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With their roots in Roman triumphal architecture, celebratory arches have been constructed in Melbourne's streets as temporary structures, usually in association with royal visits and processions, and complementing other decorations and theatrical devices such as transparencies, illuminations and bunting.

In the 1860s, scenic artists such as John Hennings of the Royal Haymarket Theatre brought experience of painting designs for transparencies and triumphal arches from Europe. In 1866 an arch was erected in Emerald Hill in connection with the departure of Governor Sir Charles Darling, and the following year arches on Princes Bridge and at the intersection of Collins and Elizabeth streets welcomed Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Temporary arches featured in celebrations for Queen Victoria's 1887 Jubilee, the Governor's reception in 1895, and the departure of Victorian troops for the Anglo-Boer War in 1900.

For the Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall's visit to open the first Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne in May 1901, the Corporation Arch, designed by Harold Desbrowe-Annear, framed the city's southern gateway at Princes Bridge and was later depicted by Heidelberg School artist Frederick McCubbin (1908). The City of Melbourne was represented at the Sydney Commonwealth Celebration on 1 January 1901 by an arch featuring allegorical figures representing the Victorian gold, wheat and wine industries.

Following Melbourne's Commonwealth Celebrations, architect Frank Stapley suggested a permanent commemorative work on Princes Bridge, but while arches accorded with civic improvement and city planning principles, their use in any form was sporadic through the 20th century.

Arches bearing the royal coat-of-arms and boomerangs topped with a crown were erected for the 1954 visit of Queen Elizabeth II; a ceremonial arch featured at the northern end of Princes Bridge during 1985 Victorian sesquicentennial celebrations; and, following a design competition, an arch was erected across St Kilda Road next to the Arts Centre in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of Federation.

Andrew May