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What are Voussoirs?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Voussoirs are wedged-shaped units, usually made from stone, that are used when building an arch. Often, each stone that comprises an arch is referred to a as a voussoir, though there are also two distinctive types of voussoir stones: keystones and springers. Each type of stone has a different purpose pertaining to the actual structure of an arch.

A keystone is a center stone that is placed within the apex of an arch. This stone tends to be larger than all the rest, and it is usually elaborately decorated. The purpose of a keystone is to lock all the other stones into their proper positions. Throughout history, keystones were regarded as important stones that were aesthetically pleasing and structurally crucial. Today, some believe that keystones are not as important as springer stones, though this is debatable.

Springer stones are the lowest stones in an archway. These stones are often placed on either side of the arch towards the bottom of the arch itself. Since these stones support an entire arch, they are vital to any sound arch construction. Both the keystone and the springer are considered voussoirs, though the various bricks that make up an archway can also fall under this category.

Arches that are built using the voussoir system are often long-lasting. Each stone within this type of structure helps to distribute the overall weight of an arch evenly. Essentially, each stone turns against the next one causing durability and strength. While these stones are not as popular as they once were, voussoirs are still used in some parts of the world.

Islamic and Moorish architecture relied heavily upon voussoirs, which are often red and white in color. Some of the finest voussoirs can be found inside of mosques. Examples of archways that use the voussoir technique can also be found in various countries including Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Technically, voussoirs belong in the Medieval architecture category, though these stones were used for centuries following the Medieval time period.

Modern arch architecture within North America tends to favor pre-cast stones in places of the voussoir. In fact, many ancient archways are refaced using pre-cast stones. Architects tend to agree that these units are sturdier than voussoirs, though the appearance of a pre-cast archway is not the same as one created using the voussoir technique. Conservation efforts around the globe aim to replace impressive Medieval archway stones with pre-cast stones.

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Discussion Comments

By aLFredo — On Dec 09, 2011

@shell4life - Thank for the insight in the early teachings of keystones/cornerstones. I am a Christian, yet I did not remember this passage, although it does seem familiar. It makes a lot of sense how you explained what Jesus meant when he talked about the cornerstone. This message is actually very meaningful, and inspirational, at least to me, so thank you.

@wavy58 - I do agree with you. It is sad that ancient voussoirs are being replaced with modern voussoirs, as the modern voussoirs use cheaper materials, therefore making the whole building look more generic and less beautiful and artsy.

The architects of old seem to care more about the beauty of each structure they made, whereas today you can tell some architects are not as passionate about the art of their structures as they are about other things, like how much money they are making, etc.

There is something priceless about seeing a good, creative, sound piece of architecture. As with any piece of outstanding art, it can really move a person. It seems like the older a piece of art is, the more it moves people. The longer architecture lasts, usually the more love, care, and genius were put into it.

By Sinbad — On Dec 08, 2011

Voussoirs are such a beautiful, breath-taking part of architecture, both in the twenty-first century and centuries before.

I love the ancient voussoirs, as you can tell that they are made with much love, care, and precision. The architects back then had to be very smart and precise when it came to the mathematical calculations of how the stones would fit just perfectly to make the arch, without crumbling to the ground over the years.

I would love to travel the world to see the different artistic designs given to each piece of architecture. I think there was particularly a lot of artistic and mathematical talent in each voussoir made.

I have always dreamed of working somewhere that preserves it's architectural history, like in Rome, Italy or Florence, France. There are also quite a few spots in London, England that would be a delight to see in person.

It is amazing how inspiring a building can be, with the right architect behind it. Buildings are like any work of art though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

By runner101 — On Dec 08, 2011

Voussoirs are beautiful architectural structures. They really add a lot of charm to an arched entry way.

I have only seen pictures of voussoirs, I have not seen many up close. They look so artistic and intricate, I want to see some fine architecture that highlights the beauty of voussoirs.

I have seen pictures of Geneva, Switzerland that have absolutely stunned me. Also, the ones in Rome, Italy are beautiful as well. The fact that they are so old, but still so elegant, shows what a great architectural idea this was.

I also like the voussoir at Topkapi palace, in Istanbul, Turkey as well. It is the only marble voussoir that I have seen, which gives it a more clean-cut, modern look. It is really sleek looking, especially with the marble in two different colors; white and dark gray.

By wavy58 — On Dec 07, 2011

Does anyone else think it's sad that ancient voussoirs are being replaced with cheaper, new material? Pre-cast stone can mimic the look of old, but anyone who has studied ancient architecture will be able to spot the difference right away.

I have always had a great appreciation for old buildings and the way in which they were crafted. I really admire the people who used voussoirs when building archways, because it had to be done just so and calculated mathematically.

Modern building techniques, while efficient, just can't hold up to the beauty and skill of thousands of years ago, in my opinion. These structures were works of art, and remodeling them seems like a crime.

By kylee07drg — On Dec 07, 2011

My neighbor's house features cast stone instead of voussoirs in the archways on her porch. Her house is made of gray brick, but her archways are made to look like granite.

Cast stone can have many different textures. The company that makes them gives you options, like the appearance of limestone, granite, or sandstone. My neighbor went with granite, because it goes with the gray bricks better than any other type of stone, and it looks natural because of this.

Also, cast stone is much lighter than voussoirs. It can be made with material that is more lightweight, and this helps keep the archway from drooping under the strain.

By StarJo — On Dec 06, 2011

@shell4life – I have seen buildings with voussoir arches, and they truly do seem special. There is usually a lot of history with such buildings, and the painstaking way in which they were constructed shows that the history began with quality plans to produce an architectural work of art.

I particularly remember a brick exterior with several archways between the columns, which were also made of brick. The voussoirs each had beveled edges. I'm sure this had something to do with the ratio of pressure placed on them and the support they had to provide each other.

By shell4life — On Dec 06, 2011

Keystones are also called cornerstones, and they were even mentioned in the Bible. Referring to Himself, Jesus said, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This means that what was cast aside at first became crucial to the structure.

The only arches I have ever seen have been the kind constructed as solid doorways inside of buildings, so I have never had the privilege of seeing a voussoir. I would imagine that they make a much more impressive and beautiful archway than a saw could cut into a wall, though.

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