Most major cities have an impressive arch (or two) but there are truly some magnificent triumphal arches around the world. Because they are commemorating a triumph or victory, they are usually huge and impressive. Sometimes they pander to the ego of the victorious person and sometimes they are the gift of a grateful or impressed nation. It is widely accepted that the Romans started the tradition of triumphal arches but you’ll find them in many countries – like these:
One of the world's earliest triumphal arches, the Arch of Septimius's actual date of construction has been lost in the mists of time. It was built sometime during the reign of Lucius Septimius Severus, a Roman Emperor born in Leptis Magna, which lies in present day Libya. He reigned between 193 and 211, the year of his death. At the centre of the arch's decorations the stonework shows Lucius shaking hands with his two sons, Geta and Caracalla. Since Caracalla is still a young man in the depiction, it is likely the arch was built in the early 200's, shortly after Lucius became emperor.
It seems to build triumphal arches that will stand the test of time one has to include a depiction of Caracalla on them somewhere! The Roman town of Volubilis was once an important town in present day Morocco and marked the westernmost border of the Roman empire. Located in the heart of Volubilis, the magnificent marble Arch of Caracalla was built in 211 AD. Surmounted by a stunning bronze chariot and flanked by gorgeous Corinthian columns, the arch celebrates the reign of Emperor Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna.
Built in Rome in 82 AD, the Arch of Titus commemorates the life and death of the elder brother of Roman Emperor Domitian. Depicting Titus' victorious sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the arch has ever since served as a template for triumphal arches built since the 16th century and even inspired the architect of the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Initially constructed during the reign of Augustus to honor the veterans of the Gallic War (no, Asterix and Obelix are NOT mentioned on any triumphal arches in France!), the Triumphal Arch of Orange was later reconstructed on the orders of Emperor Tiberius in honour of Germanicus' victories over the rebellious German tribes. An inscription on the arch is dedicated to the Emperor and mentions the year 27 AD.
This ancient Roman example of triumphal arches is forever overshadowed by Rome's even more famous and spectacular Colosseum, which is adjacent to it. The Arch of Constantine was constructed in 315 AD in honor of Emperor Constantine I's victory over Emperor Maxentius, a battle that was instrumental in bringing about Constantine's conversion to Christianity. Contemporary chroniclers reported that Constantine was visited by a vision of God, promising a victorious outcome, provided Constantine's army carried the sign of the cross on their shields into battle. Interestingly, the triumphal arch does mention God's helping hand in the successful outcome of the battle, but the arch does not carry any explicitly Christian imagery.
A comparatively modern example of triumphal arches, the Gateway of India in Mumbai was constructed between 1911 and 1924, commemorating the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. Blending both Hindu and Muslim architecture in its design, the Gateway of India witnessed the departure of the last British troops leaving India on 28th February 1948, the beginning of Indian independence from British colonialism.
Perhaps only second to the Eiffel Tower in the affection of Parisians, the Arc de Triomphe serves as the focal point of the main east-west road axis that runs through Paris, starting from the Louvre in the east to the Grande Arc de la Défense in the west of the French capital. Commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 following his victory at Austerlitz, this contentious piece of European architecture was not completed until 1836, long after Bonaparte had died. Few triumphal arches have seen as many momentous victory marches as this one: the Germans marched under it in 1871, the French in 1918, the Germans again during Hitler's infamous victory parade in 1940 and in 1944 the Arc de Triomphe welcomed French and American troops during a huge end of WWII celebration.
All triumphal arches have a history and they offer sightseers a tale as well as something great to see. Have you got an arch in your city?
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