Roman architecture stands today as a testament to the ability and grandeur of this once great civilization that ,at one time, covered three continents. Their great theaters and amphitheaters were wonders that could seat thousands of people and are still impressive ,both in size and volume, today. As well, their road and bridges were constructed so well that many are still in use today. A unified architecture form gave the Roman empire a common thread and Roman ruins can be found in places so diverse as Britain and Egypt.
The Roman Road and Bridge
No other society has left such a lasting message of power and unity like the ancient Romans and their roads and bridges. The Romans ,in their prime, built thousands of miles of roads which stretched from Rome to Britain and from Carthage to Parthia. These roads were constructed "to last a century" and most lasted for two millennium and are still being used today.
The original intent that the Romans had for building roads was for military use. As the Romans conquered new territory, roads were built to allow the soldiers to travel throughout the empire quickly and easily. As a result, numerous settlements grew up along the Roads and they put even the most distant outposts and provinces in easy contact with Rome.
Roman roads were generally constructed in four layers with the topmost layer consisting of a pavement of flat ,hard stones, concrete or pebbles that were set in mortar. These roads were usually constructed in straight lines but were sometimes known to curve. Because of all the precision involved in constructing the road, much planning was required on the part of the engineer.
The bridges that the ancient Romans constructed were equally as remarkable as their roads. With the development of the arch, bridges were easily built and ,like the roads, many are still in use today. With the Romans, bridge building reached a new level of style and complexity because of the style and strength their bridges had compared to those of other societies.
The Roman Water System
The Roman development of the arch also led to the building of the great aqueducts for which were used to transport great amounts of water over vast miles of land. The need for aqueducts occurred in Rome during the mid republic due to the fact that the Tiber river had gotten too muddy and polluted from waste dumping and other deeds. As time went on, numerous aqueducts were built in Rome and throughout the empire in general.
The early Roman aqueducts consisted of plain stone slabs and earth lime mixtures. The style and sophistication of aqueducts evolved as time went on. Because of the Roman Aqueduct, the public baths and water fountains were kept operational due to the abundant access to fresh water. The result of this was the easy access to people of all classes to fresh water and bath facilities which set a sanitary standard that would not be met until the 19th century.
To transport the water over great distances, the Roman Aqueduct worked with the principals of gravity and they also had special basins between the source and the destination that would help purify the water. Once the water had reached the destination, it was kept into a storage tank where it would be distributed by pipes to different locations at the city. Some lucky upper class people had water piped directly to their residence ,the earliest known form of a sophisticated pipe system.
By the end of the Western Roman empire, the city of Rome had many prominent aqueducts within her boundaries. The most notable of these aqueducts are the Aqua Appia ,the first Roman aqueduct, and the Aqua Claudia, built by the emperor Claudius and would remain one of the largest in the city .In the empire ,when times were strained ,some emperors chose to simply improve on existing aqueducts rather than construct new ones.
Though the Romans were not the first to have a mass water system, the Greeks had water pumps in the cities, their system is important because it was the first time water was available to everyone on such a mass scale.
When the western empire did fall, so fell her complex and ingenious water system. With no engineers or funds to maintain them, the aqueducts ,like everything else Roman fell prey to the barbarians of the middle ages.
The Roman Bath
With the water system that the Aqueduct allowed, the Roman public baths got more sophisticated and grew in size as time went on. By the second century AD, public baths had grown in size and variety. In these new facilities, the pampered could do everything from eat to exercise and even read.
Under such famous emperors as Titus, Caracalla and Diocletion, magnificent baths were constructed that could house thousands of people at a single time. These later baths were constructed in different sections. Upon entrance into the bath house, the patron would first enter a changing room in which they would undress themselves before continuing into the exercise room. After a period of exercise ,the patron would then go to the warm baths ,in the tepidarium, then to the clod baths ,in the frigidarium. After their bath, the patron could have a massage if he/she wished so.
What makes the Roman bath houses such an architectural and engineering wonder, other than their great size, is the system that the Romans had for maintaining them. In the cold and hot areas of the bath, the water temperature was actually regulated by the use of underground fire furnaces. Also, the dirty water in the baths was actually drained and replaced regularly .The bath house also had a hookup to the complex Roman water system and so always had an ample source of water, for both bathing in and for drinking. The great sanitary conditions of the bath house were major factors that helped to make the Roman empire the cleanest society up until the 19th century.
Roman Public Structures
The grand public structures that the Romans left are the greatest legacy to their once great empire. Their great amphitheaters and monuments, such as the triumphal arch, were great structures that were a marvel to the Romans and are still a marvel to us today.
The Roman Amphitheater ,like most styles of buildings, was influenced greatly by the Greek civilization. These structures were generally circular and used the arch as their style of building but some were known to be built into a mountain or hillside. The theaters and amphitheaters were quite big in size and could hold upwards of 50 000 spectators. The biggest ,and most famous, Roman amphitheater was the Coliseum which was built by the Flavian emperors Vespasian and Titus. This building was used for everything from mock sea battles to to gladiatorial fights. A special fact about the Coliseum is that it was originally built with a huge removable canopy to protect the spectators from the elements.
The great monuments that the Romans leave behind show a great skill and an admiration for the accomplishments of their leaders and the grandeur of their empire. Most Roman monuments were constructed using the arch and had the details carved into them. The arch was usually very big and was a prominent feature of the skyline of the town in which it was located.
The Makeup of Classical Roman Architecture
As mentioned above, the Roman style of architecture was borrowed mainly from the Greeks though some building styles were of Etruscan origin. Of building styles, there were five different types that the Romans and Greeks used throughout classical times, from pre 500 BC to the first century AD.
The architecture of Classical Greece and Rome did not come about all at once ,but came in different stages of design and style. The first stage of Classical architecture was the Doric stage and buildings built in this style usually had no base. Doric architecture predates the 5th century BC. The next architectural style to be introduced to the classical world was the Ionic and it was more visibly complex than that of the Doric style.
The next architectural style to be introduced was the Corinthian style and it originated after the 5th century BC. The Tuscan column was the next form to be introduced and it was introduced by the Etruscans. Like most Etruscan artifacts, no examples of this architectural type survive today.
The final architectural type to come from the classical world is the Composite order and it was first seen in 82 AD on the arch of Titus. This form was the most complex due to the fact that it used the arch.
Due to the advances of the Composite style of architecture and the skill that the Romans had with concrete, the Romans were able to develop such architectural marvels like the arch ,the vault and the dome. One of the most famous domed buildings to come from the ancient Romans was the Pantheon built in the last century BC by Marcus Agrippa and later refurbished by Hadrian. This building was originally built as a temple to all the Roman gods but was later converted into a Christian temple. This building has the honor of being the oldest ,and largest, free standing dome in history.