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triumphal arch

triumphal arch, monumental structure embodying one or more arched passages, frequently built to span a road and designed to honor a king or general or to commemorate a military triumph. This form of monument was probably invented by the Romans, who built them throughout the empire. Examples exist in Italy, France, Spain, Asia Minor, and North Africa, dating from the empire. The typical Roman triumphal arch had a single arched opening in the earliest examples, e.g., the Arch of Titus, Rome (A.D. 81); after the 2d cent. a large arch flanked by two smaller ones became common. The piers were faced with columns and enriched with sculptures or bas-reliefs relating to the events commemorated, while above the entablature was an attic story for dedicatory inscriptions supporting a quadriga, a sculptured four-horse chariot group. Among the Roman arches remaining are that of Trajan, at Benevento, Italy (114), relating the story of the emperor's life, and those of Septimius Severus (203) and of Constantine (c.315) at Rome, honoring the military victories of the two emperors. In modern times some arches have been built to celebrate military triumphs. Among them in Paris are the Porte Saint-Denis and the Porte Saint-Martin, both erected under the reign of Louis XIV, and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, both built at the decree of Napoleon I. Other well-known arches are the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; the Victory Gate in Munich; the Marble Arch in London; and the Washington Arch in New York City.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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