Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Horseshoe arches
AKA Moorish arch and the Keyhole arch

An arch formed in the shape of a horseshoe, esp. as used in Moorish architecture.

A round arch that widens before rounding off.

The horseshoe arch was sometimes used in Stick style and Queen Anne style buildings: "Like the Stick Style, Queen Anne houses have single-story full- or partial- width porches surrounding them. Some have additional smaller porches on their upper stories. Some examples have the latticework and/or horseshoe arches of Islamic architecture. " - Victorian Revivals, p. 250    (online Jan 2013)

The horseshoe arch, also called the Moorish arch and the Keyhole arch, is the emblematic arch of Islamic architecture. They were formerly constructed in Visigothic Spain. [Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Goths, a Swedish tribe. A Visigothic army famously sacked Rome in 410.]

Horseshoe arches can take rounded, pointed or lobed form.

Horseshoe arches are known from pre-Islamic Syria where the form was used in the fourth century CE ...  However, it was in Spain and North Africa that horseshoe arches developed their characteristic form. The Visigoths used them as one of their main architectural features,..

The horsehoe form spread all over the Calliphate-influenced areas, and was adopted by the next Arabs kingdoms of the Peninsula, ...  and the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada [see Alhambra] ...  Mudéjar style, developed from the 12th to the 17th centuries, continued the tradition of horseshoe arches in the Iberian Peninsula which had been started in the 7th century by the Visigoths.

In addition to their use across the Islamic world, horseshoe arches became popular in Western countries at the time of the Moorish Revival.

- Wikipedia  (Online Jan. 2013)


Horseshoe Shaped Arches

Excerpts from
Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition, by Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner. Harcourt Brace College.  Pub. 1996, p. 325.

The lower arches [in the Mosque of Cordoba] are horseshoe shaped ... now closely associated with Muslim architecture. Visually, these arches seem to billow out like sails blown by the wind, and they contribute greatly to the light and airy effect of the mosque's interior.

Early Islamic buildings had wooden roofs, and the experiments with arch forms were motivated less by structural necessity than by a desire to create rich and varied visual effects...

Here, the large ribs that subdivide the hemispheric surface of the dome into a number of smaller sections are primarily ornamental.

In the hands of Gothic builders, centuries later, ribs in combination with   the pointed arch became fundamental structural elements of a new and revolutionary architectural system.

Examples from Buffalfo:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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