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Roman Architecture

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Ancient Romans are known as experts of beauty, which was both their philosophy and lifestyle. Architecture was one of domains in which they made most success, and influenced generations of artists in further centuries. The secrets of Roman architecture included several components: love for beauty, respect for the past traditions, and innovation. They were the ones who took the best of Hellenist Greek tradition and transformed it into the way to create a totally new style. The use of arches is one of the distinguishing features, which was used abundantly ever since. Romans are known as inventors of concrete, a material that facilitated and fastened the construction of buildings significantly, and was a breakthrough that shaped the further development of architecture.

For Romans, houses were more than places to live, especially for the nobility, let alone the reigning emperors. Luxury was a characteristic of all the buildings, in which dynasties lived, no matter if they were the permanent places of residence in the area of today’s Italy or more distant ones in other parts of that day’s empire. Nero's Golden House, otherwise known as the Domus Aurea, is an excellent example of Roman architecture that was partially preserved until now. It received its name for being covered in gold leaf, which unfortunately did not last until present day. Apart from his cruelty, Nero was known as a fan of art, and did his best to deserve worship from his future descendants for being a patron of art and building masterpieces of architecture. So, after the great fire of Rome ( which was rumored to be initiated on purpose by Nero himself), some free space for construction got available, so the emperor decided to use this opportunity to get a new palace built for him. It should be mentioned that luxury was just one criterion of proper royal architecture, but it was certainly not enough.  Exquisite taste was what appreciated by Romans, so the palace combined these two elements.

The palace was built between the years 65 and 68 AD, and was a step forward from the traditional Hellenistic architecture. The most grandiose part of the palace was the so-called Esquiline wing, the main building of the architectural complex that was situated near the Coliseum. Although only fragments of it are preserved, it is possible to draw conclusions from them and the historians’ account. Thus, it reflected an innovative trend to make chambers not round or square, but to make them have many corners. So, the main chamber was known as octagonal, and the rest of the building was centered round it. This main room was decorated with paintings, marble, gold, and mosaic (though, the latter is mostly an assumption of researchers). Besides, gems and shells were beautifully in-built to create the impression of total luxury. In front of the palace, there was a pentagonal courtyard, which was a part of the whole ensemble. In the hall of the building, there was a gigantic statue of Nero, which welcomed guests to the entrance. There is no reliable evidence if the house had the second level, yet two wooden staircases suggest that it probably did. Yet, most likely, the second floor was not as significant because there is no evidence of the massive central staircase. It should be mentioned that concrete, invented by Romans, was used in building the houses, which protected them  from fire.

Another example of ancient Roman architecture, which has been fortunately preserved until present day, is Roman Pantheon, or the temple of all gods. Although it has changed its functions several times throughout history, the overall building has remained the same, showing the example of Roman architecture’s heyday. Build by Emperor Adrian in 126 AD, it remained as the temple with the largest dome in the world until the 15th century. Indeed, its dome, measuring forty six meters high, is the temple’s most outstanding feature. The uniqueness of the dome also consists of the fact that there is a round hole on top (oculus), through which a ray of light penetrates the interior, thus, creating a special visual effect and giving the volume to the chamber. It is remarkable that the temple had no other windows, except for this one, which was typical for Roman architecture of the time. The columns of the portico in front of the building are located in three rows, the first having eight columns, while the others having four columns each.

The building is cylinder in its form, and one can access it through the heavy door of bronze. The temple is over forty-three meters high, and its interior is no less impressive than its height. As it is known, the initial purpose of the building was a cult one, a sanctuary of pagan Roman god, and it was transformed into a Christian temple later in history. The floor was made of marble, a material that was used by Romans for decoration rather than for building. It is almost unbelievable that the original floor of almost two thousand years old has been preserved untouched and demonstrates the geometric arrangements that were used for decoration in that epoch. Besides, the temple performs a function of being the place of burial for outstanding people of different epochs, like Raphael and several kings.

Speaking more about the elements of architecture, it should be mentioned that construction of such a huge dome was a challenge for its creators and for further generations of architects, who had to reconstruct the temple without risk of destruction or the dome’s crash. The Roman architects had a secret, in fact, how to make this building stable, and this secret was not only in accurate mathematical calculations, but also in the material, which was used. Thus, for most Roman buildings, concrete was the main material, yet the composition of the concrete used for the dome and for the rest of the building was different.  Apart from using a lighter kind of concrete for the dome, the thickness of its layer varied considerably from the foundation of the building to its top. So, at the bottom of the building the walls are about six meters thick, which helps the foundation to be steady and bear the whole construction, including the dome. In contrast, at the top of the dome, the wall is just two meters thick, which ensures lower weight of the dome. The portico is another remarkable element of Pantheon’s architecture, which is famous for its columns. They were maid of granite and delivered from Egypt, which was a challenge, considering their weight.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that both Pantheon and Nero’s Golden House are remarkable examples of ancient Roman architectural style. The difference between them is that the former is better preserved, so that one can have a complete picture of the style, both in interior and exterior terms. The typical use of concrete as a material for construction and marble for the floor and decoration suggests a common feature of architectural style. Sculpture, as an element of interior, was used abundantly in both cases. It should be noted, though, that while the palace was used as the emperor’s residence, it was more luxurious in terms of decoration that Pantheon, which was a sanctuary of gods. 

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