severus in Rome, was flanked by columns, usually in pairs. The intervening spaces might contain aediculae or relief sculpture relevant to the arch's commemorative purpose, as on Trajan's Arch at Benevento and the Arch at Orange. That purpose was made explicit by a prominent inscription on the attic storey above the archway. The whole was surmounted by groups of sculpture, usually in bronze.

The arched gate through a city wall might take much the same form, but its function required that it should have guard chambers at the sides, often contained in projecting towers, and a gallery above, to allow passage across the gateway. The window openings in the gallery might be given additional architectural distinction by schemes of engaged pilasters or columns, with pediments, as on the Porta dei Borsari at Verona, or with a continuous entablature, as on the gates of Nimes and Autun.

Hadrian's Arch at Athens, which led from the old city to the new quarter, is unusual in the combination of its decorative elements. The columns and pilasters of its upper storey do not continue the vertical lines of the pilasters which flanked the archway below, which were taken up by the statuary which stood in the openings of the upper storey. Some second-century and later arches and gates were highly elaborate, with a façade architecture of niched figures framed by luxuriantly decorated pilasters, as on the Porte Noir at Besançon and the London Arch. In contrast, the Porta Nigra at Trier, with quadruple tiers of regularly-spaced columns framing arched openings, is reminiscent of the exteriors of theatres and amphitheatres. The Porta Aurea of Diocletian's Palace at Split, with arcaded entablatures above the entrance, owed more to the traditions of the East, as is emphasized by the great arcades and the Syrian pediment of the ceremonial courtyard within.

There is a clear military influence in the Palace's massive four-square walls, external towers, and the T-Junction formed by its colonnaded streets. Colonnades, and the peristyles of officers' houses in military forts, were derived from what was familiar in civilian building. The plan of the headquarters, with its courtyard and basilican hall, evolved in parallel with the north Italian and Gaulish forum which it so much resembles. The decoration of the most important buildings in some legionary fortresses, like Neuss and Lambaesis, gave them some architectural distinction. Hadrian's Wall, by contrast, had the solid unembellished serviceability which characterized much military building.

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