The Roman Era that flourished for over 1000 years was one of the largest civilizations of its time. Spread across the entire Mediterranean during its peak, the civilization has contributed greatly in the fields of art, architecture, and construction.
The Roman architectural style of The Roman Era has been a powerful influence in shaping the architectural practices of today. Precedented by the Greek architectural style, the Romans took their architectural feats a step forward, by using the knowledge and practices of the Greeks. The combination of the Greek and Roman Architecture is referred to as Classical Architecture and has been a major inspiration for architects for centuries. Yet the Roman architecture differed fundamentally from all other ancient architectural styles.
By the means of their architectural innovations, the Romans were able to build structurally stronger monuments, allowing them to experiment significantly with the interior spaces. Ornate interior spaces had been previously unheard of and subsequently gained much popularity, creating a new outlook on lavish interiors along with magnificent exteriors.
The most prime architectural feats that helped the Romans in their architectural endeavors in the roman era include:
1. Roman Concrete
Roman Concrete named ‘opus caementicium’ developed in the 2nd Century BCE, and its discovery has made a revolutionary impact on architecture ever since. It was made by adding a volcanic Italian sand ‘pozzolana’ to the traditional recipe of mortar. The mixture was mixed in a mortar box with very little water and carried to the site in baskets. On-site, the layer of rocks on which the concrete was to be applied was prepared beforehand and the freshly made mixture was then pounded on the layer of rocks. Sometimes, the mixture was also packed in wooden frames and soaked in seawater. This triggered a chemical reaction to create exceptionally strong bonds that could easily withstand the tests of time. Not only did this discovery help the Romans in building massive structures that rested on arches and vaults, but also helped them to build structures underwater, as the concrete retained its strength in water as well. This concrete was exceptionally sustainable and is currently being researched upon in the quest for greener construction materials.
2. Arches, Vaults, and Domes
Conventionally, the post and lintel system had been used for support in large monuments. Although the arches were a prominent architectural element, they were rarely used for support. The Romans were the first to introduce arches as supporting elements. The Roman arch was made of voussoirs (wedge-shaped bricks) with a keystone in the centre, that held them together. Thus, the weight was transferred from one voussoir to the next, creating a sturdy support system. Henceforth, arches with a large span were created, paving way for Triumphant arches to be built all across the Roman territory. The arches in some cases were also combined to form roofs known as vaults. The principles of the arch were also used to make the first domes in the history of architecture. These support systems allowed Romans to experiment momentously with the interiors. The dome of the Pantheon was also built using these construction techniques. Built as a perfect hemisphere, the interior of the dome is marked by five rings of 28 coffers that reduce in size towards its centre. It is believed that they were originally covered with bronze sheets as the skylight at the top of the dome is also covered with them. With its magnificent interior, the Pantheon may be the first building in Classical Architecture with an interior deliberately built to outshine its exterior.
Romans had complex, vast, and extensive networks of Aqueducts. First built in the 4th Century BCE, these were used to carry water from freshwater resources to overcrowded cities. Stretched over miles, these elaborate systems comprised of a series of pipes, tunnels, and canals that greatly depended on the natural slope for the flow of water. Externally, these aqueducts were built using the Roman Arches and some aqueducts also had a system of bridges. The innovation of Roman concrete and arches was the key driving force behind the development of this architectural marvel. While shreds of evidence of a large number of aqueducts can be found in modern-day Europe, some of them are still functional. The Aqua Virgo, constructed in the 19th Century BCE, supplies water to Rome’s Trevi Fountain even today.
4. Amphitheatres and Basilicas
Sophisticated architectural techniques of the Romans in the Roman era allowed them to experiment and create new building typologies in the civic sector. Out of these, the Amphitheaters and Basilicas were the most important. The Romans love for combat and entertainment led to the birth of Amphitheaters. The culture of Amphitheaters that were used for gladiator conquests, public displays, and bullfights has influenced and shaped many modern traditions in Europe. The Colosseum in Rome, built between 70 and 72 AD that could accommodate almost 50,000 people is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in Rome today. The Roman Basilicas were large public buildings that were built for administrative purposes. Although the modern-day churches have been inspired by them, the first Basilicas were made with no religious characteristics. They were constructed to function more like a town hall, as is evident from the oldest known Basilica, the Basilica Porcia in Rome.