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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Story of Architecture by the Romans


Rome is best known for its public architecture: private dwellings survive mainly outside the capital, the most interesting being the wealthy town houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum (preserved by volcanic ash and mud after an eruption of AD 79) and the tenement blocks (insulae) of Ostia.  Ruins of villas dot the countryside, ranging from luxury retreats to modern farmhouses.

1.  Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia

The early type of Pompeiian town house, exemplified by the House of Surgeon, was grouped round a hall (atrium) whose roof sloped down from four sides to a rectangular opeing beneath which was a rain tank.

Also at Pompeii: Houses of Pansa, of Diomede, of the Golden Cupids, of the Tragic Poet; basilica; Temple of Apollo; two theatres; amphitheatre; baths.  Near by: Villa of the Mysteries.

The Amphitheatre of Pompeii

It is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheatre.  It is located in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, that also buried Pompeii itself and the neighboring town of Herculaneum.

Theatre of Pompeii

The present theatre in Pompeii has undergone various modifications, but the basic design remains the same.  Many elements are due to restorations made during the Augustan period.

The plan of Herculaneum was based on a Greek-inspired grid.  The Villa of the Papyri is typical of Roman gentlemen's country houses: atrium exists only in modified form; large peristyle and peristylar garden.  Also at Herculaneum:  house of the Mosaic Atrium.

At Ostia, port of Rome, pressure on space resulted in 4- and 5-storey insulae with apartments reached by staircases from strret between ground-floor shops.  balconies common.  Also at Ostia:  House of Amor and Psyche; warehouses.

2.  Other Sites in Italy

Hadrian's Villa elegant colonnades

Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli

It was an extravagant and ingenious complex, combining gardens, lakes, copies of Greek sculpture, buildings of many kinds and elegant colonnades.

Roman Amphitheatre of Syracuse

Its plan was a typical Roman amphitheatre, but it had a square reservoir in the middle, supposedly for crocodiles that would feed on the corpses.

Verona Amphitheatre.  It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind.  The amphitheatre could host more than 30,000 spectators in ancient times.  The round facade of the building was originally composed of white and pink limestone from Valpolicella, but after a major earthquake in 1117, which almost completely destroyed the structure's outer ring, except for the so-called "ala", the stone was quarried for re-use in other building. - wikipedia

Roman Theatre of Verona.  Today only remains of the edifice are visible, recovered starting from around 1830. They include the cavea and the steps, several arcades of the loggias and remains of the stage.  Part of the cavea was occupied by the church of S. Siro built in the 10th century and restores in the 14th century.  At the top of the hill there was an ancient temple, built on a series of terraces. - wikipedia

Catallus Roman Villa.  This is the largest and the most complete Roman villa in northern Italy, situated at the outmost point of the Sirmione peninsula on Lake Garda.  The villa was built soon after the Augustan period (1st century AD) on a rectangular plan 167m long and 105 wide, covering about 20,000 square meters.  It consisted of 3 floors, with the main entrance to the south, where also the spas were located.  On the long sides there were covered porches, joined to the north in a panoramic terrace overlooking the lake.


Roman towns in the distant province, linked by a vast network of roads, had a forum as in Italy and were often planned on a rectilinear grid like Hellenistic towns but with a greater emphasis on the major axes.

1,  France and Germany

The Maison Carree, Nimes is the best preserved Roman temple in the classic Augustan pseudoperipteral style.  Corinthian order; early example of a modillioned cornice.  Podium has Greek-style crepidoma. Temple originally stood in colonnaded court.

The Temple of Diana, Nimes is actually a barrel-vaulted staircase hall, which led to some thermae.
Temple of Diana, Nimes.  Let's swap (
The Magne Tower (Tour Magne) is a Gallo-Roman monument located in Nimes in the Gard.  It is the most imposing relic of the long Roman wall,  it dominates the Jardins de la Fontaine on Mount Cavalier.

Arena of Nimes

Nimes also boast an amphitheatre 
that has a capacity of 16,300 spectators and since 1989 has a movable cover and a heating system.

Pont du Gard, Nimes

It's a stunning aqueduct bridge built of large stones using mortar only on upper part

The Arles Amphitheatre is a Roman amphitheatre in the southern French town of Arles.  The pronounced towers jutting out from the top are medieval add-ons.  The amphitheatre, during the Roman times, was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles.  Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting during the Feria d'Arles as well as plays and concerts in summer.

The Ancient Theatre of Orange is ancient Roman Theatre, in Orange, southern France,built early in the1st century AD.  As the Western Roman Empire declined during the 4th century, by which time Christianity had become the official religion, the theatre was closed by official edict in AD 391 since the Church opposed what it regarded as uncivilized spectacles.  After that, the theatre was abandoned completely.  It was sacked and puillaged by the "barbarians" and was used as a defesive post in the Middle Ages.  During the 16th-century religious wars, it became a refuge for the townspeople.

The Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany  is a double-arch defensive gateway.  In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city.

Trier Imperial Baths, Germany is one of the largest Roman baths northern of the alps.

The Roman Bridge is an ancient structure in Trier, Germany, over the Mosel.  It is the oldest standing bridge in the country.  The nine bridge pillars date from the 2nd century AD.  The upper part was renewed twice, in the early 12th and in the early 18th century, after suffering destruction in war.

2.  Britain

The Great Bath, Bath is one of three served by a natural hot spring, was originally open but later covered by a barrel vault.  Doric portico is modern addition.

Doric portico is modern addition.


It was a defensive fortifications in Roman Britain, begun in AD 122 during the rule of emperor Hadrian.  in addition to its military role, gates through the wall served as customs posts.  A significant portion of the wall still exists and can be followed on foot along the Hadrian's Wall Path.  It is the most popular tourist attrcation in Northern England and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

ROMAN WALL AT HOUSESTEADS.  Also called Vercovicium, it was built in stone around AD 124, soon after the construction of the Wall began in AD 122.  It was built overlying the original Broad Wall foundation and Turret 36B.  The fort was repaired and rebuilt several times, its northern defences being particularly prone to collapse.

CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA.  It is a Roman villa located at Chedworth, Gloucestershire, England.  It is one of the largest Roman villas in Britain.  The villa was built in phases from the early 2nd century to the 4th centruy, with the 4th century construction transforming the building into an elite dwelling arranged around three sides of a courtyard.  The 4th century building included a heated and furnished west wing containing a dining room (triclinium) with fine mosaic floor, as well as two separate bathing suites - one for damp-heat and one for dry-heat.  The existing wings were linked by a covered portico, and an inner garden and outer courtyard were created.  The villa was discovered in 1864, and it was excavated and put on display soon afterwards.

3.  Croatia

The fortified Palace of Diocletian, Split built on the Adriatic coast at a time of Imperial insecurity, was based on the rectilinear plan of a military camp.  Imperial apartments were on seaward side, behind temple of Jupiter and octagonal mausoleum with ingeniously constructed dome.  Palace has colonnades whose arches spring directly from columns, adumbrating Byzantine construction.

The Pula Arena is the name of the amphitheatre located in Pula, Croatia.  The Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved.  It is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the World.  A rare example among the 200 Roman surviving amphitheatres, it is also the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.

Arch of the Sergii is an ancient Roman triumphal arch located in Pula, Croatia.  The arch commemorates three brothers of the Sergii family, specifically Lucius Sergius Lepidus, a tribune serving in the twenty-ninth legion that participated in the Battle of Actium.

The Forum Roman Ruins.  Zadar gained its urban structure in Roman times; during the time of Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus, the town was fortified and the city walls with towers and gates were built. On the western side of the town were the forum, the basilica and the temple, while outside the town were the amphitheatre and cemeteries.  The aqueduct which supplied the town with water is partially preserved. Inside the ancient town, a medieval town had developed with a series of churches and monasteries being built.

4.  Iberian Peninsula

The Roman Temple of Evora also referred to as the Temple of Diana is an ancient temple in the Portuguesse city of Evora.  The temple is located in the central square of Evora, in what would have been the highest elevation of the city's acropolis.  The original temple was probably similar to the Maison Carree in Nimes (France).

Roman Theatre of Merida.  It is a construction promoted by the consul Vipsanius Agrippa in the Roman city of Emirita Augusta, capital of Lusitaia (current Merida, Spain).  It was constructed in the years 16 to 15 BCE.

5.  Bulgaria

Plovdiv Roman Theatre.  The ancient theatre of Philippolis is a historical building in the city center of Plovdiv (ancient Philippopolis), Bulgaria.  Although this structure is commonly referred to as an amphitheatre, it is actually a traditional Roman theatre.  According to a builder's inscription, discovered on the frieze-architrave of the eastern proskenion, the construction of the theatre dates back to the time of Emperor Trajan.

6.  The Eastern Mediterranean

The Library of Celsus is an ancient Roman building in Ephesus, Anatolia, now part of Selcuk, Turkey. It was built in honor of the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaenus.  The library was built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus.  Celsus is buried in a sarcophagus beneath the library, in the main entrance which is both a crypt containing his sarcophagus and a sepulchral monument to him.  It was unusual to be buried within a library or even within city limits, so this was a special honor for Celsus.

The Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures on Curetes Street.  It was built by P. Quintilius and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, who came to visit the city from Athens in 128AD.  The facade of the temple has four Corinthian columns supporting a curved arch, in the middle of which contains a relief of Tyche, goddess of victory.

The Monumentum Ancyranum refers to the Temple of August and Rome in Ancyra (modern Ankara, Turkey).  The temple was built after the conquest of central Anatolia by the Roman Empire and the formation of the Galatia province, with Ancyra as its administrative capital

The Jerash Temple of Artemis is a Roman temple in Jerash, Jordan.  The temple was built on one of the highest points and dominated the whole city.  Ruins of the temple are still one of the most remarkable monuments left of the ancient city of Gerasa (Jerash).  The building had a hexastyle portico with twelve columns, of which eleven are still standing.  Corinthian capitals decorating the columns are very well preserved.  The temple walls had three entrances decorated with three Corinthian pilasters.

The purpose of the Treasury at Petra, Jordan remains something of a mystery.  One thing is fairly certain, however, is that it was not a treasury.  In reality, the Treasury is generally believed to be a temple or a royal tomb, but neither conclusion  is certain.  The Treasury's facade has two levels, decorated with columns, classical rooflines and badly weathered sculptures.  Perched atop the facade is an eagle, a Nabataean (and Greek) male deity symbol.

Petra, Jordan

In 106 CE, when Cornelius Palma was governor of Syria, that part of Arabia under the rule of Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire as part of Arabia Petraea and became its capital.  The native dynasty came to an end, but the city continued to flourish. It was around thsi time that the Petra Roman Road was built.

Roman Amphitheatre, Petra, Jordan

The Amphitheatre has been cut into hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-colored mountain wall, divided into groups by deep fissures and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of flowers.

Palmyra became part of the Roman Empire when it paid tribute in the early years of emperor Tiberius' reign c. 14 AD.  The Roman imperial period brought a great prosperity to Palmyra, which enjoyed a privileged status under the empire and retained much of its internal autonomy.

Temple of Jupiter.  The temple was ruined by earthquakes, destroyed and pillaged for stone under Theodosius, and 8 columns were taken to Constantinople (Istanbul) under Justinian for incorporation into the Hagia Sophia Three fell during the late 18th century.  6 columns, however, remain standing along its south side with their entablature.  Their capitals remain nearly perfect on the south side, while the Beqaa's winter winds have worn the northern faces almost bare.

TEMPLE OF JUPITER.  The architrave and frieze blocks weigh up to 60 tonnes (66 tons) each, and one corner block over 100 tonnes (110 tons), all of them raised to a height of 19 m (62.34 ft) above the ground.  Individual Roman cranes  were not capable of lifting stones this heavy. They may have simply been rolled into position along temporary earthen banks from the quarry or multiple cranes may have been used in combination. They may also have alternated sides a little at a time, filling in supports underneath each time.

7.  North Africa

Timgrad, Algeria is a fine example of Roman town planning; forum, hill-cut theatre, library, numerous thermae and triumphal arch.

 Timgrad, Algeria  Let's swap (

The harbour town of Lepcis Magna, Libya, dating from Augustan age has a market with two circular halls.  A amgnificent seond forum was added by Severus, with basilica at north-east end.

  Lepcis Magna, Libya.  Let's swap (

Built in the 2nd century AD, the Roman Theatre in Sabratha, Libya is 93 meter in diameter.  The theatre is very well preserved, especially the stage which is almost completely intact.  The supporting section comprised three tiers of arches decorated with bas-reliefs.  On the ground floor and the upper tiers a semi-circular corridor surrounded the seats.

Founded by the Phoenicians, Carthage is an extensive archaeological site, located on a hill dominating the Gulf of Tunis and the surrounding plain.  During the lengthy Punic wars, Carthage occupied the territories that belonged to Rome, which then destroyed its rival in 146 AD.  The town was rebuilt by the Romans on the ruins of the ancient city.

The major known components of the site of Cathage are the acropolis in Byrsa, the Punic ports, the Punic tophet, the necropolises, theatre, amphitheatre, circus, residential area, basilicas, the Antonin baths, Malaga cisterns and the archaeology reserve.

Bulla Regia is an archaeological site in the north-western Tunisia.  Previously located on the road between Carthage to Hippo (today Annaba), the site has undergone partial archaeological research, which, however, allowed to highlight the age of the occupation and uncover a feature of domestic architecture in Roman times: the construction of an underground floor plan incorporating houses.

El Jem Theatre, Tunisia

The impressive ruins of the largest colosseum in North Africa, a huge amphitheatre which could hold up to 35,000 spectators, are found in the small village of El Jem, Tunisia.  This 3rd century monument illustrates the grandeur and extent of Imperial Rome

Volubilis Roman Ruins, Morocco

Although only half of Volubilis has been excavated, a number of prominent public buildings are still visible and some, notably a basilica and a triumphal arch, have been reconstructed.

Djemila, Algeria

Djemila is a mountain village in Algeria, near the northern coast east of Algiers, where some of the best preserved Berbero-Roman ruins in North Africa are found.  Significant building in Djemila include a theatre, two fora, temples, basilicas, arches, streets and houses.

Triumphal Arch

Roman Theatre
Djemila, Algeria

Roman Forum

Djemila, Algeria

8.  Others

Tropaeum Traiani Trajan's monument was inspired by the Augustus mausoleum, and was dedicated to the god Mars Ultor in 107/108 AD. On the monument there were 54 metopes depicting Roman legions fighting against enemies; most of these metopes are preserved in the museum nearby. The monument was supposed to be a warning to the tribes outside this newly conquered province.

Necropolis of Pecs In the 4th century A.D. a remarkable series of decorated tombs in the cemetery in the town of Sopianae. In the Roman Province of Pannonia, the ruins of which survived under the ground and are situated in the current city of Pecs, in South Hungary. The burial chambers, chapels and mausoleum excavated on the site of Sopianae cemetery from a complex that bears witness to an ancient culture and civilization that had a lasting impact. it is the richest collection of structural types of sepulchral monuments in the northern and western Roman provinces reflecting a diversity of cultural sources. These monuments are important both structurally and architecturally as they were built above ground and served as both burial chambers and memorial chapels. They are also significant in artistic terms because of their richly decorated murals of outstanding quaity depicting Christian themes.

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