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A triumphal arch is a structure in the shape of a monumental archway, in theory built to celebrate a victory in war, but often used to celebrate a ruler.

Roman classical triumphal arch was a free-standing structure, quite separate from city gates or walls, but the form is often used in engaged arches as well. In its simplest form a triumphal arch consists of two massive piers connected by an arch, crowned with a flat superstructure or attic on which a statue might be mounted or which bears commemorative inscriptions. The structure should be decorated with carvings, notably including "Victories", winged female figures (very similar to angels), a pair of which typically occupy the curved triangles beside the top of the arch curve. More elaborate triumphal arches have flanking subsidiary archways, typically a pair.

The rhythmic ABA motif—of central arched void flanked by smaller ones—was adapted in Classical architecture, particularly since the Renaissance, to articulate the walls of structures. The voids may take the form of niche or be "blind", with masonry continuous behind.

In the basilican architecture of the Early Christian period, triumphal arch is a particular term for the arch at the end of the nave, leading to the apse - called the chancel arch in later buildings. This was often a focus of decoration in mosaic or paint.

Roman triumphal arches

The tradition dates back to ancient Rome and is connected to the Senate's custom of granting Roman triumphs. Surprisingly little is known about how the Romans used triumphal arches; the only ancient author who discussed them was Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD. They are not mentioned at all by Vitruvius, the first century BC writer on Roman architecture. Pliny describes them as being honorary monuments of unusual importance, erected to commemorate triumphs. By the second century arches were being erected to commemorate other events, such as the surviving triumphal arch at Anconamarker, erected by a grateful city to commemorate Trajan's improvements to the harbor.

It is unclear when the Romans first began erecting triumphal arches. They originated some time during the Roman Republican era, during which time three were erected in Romemarker, the earliest being one to Lucius Stertinius built in 196 BC. These appear to have been temporary structures, and none now survive. Most triumphal arches were built during the Roman Empire. By the fourth century, thirty-six triumphal arches can be traced in Rome. Only five now survive (see list below).

The arches of Rome became increasingly elaborate over the centuries. They were at first very simple symbolic temporary gateways to the city, being built of brick or stone with a semicircular arched heading and hung with trophies of captured arms. Later arches were built of high-quality marble with a large central arch in the middle, its ceiling treated as a barrel vault, and sometimes two smaller ones on each side, adorned with a complete Architectural order, of columns and entablature, enriched with symbolic or narrative bas-reliefs and crowned with bronze statues, often a quadriga. The festive Corinthian order was the usual one.

Post-Roman triumphal arches

Triumphal arches in the Roman style were revived during the Renaissance, when there was a Europe-wide upswelling of interest in the art and architecture of ancient Rome. Between the 15th and 19th century, kings and emperors erected numerous triumphal arches in conscious imitation of the Roman tradition. One of the earliest was the "Aragonese Arch" at the Castel Nuovomarker in Naplesmarker, erected by Alfonso V in 1443, although like the later Porta Capuanamarker this was engaged as part of the entrance to the castle. Temporary examples were erected in enormous numbers for festivities such as Royal Entries from the late Middle Ages onwards. The Emperor Maximilian I commissioned the artist Albrecht Dürer to design an elaborately decorated monumental arch in woodcut for him (3.75 metres high, in 192 different sheets), which was never intended to be built, but was printed in an edition of 700 copies and distributed to be coloured and pasted on the walls of large rooms. Louis XIV of France erected two triumphal arches in Parismarker at the Porte Saint Martin and the Porte Saint Denys, and Napoleon Bonaparte erected the better known Arc de Triomphemarker. Arches were erected for similar purposes in the U.K.marker (for example, the Marble Arch in London), the United Statesmarker, Germanymarker, Romaniamarker, Russiamarker and Spainmarker, amongst other countries. Built to honour and glorify President Kim Il Sung and modeled after Napoleon's Arc de Triomphemarker in Paris, the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyangmarker is the largest triumphal arch in the world (although the Grande Archemarker at La Défensemarker near Paris is much larger, it is not a triumphal arch). A far larger arch was planned for Berlinmarker by Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer, but construction was never begun.

Temporary triumphal arches are still constructed, intended to be used for a celebratory parade or ceremony and then be dismantled afterwards.

The term triumphal arch is also often used of the arch separating the nave from the apse of a church in basilica form, often decorated with mosaics or paintings.

List of triumphal arches

For Roman ones only, see List of ancient Roman triumphal arches

Permanent monumental triumphal arches include:


  • Timgadmarker, Trajan's Arch, partially restored arch in a Roman colonial town













  • Triumphal Arch, Vácmarker











North Koreamarker







There are many similar monuments in Spain which were originally built as gates in city walls and therefore cannot be considered triumphal arches in any sense except in their resemblance. In Madridmarker there are the Puerta de Alcalámarker, Puerta de Toledo, Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta de Hierro, etc.




United Kingdommarker

United Statesmarker


Line notes

  1. "Leptis Magna". Catholic Encyclopedia. (1913). New York: Robert Appleton Company
  2. [1]
  3. C. Michael Hogan, Volubilis: Ancient settlement in Morocco, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham
  4. Atlantic Poets: Fernando Pessoa's Turn in Anglo-American Modernism, Irene Ramalho Santos, Maria Irene Ramalho Sousa Santos

See also


Image:Monumento a la revolucion-posterior.jpg|Monumento a la Revoluciónmarker in Mexico Citymarker.Image:Roman Arch of Trajan at Thamugadi (Timgad), Algeria 04966r.jpg|Trajan's Arch in Timgadmarker, AlgeriamarkerImage:Archofconstantine.jpg|The Arch of Constantine, RomemarkerImage:ArchGlanum.jpg|The triumphal arch of GlanumImage:Berlin-brandenburg-gate.jpg|The Brandenburg Gatemarker, in Berlinmarker, Germanymarker

Image:Moscow Triumphal Gates.jpg|Moscow Triumphal Gatesmarker in Saint PetersburgmarkerImage:Sk328.jpg|Triuphal arch on Kutuzov Avenue in MoscowmarkerImage:Puerta de Alcalá.jpg|Puerta de Alcalá is a triumphal arch forming a monumental gateway to MadridmarkerImage:Sankt Petersburg Narva Triumphal Arch 2005 a.jpg|Narva Triumphal Gates in Saint PetersburgmarkerImage:Hadrianus_gate.jpg|The triumphal arch erected to honor Hadrian who visitied Antalyamarker in the 2nd century A.D.Image:Bukarest_Triumpf.jpg|The Thriumph Arch in BucharestmarkerImage:The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza.jpg|The Soldiers and Sailors Arch at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklynmarker, New York CitymarkerImage:Triumphal arch - Washington Square.jpg|The Washington Squaremarker Arch, New York CitymarkerImage:Chisinau Center.jpg|Triumfal arch, center of ChişinăumarkerImage:Hadrian's Arch.jpg|Arch of Hadrianmarker in central Athens, with the Acropolis seen in the background.Image:ArcoDoTriunfoLisboa1.JPG|The Arco do Triunfo in LisbonmarkerImage:redgates.jpg|Red Gatemarker in Moscowmarker used to be a rare example of a baroque triumphal arch.Image:Arc de Triomphe d'Orange.jpg|The triumphal arch in Orangemarker, FranceImage:UST Arch of the Centuries2.jpg|The Arch of the Centuries of the University of Santo Tomasmarker in Manilamarker, PhilippinesmarkerFile:Arc de Triomf Barcelona.jpg|The Arc de Triomf in BarcelonamarkerImage:Gambia banjul arch22.JPG|Arch 22 in Banjul, GambiaImage:GatewayIndia.jpg|The Gateway of Indiamarker, Mumbaimarker, Indiamarker

Image:Patou Xay.jpg|The Patuxaymarker in Vientianemarker, Laosmarker. A triumphal arch built to commemorate soldiers who died fighting the French for independence.Image:AguinaldoTriumphalArch.jpg|Temporary triumphal arch commemorating election of Emilio Aguinaldo as President of the Philippinesmarker, 1899Image:CMR - Arche commémorative.JPG|Royal Military College of Canadamarker Memorial Arch in Kingston, Ontariomarker

Image:Place-stanislaus-nord-nancy.jpg| Arc Héré: triumphal arch in Place Stanislasmarker, Nancymarker.File:CAB-at-Sabers-2006.JPG|arc of victory in baghdadmarker

External links

  • Lacus Curtius website: "Triumphal arch" from William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875
  • Signa Romanorum: the Roman monuments website
  • Parlington Hall website "Triumphal Arch" built for Sir Thomas Gascoigne to commerorate the American Victory in the War of Independence, Aberford, Yorkshire, England, circa 1783.

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