Famous Arches From Around the World

From Roman Triumphal Arches to the St. Louis Arch

Closeup of modern metal arch, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Gateway Arch, 1968, St. Louis. Joanna McCarthy/Getty Images

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis may be America's most famous arch. At 630 feet high, it is considered the tallest monument made in the United States. The modern, stainless steel catenary curve was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, whose winning contest entry beat out other submissions for more traditional, Roman-inspired stone gates.

The initial idea for the St. Louis arch may have come from ancient Rome, but its design demonstrates an evolution from those Roman times. In this series of photographs, explore the ever-changing history of arch architecture, from ancient to modern.

Arch of Titus; Rome, Italy; A.D. 82

ancient Roman stone arch with engaged columns and inscription at the top
Arch of Titus, Rome, Italy, with Composite Columns Reconstructed from Original A.D. 82. Andrea Jemolo/Portfolio via Getty Images/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Ultimately, triumphal arches are a Roman invention in design and purpose; the Greeks knew how to build arched openings within squared buildings, but the Romans borrowed this style to create giant monuments to successful warriors. Even to the present day, most memorial arches built have been modeled after the early Roman arches.

The Arch of Titus was built in Rome during a tumultuous time in the Flavian dynasty. This particular arch was built to welcome back Titus, commander of the Roman armies who besieged and conquered the first Jewish rebellion in Judaea—it celebrates the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in A.D. 70. This marble arch provided a grand entrance for returning warriors bringing the spoils of war back to their homeland.

Therefore, the nature of the triumphal arch was to create an impressive entryway and memorialize an important victory. Sometimes prisoners of war were even slaughtered on site. Though the architecture of later triumphal arches may be derivative of the ancient Roman arches, their functional purposes have evolved.

Arch of Constantine; Rome, Italy; A.D. 315

Overview taken from the top of the Colosseum shows the Arch of Constantine on October 3, 2017 in Rome, Italy.
Triumphal Arch of Constantine in Ancient Rome. Stefano Montesi/Corbis via Getty Images (cropped) 

The Arch of Constantine is the largest of the surviving ancient Roman arches. Like the classic one-arch design, the three-arch look of this structure has been widely copied throughout the world.

Built around A.D. 315 near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, the Arch of Constantine honors Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. The corinthian design adds a dignified flourish that has lasted for centuries.

Arch Into Palace Square; St. Petersburg, Russia; 1829

leading to a plaza, some arches are built into the architecture of offices and headquarters
Arch on Palace Square, 1829, St Petersburg, Russia. John Freeman/Getty Images (cropped)

Dvortsovaya Ploshchad (Palace Square) in St. Petersburg was built to commemorate the 1812 Russian victories over Napoleon. Italian-born Russian architect Carlo Rossi designed the triumphal archway and the General Staff and Ministries building that surround the historic square. Rossi chose the traditional chariot with horses to adorn the top of the arch; this kind of sculpture, called the quadriga, is a common symbol of triumph from ancient Roman times.

Wellington Arch; London, England; 1830

Summertime heat wave in Autumn gives London an Indian Summer Tourists near to Constitution Arch (Wellington Arch), a memorial to the Duke of Wellington and originally providing a grand entrance to London.
Wellington Arch, 1830, London. Mike Kemp In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Arthur Wellesley, the Irish soldier who became the Duke of Wellington, was the hero commander who ultimately defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The Wellington Arch used to have a statue of him in full battle regalia atop a horse, hence its name. However, when the arch was moved, the statue was changed to a chariot drawn by four horses called "The Angel of Peace Descending on the Chariot of War," similar to St. Petersburg's Arch Into Palace Square.

Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile; Paris, France; 1836

ornately carved box of a structure with archways on each side
Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile , 1836, Paris, France. GARDEL Bertrand/Getty Images 

One of the most famous arches in the world is in Paris, France. Commissioned by Napoléon I to commemorate his own military conquests and honor his invincible Grande Armee, the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is the world's largest triumphal arch. The creation of architect Jean François Thérèse Chalgrin is twice the size of the ancient Roman Arch of Constantine after which it is modeled. The monument was built between 1806 and 1836 at Place de l'Étoile, with Parisian avenues radiating like a star from its center. Work on the structure stopped when Napoléon encountered defeat, but it started up again in 1833 under King Louis-Philippe I, who dedicated the arch to the glory of the French armed forces. Guillaume Abel Blouet—the architect actually credited on the monument itself—completed the arch based on Chalgrin's design.

An emblem of French patriotism, the Arc de Triomphe is engraved with the names of war victories and 558 generals. An Unknown Soldier buried under the arch and an eternal flame of remembrance lit since 1920 commemorate victims of the world wars.

Each of the arc's pillars is adorned with one of four large sculptural reliefs: "The Departure of the Volunteers in 1792" (aka "La Marseillaise") by François Rude, "Napoléon's Triumph of 1810" by Cortot, and "Resistance of 1814" and "Peace of 1815," both by Etex. The simple design and immense size of the Arc de Triomphe are typical of late 18th-century romantic neoclassicism.

Cinquantenaire Triumphal Arch; Brussels, Belgium; 1880

three arch passages, like Arch of Constantine, with horse sculpture at top
Cinquantenaire Triumphal Arch, Brussels, Belgium. Demetrio Carrasco/Getty Images

Many of the triumphal arches built in the 19th and 20th centuries memorialize a nation's independence from colonial and royalist rule. 

Cinquantenaire means "50th anniversary," and the Constantine-like arch in Brussels commemorates the Belgian Revolution and a half-century of freedom from the Netherlands.

Washington Square Arch; New York City; 1892

A couple looks at the newly renovated Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park
Washington Square Arch, 1892, New York City. Chris Hondros/Getty Images (cropped)

As the General of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, George Washington was America's first war hero. He was also, of course, the country's first president. The iconic arch in Greenwich Village commemorates this act of independence and self-governance. American architect Stanford White designed this neoclassical symbol in Washington Square Park to replace an 1889 wooden arch that celebrated the centennial of Washington's inauguration.

India Gate; New Delhi, India; 1931

arch in India inspired by Arc de Triomphe located in Paris, which in turn is inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus
India Gate, 1931, New Delhi, India. Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Although the India Gate looks like a triumphal arch, it is actually India's iconic national war memorial for the dead. The 1931 monument in New Delhi commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives in World War I. Designer Sir Edwin Lutyens modeled the structure after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which in turn is inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus.

Patuxai Victory Gate; Vientiane, Laos; 1968

large archways similar to Arc de Triomphe in Paris but with Asian detailing
Patuxai Victory Gate, Vientiane, Laos. Matthew Williams-Ellis/Getty Images (cropped) 

"Patuxai" is a combination of Sanskrit words: patu (gate) and jaya (victory). The triumphal war monument in Vientiane, Laos honors the country's war for independence. It is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a somewhat ironic move considering the 1954 Laotian war for independence was against France.

The arch was built between 1957 and 1968 and reportedly paid for by the United States. It's been said that the cement was supposed to be used to build an airport for the new nation.

Arch of Triumph; Pyongyang, North Korea; 1982

light-colored arch monument with wide overhang top
Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang, North Korea. Mark Harris/Getty Images (cropped)

The Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea was also modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but the citizenry will be the first to point out that the North Korean triumphal arch is taller than its western counterpart. Built in 1982, the Pyongyang arch somewhat reflects a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie house with its tremendous overhang.

This arch commemorates Kim Il Sung's victory over Japanese domination from 1925 to 1945.

La Grande Arche de la Défense; Paris, France; 1989

modern cube of concrete, marble, and glass, open at two ends
La Grande Arche de la Défense, 1989. Near Paris. Bernard Annebicque/Sygma via Getty Images

Today's triumphal arches rarely commemorate war victories in the Western world. Although La Grande Arche was dedicated to the bicentennial of the French Revolution, the true intent of this modernist design was fraternity—its original name was “La Grande Arche de la Fraternité” or "The Great Arch of Fraternity." It is located in La Défense, the business area near Paris, France.


  • About the Gateway Arch, https://www.gatewayarch.com/experience/about/ [accessed May 20, 2018]
  • Arc de Triomphe Paris, http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/ [accessed March 23, 2015]
  • Patuxai Victory Monument in Vientiane, Asia Web Direct (HK) Limited, http://www.visit-mekong.com/laos/vientiane/patuxai-victory-monument.htm [accessed March 23, 2015]
  • Laos profile - timeline, BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-15355605 [accessed March 23, 2015]
  • Triumphal Arch, Pyongyang, Korea, North, Asian Historical Architecture, http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/koreanorth/pyongyang/triumpharch.php [accessed March 23, 2-015]
  • Cinquantenaire Park, https://visit.brussels/en/place/Cinquantenaire-Park [accessed May 19, 2018]
  • Washington Square Arch, NYC Parks and Recreation, http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/washington-square-park/monuments/1657 [accessed May 19, 2018]
  • La Grande Arche, https://www.lagrandearche.fr/en/history [accessed May 19, 2018]
  • Additional Photo Credits: Marble Arch, Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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Craven, Jackie. "Famous Arches From Around the World." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/famous-triumphal-arches-177357. Craven, Jackie. (2020, August 27). Famous Arches From Around the World. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-triumphal-arches-177357 Craven, Jackie. "Famous Arches From Around the World." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-triumphal-arches-177357 (accessed March 31, 2023).