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An arch is a structure that spans a space while supporting weight (e.g. a doorway in a stone wall). Arches appeared as early as the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamian brick architecture and their systematic use started with the Ancient Romans who were the first to apply the technique to a wide range of structures.

The semicircular arch was followed in Europe by the pointed Gothic arch or ogive whose centreline more closely followed the forces of compression and which was therefore stronger. The semicircular arch can be flattened to make an elliptical arch as in the Ponte Santa Trinita. The parabolic and catenary arches are now known to be the theoretically strongest forms. Parabolic arches were introduced in construction by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, who admired the structural system of Gothic style, but for the buttresses, which he termed “architectural crutches”. The catenary and parabolic arches carry all horizontal thrust to the foundation and so do not need additional elements.

The horseshoe arch is based on the semicircular arch, but its lower ends are extended further round the circle until they start to converge. The first known built horseshoe arches are known from Aksum (modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea) from around the 3rd–4th century, around the same time as the earliest contemporary examples in Roman Syria, suggesting either an Aksumite or Syrian origin for the type of arch.[1][page needed]



True arches, as opposed to corbel arches, were known by a number of civilizations in the Ancient Near East, the Levant, and Mexico, but their use was infrequent and mostly confined to underground structures such as drains where the problem of lateral thrust is greatly diminished.[2] A rare exception is the bronze age arched city gate of Ashkelon, Israel, dating to ca. 1850 BC.[3] An early example of a voussoir arch appears in the Greek Rhodes Footbridge.[4] In 2010, a robot discovered a long arch-roofed passageway underneath the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl which stands in the ancient city of Teotihuacan north of Mexico City, dated to around 200 AD.[5]

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