I have a crush on arches. Technically an arch is any rounded architectural structure that spans an opening. The curve of the arch disperses the vertical weight it holds horizontally to allow for greater distance between supports. But let’s leave the technical details to the engineers–what you need to know is this: arches are practical, arches are beautiful, arches tell a story about architecture and it’s a story I can’t stop reading.
Luxor Temple, Egypt, c. 1400 BC. The Egyptians were masterful artists and builders, but without the arch, they needed huge, closely spaced pillars to support their temples.
Temple of Concordia, Agrigento, built 440-430 BC. The ancient Greeks constructed marvelous temples and their engineering was advanced enough to know how to build two tiers of columns (exterior and interior) to make their structures lighter, but they were still dependent on columns because they hadn’t discovered the arch.
Colosseum, Rome, built 70 – 80 AD. The Romans discover the arch! (Too bad they used it to build a giant theater where animals and people were killed for public entertainment).
Porta Nigra, Trier, built 186 -200 AD. Once those Romans had it figured out they churned out an Empire’s worth of arches in their unrelenting way.
Basilica of Saint’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. The early Christians kept the Roman half-circle arch.
Great Mosque of Corboba, built 756 – 987. Islamic architects made a mesmerizing pattern of horseshoe-shaped Moorish arches.
Aachen Cathedral, c. 796. Glorious Carolingian arches, supporting an octagon-shaped dome.
Vézelay Abbey, nave built 1120 -1132. Classic French Romanesque arches.
Cefalu Cathdral, c. 1131. Norman style pointed (ogival) arches.
Duomo di Siena. 1215 – 1263. Lavish Gothic arches.
Rathaus, Stralsund, c. 1271 -1278. Pointy and funky Brick Gothic arches.
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini. Early Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti rediscovered classical architecture. These arches on the side facade of Tempio Malatestiano were meant look like Roman aqueducts.
Porta Napoli, Lecce c. 1548. A late Renaissance/early Baroque arch modeled after Roman triumphal arches.
Palazzo del Te, Mantua, c. 1524-1534. These playful Mannerist arches are more about fun than function.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, c. 1865 – 1877. Grand Neoclassical arch entrance to what is basically a fancy-pants shopping mall.
St. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne: modern/contemporary stained glass depiction of Pentecost inside arches.
Harold Washington Public Library, Chicago, completed 1991. Postmodern arches worthy of a fine library.