Ancient Roman Architecture Past And Present Centuries History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Roman architecture played a huge role in ancient society. The remains seen today allow for a clearer understanding of the complexity of their work and the impact it had on the culture at the time. “Even today, we still marvel at what incredible builders the Romans were, and at the sheer scale and integrity of many of their projects. It is hard to argue that today’s architecture will maintain the same lasting grandeur as that which the Romans built. If we can still respect and admire the grandeur of Rome as it was in its day, one can only imagine how much of an influence people of the time felt, due to the incredible innovations that the Romans brought to the new regions of their empire.” (Colin Szasz, 1) Three of the most important and well known examples of Roman architecture include the Pantheon, Coliseum, and the Roman aqueducts. Each architectural feat is a unique example of the capabilities the Romans had at the time and their ingenuity is clearly reflected in their work. Ancient Roman architecture played an important role in the urbanisation of Rome and its impact on later century’s architectural designs and building techniques. By dissecting each of these three monuments we are able to understand how they attributed to both urbanisation and worldly influence.
The Roman Pantheon is one of the most preserved and influential buildings of ancient Rome. It contains a multitude of architectural accomplishments. These include the oculus, and the dome itself. This incredible contribution to Roman society lead to their urbanisation, its influence on cultures is prevalent even to this day and is a world renowned monument. The Pantheon in Rome was the greatest and most perfect of the circular temples. It is a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. As the brick stamps on the side of the building reveal it was built and dedicated between A.D 118 and 125. The emperor Hadrian (A.D 117-138) built the Pantheon to replace Augustus’ Commander Marcus Agrippa’s Pantheon of 27 B.C. which burnt to the ground in 80 A.D. The word pantheon, meaning ‘all gods’, indicates the purpose of the building, which differed from the majority of temples being dedicated to seven gods. In A.D. 608 it was presented by Emperor Phocas to the Pope, when it was rededicated as a Christian church, and has been used for this purpose ever since.
The materials used in the creation of this masterpiece were lighter and newer. There was extraordinary detail in the main building, including the dome and oculus. The use of the dome on top was extremely advanced in that time period and had never been seen before. In the construction of the Pantheon, the walls were brick faced concrete; in the lower levels, where strength and stability was needed. The concrete contained alternate layers of lumps of travertine and tufa, and as they rose and needed lightening the travertine was replaced by broken brick. The structure of the Pantheon itself is comprised of a series of arches. The arches rest on eight piers which support eight round-headed arches which run through the drum from its inner to its outer face. The arches correspond to the eight bays on the floor level that house statues. The dome is supported by a series of arches that run horizontally round. Romans had perfected the use of arches which helped sustain the weight of their elaborate buildings. The Romans were aware of the heavy nature of their building materials. So they used lighter materials toward the top of the dome (i.e. travertine, tufa, etc.). This use of lighter materials on top alleviated the immense weight of the dome. The Roman Pantheon was probably constructed by using a setup of wooden scaffolding, which in itself would have been costly. “Timber scaffolding was set up to provide ramps for the workers and the Roman architect, Vitruvius, first century B.C., described a wooden crane that was in use.” (Helen and Richard Leacroft, 17) The elegant coffers on the dome were likely struck with a device that was exacted from floor level. The detail of this building is extraordinary. If the dome of the rotundra were flipped upside down it would fit perfectly inside the rotunda. When approaching the Pantheon from the outside it appears rectangular in shape. But it is only the first small room (cella) that has corners. The rotunda is completely round. The small entry room would have been entered by climbing a staircase that is now entirely under modern ground level. The statues of Augustus and Agrippa stood at the end of the side aisles of the entrance. The interior design of the Roman Pantheon is a synthesis of tradition and innovation. The dimensions of the interior height and the diameter of the dome are the same (145 Roman feet, which is 141 feet. 8 inches; 43.2m). The architect did this on purpose to show the harmony of the building. The marble veneer that we see today on the interior was for the most part added later. However, the Roman Pantheon in its present state allows us a glimpse into the marvelous and stunning world of Roman architecture. The dome would have been gilded to look like the heavenly sphere of all the gods that the name Pantheon evokes. The oculus was an engineering feat of the Roman world. No oculus had even dared come close in size to the one in the Pantheon. It is still lined with the original Roman bronze and is the main source of light for the whole building. As the earth turns the light flows in to circle the interior making the viewer aware of the magnificence of the cosmos. The oculus was never covered and rain falls into the interior and runs off the slightly convex floor to the still functioning Roman drainpipes underneath. The Pantheon has since antiquity been used to inspire artists during the Renaissance as well as become the tomb for important figures in Italian history.
The architects from the renaissance, even to the nineteenth century were influenced by the Roman Pantheon. This unbelievable creation represents an architectural revolution. The Pantheon represents the culmination of the Roman architectural revolution through the adoption of higher quality building materials. As the best preserved example of monumental Roman architecture, the Pantheon was enormously influential on European and American architects from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Numerous city halls, universities and public libraries echo its portico-and-dome structure. Examples of notable buildings influenced by the Pantheon include Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Low Library at Columbia University, New York, and the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Some changes have been made in the interior decoration, however. The influence of the Pantheon is easily traced through many buildings from the later Roman period and from the beginning of the Renaissance into the twentieth century.
The Roman Pantheon is a clear example of urbanisation in Rome and its effect on society was continued throughout the Roman period and into the twenty-first century. It allows us a glimpse into the marvelous and stunning world of Roman architecture. It continues to inspire artists and cultures around the world to this day.
The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheater was begun by Vespasian, inaugurated by Titus in 80 A.D. and completed by Domitian. Located on marshy land between the Esquiline and Caelian Hills, it was the first permanent amphitheater to be built in Rome. Its size and grandeur as well as its practical and efficient organization for producing spectacles and controlling the large crowds make it one of the great architectural monuments achieved by the ancient Romans.
The Roman Coliseum is the greatest work of architectural engineering left to us by the Roman antiquity. The amphitheater is a large ellipse with tiers of seating for 50, 000 spectators around the central elliptical arena. There is a complex set of chambers and passages below the wooden arena floor. It is composed of tiers of arches, superimposed orders in the form of half columns, and crowning range of plasters. Eighty walls radiate from the arena and support vaults for passageways, stairways and the tiers of seats. At the outer edge circumferential arcades link each level and the stairways between levels. The three tiers of arcades are faced by three-quarter columns and entablatures, Doric in the first story, Ionic in the second, and Corinthian in the third. Above them is an attic story with Corinthian pilasters and small square window openings in alternate bays. At the top brackets and sockets carry the masts from which the velarium, a canopy for shade, was suspended. The construction utilized a careful combination of types: concrete for the foundations, travertine for the piers and arcades, tufa infill between piers for the walls of the lower two levels, and brick-faced concrete used for the upper levels and for most of the vaults. The Coliseum was built of blocks of travertine stone extracted from the quarries of Albulae near Tivoli and brought to Rome by a wide road specially constructed for the purpose. The amphitheater forms an oval 527 meters (1,729) in circumference with diameters of 189 and 156 meters (615 and 510 ft.) The height of the four-storied wall is 48 meters (157 ft.). The broad paved circular piazza that surrounded the amphitheater allowed easy access to every part of the façade. There were 80 entrance arches, of these the four at the extremities of the major and minor axes were forbidden to the public and not numbered. The major axis entrances gave direct unrestricted access to the arena itself. In contrast both of the minor axis entrances gave direct access to special reserved boxes.
The ancient Roman Coliseum has continued to influence modern day stadiums throughout the Western world. Its architecture allowed for a prime view in all areas of the stadium and modern day locker and change rooms are mimics of the intricate tunnel and chamber system displayed underneath the Coliseum. Even to this day it is possible to find its architecture in many different forms. “One of today’s structures which seem to closely resemble it is the modern football stadia. Like the Roman Coliseum, many are built in a large oval form. The oval shaped stadiums also have the advantage of fitting in a slightly larger crowd, due to the curved sections at each end.” (Colin Szasz, 1) The seating arrangements in the modern football stadium are similar to the ones in the Roman Coliseum. They were designed to accommodate thousands of spectators. The modern football stadium also pays attention to the ease of entry and exit, which played a big role in the plan and structure of the coliseum from the beginning. Both of these structures were also built with fireproof building materials .This was highly important for the safety of both these constructions, as they were constantly dealing with huge crowds of spectators.
The Roman Coliseum is an ingenious creation by the Ancient Romans. Its use is portrayed through many examples of modern day stadiums and also became a pattern for Renaissance architecture. The Romans were able to incorporate a variety of complex methods in the building, allowing for a never before seen creation. It played an important role in Roman culture as a social gathering where anyone could participate from every walk of life.
The great and highly advanced Roman waterway system known as the aqueducts, are among the greatest achievements in the ancient world. “A good water supply was as much a necessity in ancient times as it is today. To bring water to the cities from the mountain springs, the Romans used their skill as engineers and built aqueducts.” (Helen and Richard Leacroft, 22) The running water, indoor plumbing and sewer system carrying away disease from the population within the Empire was not surpassed in capability until very modern times.
The aqueducts were built from a combination of stone, brick and the special volcanic cement pozzuolana. Majority of the Roman waterway system ran below ground. Channels bored through rock, or dug below the surface carried water where it was convenient and possible. Of the approximately 260 miles in the aqueduct system, only 30 miles consisted of the visible, arched structures. The aqueducts were built only to carry the flow of water in areas where digging and burrowing, etc. presented problems, such as valleys. The entire system relied upon various gradients and the use of gravity to maintain a continuous flow. Without the aqueducts it would’ve been impossible to maintain the flow of water at the proper grades required. When water reached Rome it flowed into enormous cisterns (castella) maintained on the highest ground. The large reservoirs held the water supply for the city and were connected to a network of lead pipes. Everything from public fountains and baths could tap into the network, (sometimes a fee was paid). The water system was as politically motivated as any other public project. Maintenance of the water system was a continuous task, and the Romans assigned a Curator Aquarum to oversee this undertaking. Paid laborers, slaves and the legions all had parts in building parts of the water system. The Curator Aquarum maintained the aqueducts of Rome, while similar people oversaw those in the provinces. The legions however, when building new colonies or forts, were responsible for providing their own water supply. Just as they were the great road builders of the Empire, they most assuredly took part in the aqueduct construction of outlying areas. Eleven separate aqueducts supplied the city of Rome and were built over a span of 500 years. The first, the Aqua Appia, was built with the southern road the Via Appia in 312 BC. Aqua Novus stretched the farthest from the city, reaching approx. 59 miles away. At its largest extant, nearly 200 cities within the empire were supplied by aqueducts, surpassing the capability of any civilization before or after for nearly another 2 millennia. The last Roman aqueduct built was the Aqua Alexandrina built in 226 AD. In the days of the western empire, invading Germanic tribes cut the supply of water into Rome and only the Aqua Virgo, which ran completely underground, continued to deliver water. During the middle ages, a couple of the lines were restored, but full access to running water wasn’t re-established until the Renaissance. At the height of the ancient city’s population of approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants, the water system was capable of delivering up to 1 cubic meter of water per person in the city, more than what is commonly available in most cities today.
Rome already had an extensive system of aqueducts to supply the city with fresh water, and the Romans used the same system in other regions to civilize the tribes they had just subdued. The Romans were a very sanitary and hygienic people where fresh water was very important. The new colonies had never been concerned about such sanitation. The Romans, however, were able to bring fresh water to the towns from long distances away by carrying it through tunnels and over valleys with their towering aqueducts. This water was then used for the public baths and toilets, besides the expected drinking water. The fact that this water was for the public, and not reserved for private use, pleased people in the new colonies even more, and made them even more accepting of Roman control. The actual aqueducts themselves, built by the Romans to carry the water, were perhaps even more influential. Aqueducts like Pont du Gard at Nimes, or Segovia in Spain, the latter of which still carries water today, were monumental landmarks in the colonies where they were built and still are today. That the Romans would build such monumental structures for the purpose of supplying water to its colonies was overwhelming to those benefiting from it.
The ancient Roman aqueducts were an engineering feat. The idea that the Romans would build such monumental structures for the purpose of supplying water to its colonies was overwhelming to those benefiting from it. “They brought fresh clean water to the towns and cities they conquered using the aqueducts which are still inspiring and influential monuments today. We can only imagine the significance they held 2000 years ago. As Frontius said of the aqueducts, they are ‘â€¦a signal testimony to the greatness of the Roman Empire.'” (Colin Szasz, 1) Whatever hydraulic system employed, overland conduits include some of the most imposing structures left by antiquity. The Romans were able to create an incredible architectural design which greatly benefitted their society and are still in constant use to this day.
In conclusion, these three Ancient Roman architectural phenomenon have played an extremely important role in Rome’s urbanisation and their contribution to later century’s architecture. Each individual monument contributed too greatly to the creation of Ancient Rome’s history and introduced new and improved building techniques and designs to both ancient and modern worlds. It is still difficult to comprehend that the Romans were able to create an empire as vast and as powerful as they did. Lasting several centuries and covering Europe, Asia Minor and Northern Africa and even overtaking their historical enemies the Greeks, their empire was of a magnitude that has been unsurpassed but often dreamed. “The greatness of the Roman Empire as it was is a direct result of the fact that they were such superior engineers and architects.” (Colin Szasz, 1) When we look back at how they achieved such widespread influence there is no doubt that the principal factor in their achievements was due to their superior skills in architecture and engineering of the day.
Independent Study Unit
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