Triumphal Arches

The Triumphal arch remains one of the most iconic architectural formsused throughout history.

Rulers have repeatedly used the Roman arch to glorifyand memorialise themselves, their empires and conquests because of the arch’ssymbolism and grandeur. Particularly standalone triumphal arches are used asthey have been monuments of power and victory since Roman times. However, theirpopularity also stems from their majestic form which then creates an impressivepassageway, whether as a standalone arch, part of a façade or internalstructure. During the Roman period triumphal arches were predominantly werebuilt as reminders of military success.  The Ancient Roman Triumphal Arches began as standalone structures thatwere a development of a city gateway, ‘…woodenstructures raised across the streets where the triumphal processions passed.These fragile and temporary constructions undoubtedly supplied the originalmodel of the form and decoration of triumphal arches.’ 1 Theybegan as structures with a broad rounded arch that allows for people to passthrough it.

Roman citizens were likely to have made an association between thegates and them being used for military processions. This will have promptedEmperors using this arch style for triumphal monuments; ‘By the time of Augustus, the arched citygateway had been fully metamorphosed into the type of arch commonly calledtriumphal.’ 2  At their mostbasic triumphal arches function as passageways; ‘the principle functions of anarch – view-framing, penetration, entrance, passage and transition.

’ 3It is the added features, such as pilasters, columns and pediments, that createthe distinctive look, that meant triumphal arches were ‘established as symbolsof both the Roman rule and of Roman cities.’ 3 Standalone triumphalarches generally either had one arch or had one central main arch with twosmaller arches either side. The arches are framed by columns which creates arhythm of narrow wide narrow across the structure. The arches were framed and‘ornamented with Corinthian or composite pilasters or columns’ which created arhythm of narrow wide narrow across the façade. 4 The original Romantriumphal arches were built with a large rectangular entablature extending outfrom above the main arch. This is where any inscriptions would be engraved.Generally, during Roman times, the inscription would state the emperor andvictory that was being memorialised by the arch.

2 The lettering wasmade easy to read by being large and spaced out. 5 Hencepurposefully making sure onlookers could read and understand the victory beingcommemorated by the arch.  One of the first standalone triumphal arches, the Arch ofTitus was built in 82 AD near the Roman Forum by Emperor Domitian, subsequentto the death of Titus.

6The purpose for the arch construction was tocommemorate Titus’ defeat of Jerusalem. 7  The Arch of Titus became an influential designand many architects have used it as the model for future arch designs. A largeattic is used above the entablature which creates the overpowering and heavyfeeling to the arch.

The carvings on panels show the victory procession thathappened and other details of events that glorify the emperor and city. Thebarrel vault interior is decorated with carvings, with the idea that peoplewould see them as processions went through the arch. This permanent marble archis meant to tell a story that the emperor wants documented and remembered. 8Leon BattistaAlberti’s Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua They later became used as wall perforations, providing structureand division between spaces. The façade of The Basilica of SantAndrea is majorlyinfluenced by the roman triumphal arch. The architect clearly wanted thecathedral to appear striking and dominant which he has done by combining aestheticsof the triumphal arch with strong geometry.

                                                            Ratherthan columns between the arches, the architect has used Corinthian pilastersinstead. The rhythm between the pilasters remains the same as between triumphalarch columns: narrow, wide, narrow. 9 A pediment replaces the normalattic usually used on triumphal arches, suggesting also influence from thePantheon, Rome. The architect was greatly inspired by Roman architecture perhapssuggesting how he admired the roman empire and wanted to replicate their mightybuildings.In The Basilica of Sant Andrea the triumphal arch has been adaptedto suit the façadewhilst still keeping the essence and hence grand appearance of the ancientroman design. This shows the triumphal arch is a strong and distinguishableform that can be modified and combined with many building types, features andstyles.The triumphal arch as a passageway develops well and lendsitself to being an entrance.

The archway is punctured into the façade allowingfor a covered area which is a barrel vault. It is known that this building willact as a place pilgrims will gather so many will look upon it. This made theexternal appearance of the church of great importance. The building containswhat is thought to be the blood of Christ, making the church home to a relicand hence a sacred place.

9 Unlike Roman triumphal arches, thefaçade does not have an inscription so there is no reason made clear that thearch form is being used for victorious reasons. However, Christ Muscato putsforward the idea in an article; ‘considering that the story of the Crucifixionends in Christ’s triumph over death, the use of a triumphal arch as the basisof the façade us significant.’ 10 As well as drawing publicattention due to the grand and dominant façade, the building reminds onlookersof the power of Christ and the perhaps the church. Paris features the triumphal arch throughout the city’sarchitectureBoth the Arc de Triomphe d’Etoile and the Arch de Triomphe werecommanded to be built by Napoleon I to honour his army’s victories and theirconstruction began in 1806.17 Joanna Richardson states in a journalthat ‘it [the Arc de Triomphe] gives the measure of the ambitions of theEmpire.’ 11 The arch was a statement of Napoleon’s intent for thefuture of his empire, and Napoleon knew how the symbolism of the triumphal archwould clearly do this.

The Arc de Triomphe d’Etoile is a standalone structure withone main arch and is thought to be modelled on the Roman Arch of Titus. Twosmaller arches at the ends of the structure are perpendicular to the main arch,creating two passageways that cross each other.  The monument is 164 by 148 feet(12), which is muchlarger than any Ancient Rome Triumphal arches; ‘Napoleon commissioned Arc deTriomphe to bury Caesar, not to praise him’.

 13 Napoleon wanted to show that his army and empire wasgreater than Caeser’s, and showed this by enlarging and advancing the Romandesign. The arch is positioned at the end of the Champ Delysees in centralParis, one of the most famous and popular streets in France to walk meaning itwould be regular seen by the public.14, 15 Napoleon’s choice oflocation and size, plus his knowledge of the triumphal arch’s symbolism, meanthe purposefully has created a monument that is a constant reminder topassers-by of Napoleon’s conquests and France’s patriotism. Joanna Richardsonstates in a journal that ‘it [the Arc de Triomphe] gives the measure of theambitions of the Empire.’ 16 The arch was a statement of Napoleon’sintent for the future of his empire, and Napoleon knew how clearly thesymbolism of the triumphal arch would do this. TheArc de Triomphe du Carousel, as well as being a commemorative monument, wasbuilt as gates to Tuileries Palace before it later burnt down.17This triumphal arch has three arches, two of them being smaller flanking archesso it is thought to influenced by the larger-in-size Arch of Septimus Severus.

18The columns have Corinthian order decoration, and each has a statue of asoldier on top.19 These statues make clear what the arch iscommemorating. The arch had the practical purpose of initially being a gateway andit also fulfilled Napoleon’s desire to commemorate his military victories.  Triumphal arches are rarely used for buildings or facadesthat will not be publicly seen. Hence suggesting their continued use being mainlyfor aesthetic reasons and not functional.William McDonald states that the combination of ‘structuralversatility and many functional and symbolic uses insured its presenceempire-wide’. He is referring specifically to the Roman empire, however it isalso true for the use of the triumphal arch in Western Architecture generally.

After the Roman empire there have been fewer wars and power hungry dictatorshence the desire for standalone triumphal arches to commemorate victories hasreduced. However this does not mean that arches were then only used foraesthetic purposes. Triumphal arches are rarely used for buildings or facadesthat will not be publicly seen. Hence suggesting their continued use beingmainly for aesthetic reasons and not functional. In the lastcentury years, fewer triumphal arches were built to celebrate militaryvictories in the west, but Fascist architecture has western culture there are not many political andmilitary wars, however triumphal arches are still used.