“All buildings must be executed in such a way as to take account of durability, utility & beauty.”- vitruvius
Vitruvius, the famous ancient Roman architect believed that an architect should focus on three central themes when preparing a design for a building: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty).
Romans have celebrated their culture and power through architecture with great audacity. They have had inspiration mainly from Etruscan and Greek architecture and have also made innovations. They were the first to see and utilize the immense potential in concrete that has changed the face of architecture since then.
Some key structures in Roman architecture are Basilica, Amphitheater, residential housing block, granary building, aqueducts, public baths, and triumphal arches.
The striking features of Roman architecture were the elements used, innovated, and mindfully executed by them. They focused innately on the elements they used in architecture like vaults, domes, columns, and arches.
1. Columns | Elements of Ancient Roman Architecture
Romans initially followed the Greek order of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian in many structures. They also came up with two columns of their own style, Tuscan and Composite. Tuscan is an unfluted and simplified version of Doric order and composite is a combination of Ionic and Corinthian columns. Columns were initially used as support elements but later on, they were also used as elements of decoration in various structures.
i. The Colosseum
It is a Flavian amphitheatre and has been a witness to many battles and events. It can accommodate more than 50000 spectators. It is the most renowned example of Roman Architecture. The amphitheatre accommodates numerous columns of different orders all throughout the structure. The columns in the first tier are Ionic, the ones in the second tier are doric and the third tier has Corinthian columns.
ii. The Pantheon
It is a place of worship built by the Romans. They have used columns both as structural supports in the front part and as decorative elements partially merged with walls on the sides in this structure. The series of columns standing in the front part of it is Tuscan columns with Corinthian capitals.
iii. The Arch of Titus
This is a triumphal arch and stands as one of the oldest reminiscents of the Romanum forum. It probably observes the first use of Composite columns by the Romans.
2. Arches | Elements of Ancient Roman Architecture
Arches were extremely used in Roman architecture. The Greeks followed the post lintel form of construction and Romans sought a change to this as arches could provide longer uninterrupted spaces. They did extensive experimenting in the use of arches. They used arches all possible structures but are mainly renowned for their use in Aqueducts, Baths, Basilicas, and Triumphal arches.
i. Pont du Gard Aqueduct
Pont du Gard Aqueduct is one of the most famous sites in the world. The aqueducts were used to channel water to urban or highly populated areas from water sources. The structure constituted a series of arches often with two or more tiers. The arches would follow a certain pattern of height and order and would have water channels above them.
ii. The Arch of Constantine
This was a triumphal arch. Triumphal arches were used to celebrate victory and hence were more decorative and assertive. This arch has three arched gateways in it.
iii. The Amphitheatre of Nimes
This is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre and an example of marvellous engineering. The external facade of the amphitheatre has two tiers with 60 superimposed arches in it.
An arch-shaped roof is called a vault. The vaults used by the Romans were tunnel vaults, groin vaults, and multi groin vaults.
i. The basilica Maxentius
This was the largest basilica in Rome and has used a lot of barrel vaults. The vaults used here are coffered vaults. Tunnel or barrel vaults are simply curved semicircular vaults.
iii. The Colosseum
The Colosseum has groin vaults in the interior part of the structure. The vaults formed by the perpendicular cross-section of two vaults are called a groin vault.
iii. Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian)
This was a Roman public bath and the largest of the imperial baths. Multiple aesthetically pleasing groin vaults were adapted in this structure. Continuous repetition of groin vaults forming a series is known as multigroin vaults.
4. Dome | Elements of Ancient Roman Architecture
These are natural developments of vaults. They look similar to a half-cut sphere. Semicircular vaults covering much larger distances, with the shallow source of light coming in through a circular aperture at the top were the major pros of domes. Also, they would enhance the aesthetics of the place.
i. The Pantheon
The dome is the most breath-taking part of Pantheon. It is one of the largest domes in the world. The dome used is a hemisphere of 43.3 m diameter and is supported on rotunda walls.
ii. Saint Peter’s Basilica
It is one of Rome’s four major basilicas and remains the most famous basilica in Rome till date. The dome in this basilica has a diameter of 42 meters and is indifferently stunning.
iii. The Church of Saint George
This church was built by the Romans around the 4th century. The dome of this church is built on a square base and is very beautifully decorated with frescoes.