Gli Archi di Siena

Alison Noe January 31, 2013 Architecture Siena, Tuscany, Italy view in flickr

As you walk through the streets and alleys of Siena it is impossible to deny the movement from one enclosed space to the next. Every move is guided by a continuing series of arches, which frame the many beautiful scenes of this medieval city. These spaces become works of art because of the way they are contained within the boundaries of stone. Although this adds to the overall intrigue of the city, the use of arches was not solely for aesthetic appeal. Arches are one of the most fundamental elements seen throughout many types and time periods of architecture.

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Arches have been used much earlier than the Roman Empire, but were perfected during this time period. The arch has become an architectural symbol of Rome – as seen extensively throughout the façade of the Colosseum. The Colosseum is one of the first examples of the use of concrete in architectural design, which allowed for more innovative design. Molds were created and filled with concrete to construct more stable structural designs compared to designs comprised of individual blocks. Stone masonry can be seen all throughout the residential areas of Siena and the larger architectural elements like the Duomo di Siena and the Piazza del Campo. Without the use of arches, it would not be possible to create open spaces and support the weight of the material above.

There are many types of arches characteristic of different time periods and artistic movements. The round arch can be found throughout Siena. The barrel vault, used extensively in Roman architecture, can also be seen in Sienese architecture. The barrel vault is essentially a series of round arches that form a tunnel, a common architectural element of Siena. Later architectural designs, such as the Duomo, incorporate different types of arches. The round arch, characteristic of Romanesque architecture (modeled after Roman architecture – hence the name) was soon favored less to the pointed arch. Gothic architecture flourished during the high and late medieval period, the Duomo being the perfect example. The Duomo was built in two stages, combining elements from both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. As a result there are both round and pointed arches scattered throughout the exterior and interior of the Duomo. The pointed arch was a new innovation of Gothic architecture because it allowed for higher arches and more open space with the same stability. The combination of round and pointed arches gives the Duomo an incredible amount of open space, but still allows for material space of intricate decoration and detail.

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Although the invention of the arch completely changed the concept of construction, not many people still stop to stare and wonder at the technological ingenuity. We pass through these architectural elements like they don’t exist, probably because of the fact that they are used to create negative space. When arches are part of a historical monument, such as the Duomo, we are more likely to notice their beauty. The use of alternating black and white marble shown throughout the Duomo highlights the presence of negative space because the positive space is so magnificent.