Horseshoe arch

The horseshoe arch, also called the Moorish arch and the keyhole arch, is the emblematic arch of Moorish architecture. Horseshoe arches can take rounded, pointed or lobed form.

In this type of arc, the diameter of the arc is wider than the space between the pillars that support it. The widest part of the arc is therefore higher than the uprights. In some cases, the joints and the claveaux do not converge towards the center of the circle but towards a point lower down.

The horseshoe arch originated in early Christian art during the Roman Empire.

This variant of the semicircular arch appeared in the 5th century in the Lower Roman Empire and was used extensively in Visigothic, Hispano-Moorish and pre – Romanesque architecture.

Horseshoe arches are known from pre-Islamic Syria, where the form was used in the fourth century CE in the Baptistery of Mar Ya’qub (St. Jacob) at Nisibin. However, it was in Spain and North Africa (where it went from Spain) that horseshoe arches developed their characteristic form. Prior to the Muslim invasion of Spain, the Visigoths used them as one of their main architectural features, which may come from at least the Roman period. Some tombstones from that period have been found in the north of Spain with horseshoe arches in them, with speculation about a pre-Roman local Celtic tradition. Also, the arch of the Church of Santa Eulalia de Boveda—part of a previous Roman temple—in Lugo, points in that direction.

The Visigothic form was adopted and developed by the Umayyads, who accentuated the curvature of the horseshoe and added the alternating colours to accentuate the effect of its shape. This can be seen at a large scale in their major work, the Great Mosque of Córdoba. This style of horseshoe arch then spread all over the Caliphate and adjacent areas, and was adopted by the successor Muslim emirates of the peninsula, the taifas, as well as by the Almoravid dynasty, Almohad Caliphate, and the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, although also lobed, round, pointed and multifoil arches were also used at that time. The Mozarabs also adopted this style of arch into their architecture and illuminated manuscripts.

It is then resumed in a significant way by the Visigothic architecture in Spain.

From there, he passes:

on the one hand, to the pre – Romanesque architecture of the Visigothic tradition which survives in the 9th and 10th centuries in Visigothic foci of resistance (Catalonia and Visigothic Septimania, ie Roussillon and Languedoc) and, hence, to Romanesque art Roussillon and Languedoc ;
on the other hand, to the Umayyad architecture of the emirate of Cordoba, which makes it one of its most striking features, and through it:
to the architecture of the Taifa kingdoms ;
Mudejar architecture ;
the architecture of the Maghreb;
to the Spanish Christian architecture known as Mozarabic.
Oddly enough, the Asturian architecture of the 9th century does not take over the Visigothic horseshoe arch: the only example of horseshoe arches in Asturian architecture adorns the San Salvador de Valdediós bedside but it is probably overridden arches of Muslim inspiration.

Paleochristian origin of the horseshoe arch (5th century)
The horseshoe arch is not of oriental origin but is an evolution of the semicircular arch, appeared during the Roman Empire and used by paleochristian architecture as attested:

at the cathedral Notre – Dame of Nazareth in Vaison – la – Romaine (Provence, France) where it is found in plan in the apse at the end of the fifth century;
in the arches of the nave of the second monastic church of Alahan built around 560 in Anatolia 8 (present-day Turkey).
It is therefore an arc present in the Roman Empire and in Christian architecture well before the Umayyad period.

According to André Corboz “this horseshoe arch was already used in the Lower Empire, both in plan and elevation; it is not necessary to resort to Syria to explain its presence at the apse of Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth de Vaison (Vaison, end of the fifth century) and if the Arabs also used it, c is after the architects of the Kings Visigots (sic).

For the archaeologist and historian Jean-Marie Pesez, “the excavations of the baptistery of Geneva, those of Aosta, Viviers, Montferrand and Loupian in Languedoc, those of the civil and religious architecture of the Iberian peninsula, attest to its existence as early as the fourth century “.

Some authors even go back to the second century: “It is not necessary to involve influences Eastern, Syrian, Armenian, Cappadocian, since, from the 2nd century of our era, the horseshoe arc is implemented in traditional Hispanic-Roman decorations and plans “.

Visigothic architecture (6th and 7th centuries)
The horseshoe arch (called arc de ferradura in Catalan and arco de herradura in Spanish) was widely used by Visigothic architecture in Spain, of which only rustic country churches, dating from the second half of the seventh century (from around 660 to 700 AD), the large urban churches of the Visigothic period have now disappeared.

According to Xavier Barral I Altet, “this series of horseshoe arches would have developed first on apse plans and would have no connection with the later horseshoe arches of north-central Spain, of Muslim influence “.

The horseshoe arch is used in several ways in Spanish Visigothic architecture:

apse on horseshoe arch plan:
Santa María de Melque church near San Martín de Montalbán;
Chapel of São Frutuoso de Montélios (three of the four arms of the Greek cross plan treated as absides);
basilica of Sant Cugat del Vallès;
Visigothic basilica built at the beginning of the 6th century in the amphitheater of Tarragona.

triumphal arch :
Santa María de Melque church ;
Church of San Pedro de la Nave ;
St. Mary’s Church of Quintanilla de las Viñas;
San Juan Bautista church of Baños.

porch arch:
horseshoe arch dated 661 above the porch of the Church of St. John Baptist de Baños de Cerrato, near Palencia.
arches of the nave :
Chapel of São Frutuoso de Montélios, Church of San Giovanni Battista de Baños de Cerrato, Church of Santa María de Melque;

arches of the cross of the transept :
Church of San Pedro de la Nave, Santa Comba Church of Band;

frieze of horseshoe arches:
chapel of São Frutuoso de Montélios.

Merovingian and Carolingian Art (6th century to 9th century)
The horseshoe arc is represented in the Merovingian and Carolingian illuminations, which are probably inspired by the monuments of the time, of which unfortunately we have very few remains.

It is also found in the Carolingian architecture, as in the triumphal arch of the Carolingian oratory at Germigny – des – Prés, where it was introduced by Bishop Théodulf of Orléans, of Spanish Visigothic origin or in the plan of the small Carolingian apse cleared under the Notre-Dame de Tulle cathedral during archaeological excavations carried out in 1989-1990.

Umayyad architecture of Al-Andalus (8th century to the 10th century)

Origin of the Umayyad horseshoe arch
The horseshoe arch, as mentioned above, finds its origin in the architecture of the Roman Empire, and more particularly in paleochristian architecture.

As the mosques of early Islamic times in Syria were in many cases transformed or divided Paleochristian churches, the horseshoe arch is not unknown in the Umayyad architecture of the Near East, even though it is not widespread: it appears only discreetly in the Great Mosque of the Umayyads of Damascus.

On the other hand, this form of arch was frequent in the Visigothic architecture which preceded the Umayyad architecture in Spain: one can thus suppose that the horseshoe arch used abundantly by the Umayyad architecture of Al-Andalus (Emirate of Cordoba), results from “the development of a local heritage, not of a Syrian import”.

Umayyad horseshoe arch form
The horseshoe arch reaches its most beautiful expression in the Umayyad architecture of the Emirate of Cordoba where it has the following characteristics:

a form often more closed than the Visigothic arch (notably from the 10th century);
alternating claveaux of red and white color (motif of Roman and early Christian origin);
a rectangular frame named alfiz.
Horseshoe Bows of the Great Mosque of Cordoba
The most beautiful example is, of course, the Great Mosque of Cordoba started in 785 by the emir Abd-el-Rahman I whose prayer room is decorated with beautiful openwork arches with two levels of white claveau arches and red (brick and stone): the lower arches are horseshoe-shaped, while the upper arches, wider, are in a semicircle.

This mosque was built on the site of an old great Visigothic basilica, the San Vicente Basilica, which was gradually transformed and replaced by the mosque. It is therefore very likely that these arches start from those of the old basilica: the marble columns are all spolia from the old basilica and other monuments of the city. The first phases of construction of the mosque are quite sober. The expansion of Al-Hakam II in the 10th century is by far the most sumptuous, the arches take a more complex and ornamental development, and incorporate rich Byzantine-inspired decorative motifs.

The horseshoe arch also adorns the doors of the mosque in abundance. The oldest example adorns the so – called Bab-al-Wuzara door or minister’s door of 785, which is still simple and sober but is the model of all other doors of the mosque, which become much more refined in the tenth century. It is also found as an ornament in the blind arches that surmount the doors, made of horseshoe arches intersecting or not.

Other Umayyad buildings
The horseshoe arch is omnipresent in the Umayyad architecture, of which it is one of the most striking elements, and it adorns many other Umayyad buildings, both from the time of the Emirate of Cordoba and from the Caliphate of Cordova :

Medina al-Zahra :
Dar al-Wuzara (House of Ministers)
Salón Rico (room of Abd-el-Rahman III)
Bab al-Sudda (arcade of the Alcazar)
aqueduct with horseshoe arches…
Minaret of San José in Granada
Alcántara Gate in Toledo…

All forms of Hispano-Moorish architecture that will succeed the Umayyad architecture will borrow this type of arch, as well as Mozarabic Christian architecture.

Pre-Romanesque architecture of Visigothic tradition (9th and 10th centuries)
The horseshoe arch is omnipresent in the pre-Romanesque architecture of the Visigothic tradition of the 9th and 10th centuries, which perpetuates the Visigothic architecture in Catalonia and Septimania (Roussillon and Languedoc): let us remember that Roussillon and Languedoc were an integral part of Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse (419-507) and the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo (507-711).

It is found in various forms:

triumphal arch overstepped: Saint-Georges de Lunas chapel, Saint-Laurent chapel of Moussan, Saint-Martin church of Saint-Martin-des-Puits 38, Saint-Michel chapel of Sournia (Sant Miquel de Sornia), Saint-Martin de Fenollar Chapel, Saint-Jérôme Chapel of Argelès, Saint-Ferreol de la Pava Church, Saint-Michel de Riunogues Church, Saint-Saturnin de Montauriol Church, Sant Quirze de Pedret, Santa Julia de Boada;
apse or absidioles of plan overrode: chapel Saint-Michel de Sournia, church Saint-Saturnin de Montauriol, Sant Quirze de Pedret, Santa Maria de Bell-Lloc d’Aro;
oversized gate: Saint-Michel chapel of Sournia, Saint-Michel de Cuxa abbey ;
horseshoe vault and / or overmoulded arch: Saint-Martin de Fenollar chapel, Sainte-Marie church of La Cluse-Haute, Saint-Michel de Riunoguès church, Saint-Saturnin de Montauriol church ;
arches of the nave: Saint-Michel de Cuxa abbey (large horseshoe arches separating nave and collateral, re-cut in the 16th century).

Mozarabic Christian Architecture (10th century)
The word “Mozarabic” derives from Arabic must’aribûn, Arabized Christians.

Christian architecture called ” Mozarabic ” or ” art of repopulation ” was a Christian architecture heir to both the Visigothic architecture and the Umayyad architecture of the Emirate of Cordoba.

She therefore used the horseshoe arch twice: but her horseshoe arches are clearly of Cordovan tradition, more closed and curved than the arches of Visigothic tradition.

Here too, the horseshoe arch finds multiple applications:

apse or absidioles of plan overstepped:
Church of St. Michael of Escalada;
San Cebrián de Mazote;
hermitage San Miguel de Celanova;
Church of Bobastro;
triumphal arch:
San Cebrián de Mazote;
hermitage San Baudelio de Berlanga;
arches of the vault:
hermitage San Baudelio de Berlanga;
porch gallery made of horseshoe arches:
Church of St. Michael of Escalada;
arches of the nave:
Santa Maria de Lebeña ;
Church of St. Michael of Escalada;
San Cebrián de Mazote;
Bobastro Church;
hermitage San Baudelio de Berlanga (arches carrying the tribune);
Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla;
door or gate overridden:
hermitage San Miguel de Celanova (horseshoe arch with inscribed horseshoe arch) 58 ;
Santiago de Peñalba Church;
hermitage San Baudelio of Berlanga;
override window:
Church of St. Michael of Escalada;
Hermitage San Miguel de Celanova.

Architecture of the Kingdoms of Taifa (11th century)
The horseshoe arch was used by the architecture of the kingdoms of Taifa, which succeeded the 11th century to Umayyad architecture.

It adorns for example the door giving access to the mosque of Aljaferia Zaragoza and one of the accesses to the Salon Doré.

He also knew a specific evolution: the broken horseshoe arch, appeared at the Aljaferia of Zaragoza between 1065 and 1081.

Romanesque art (eleventh and twelfth centuries)
In the Romanesque period, the constituent regions of the ancient Septimania, namely Roussillon and Languedoc, continue to be characterized by the use of the horseshoe arch inherited from the Visigothic tradition (with a possible califal influence).

11th century Romanesque sculpture

Front of altar / lintels
Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines and Saint-André-de-Sorède (in Roussillon) are two Romanesque bas-reliefs from the beginning of the 11th century that depict Christ in glory flanked by figures each housed under a horseshoe arch. Initially, each of these bas-reliefs was probably an altar front, later reused as a lintel at the portal.

Altars with lobes languedociens
There are several altar tables in Languedoc, the perimeter of which is adorned with horseshoe arches: these altars are called altars with languedian lobes.

The Sainte-Marie de Quarante church contains two altars with lobes of the 11th century : the high altar with its refined decoration is one of the most beautiful altars lobes languedociens.

Romanesque architecture of the 12th century
The horseshoe arch has been used very occasionally by Romanesque architecture.

It is found for example at the portal of the chapel Saint-Nazaire Roujan and that of the chapel Saint-Hippolyte de Loupian in Languedoc, surmounting a scalloped arch.

Art Nouveau architecture (20th century)
We finally find the horseshoe arc in the geometric Art Nouveau architecture: it takes the form of a large circular window interrupted by a balcony.

The best example in Belgium is the Maison Nelissen located at Avenue Kemmel No. 5 in Forest, in the suburbs of Brussels.

Source From Wikipedia