What Is a Solomonic Column?

What Is a Solomonic Column?

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A Solomonic column, also known as a barley-sugar column or a spiral column, is a column with a twisting or spiraling shaft.

Features of a Solomonic Column:

  • Shaft of the column is turned in a twisting, corkscrew pattern
  • Capital (top) of the column can take many shapes, including the Classical Ionic and Corinthian forms

History of the Solomonic Column:

The spiral shape, common in nature, has adorned buildings since the dawn of recorded history. According to legend, spiral columns ornamented the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. However, if Solomon's Temple existed, it was destroyed more than 500 years BC. In 333 AD, Constantine, the first Christian emperor, used spiral columns in a basilica dedicated to St. Peter. Could these columns have been relics from the Temple of Solomon? No one knows.

A new St. Peter's, constructed in the 16th century, incorporated spiral columns. Cosmatesque style mosaics decorate twisted Solomonic columns at the Basilica Of Saint John Lateran, Rome (see photo of Pope Francis near an inlaid column). Over the centuries, the spiral Solomonic column shape became became incorporated into many styles, including:

  • Byzantine
  • Moorish
  • Islamic
  • Romanesque
  • Baroque
  • American Spanish Revival
  • Spanish Mission

Craftsmen in England, France, and the Netherlands also used spiral-shaped columns and posts to ornament furniture, clocks, and alters. In England, the corkscrew detailing became known as barleysugar or barley-sugar twists.

To explore the history of architectural Solomonic columns, see:

  • "Spiral Columns in Salisbury Cathedral" by Richard Durman in ECCLESIOLOGY TODAY, Journal of the Ecclesiological Society, Issue 29, September 2002, pp. 26-35 (PDF file)

Learn More:

Also Known As: Barley-sugar column, barleysugar column, spiral column, torso column, twisted column, turned column, curly column, corkscrew column

Common Misspellings: solmic, salamic, salomonic, solomic

Examples: Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Book: Cosmatesque Ornament: Flat Polychrome Geometric Patterns in Architecture by Paloma Pajares-Ayuela, Norton, 2002

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