A meander or meandros (Greek: Μαίανδρος) is a decorative border constructed from a continuous line, shaped into a repeated motif. Such a design is also called the Greek fret or Greek key design, although these are modern designations.
On the one hand, the name "meander" recalls the twisting and turning path of the Maeander River in Turkey (Asia Minor), and on the other hand, as Karl Kerenyi pointed out, "the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form". Among some Italians, these patterns are known as Greek Lines. Usually the term is used for motifs with straight lines and right angles; the many versions with rounded shapes are called running scrolls.
Meanders are common decorative elements in Greek and Roman art. In ancient Greece they appear in many architectural friezes, and in bands on the pottery of ancient Greece from the Geometric Period onwards. The design is common to the present-day in classicizing architecture. The meander is a fundamental design motif in regions far from a Hellenic orbit: labyrinthine meanders ("thunder" pattern) appear in bands and as infill on Shang bronzes, and many traditional buildings in and around China still bear geometric designs almost identical to meanders. There is speculation that meanders of Greek origin may have come to China during the time of the Han Dynasty by way of trade with the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, but space-filling curves have a long history in the region, extending back to Zhukaigou Culture and Xiajiadian Culture motifs over 2,000 years earlier.
They were among the most important symbols in ancient Greece; and perhaps symbolized infinity and unity; many ancient Greek temples incorporated the sign of the meander. Greek vases, especially during their Geometric Period, were probably the main reason for the widespread use of meanders; alternatively, very ocean-like patterns of waves also appeared in the same format as meanders, which can also be thought of as the guilloche pattern. The shield of Philip II of Macedon, conserved in the museum of Vergina, is decorated with multiple symbols of the meander. Meanders are also prevalent on the pavement mosaics found in Roman villas throughout the Roman empire.
Meanders and their generalizations are used with increasing frequency in various domains of contemporary art. The painter Yang Liu, for example, has incorporated smooth versions of the traditional Greek Key (also called Sona drawing, Sand drawing, and Kolam) in many of her paintings.
Geometric bowl decorated with a meander, from 730–720 BC
A typical Attic red-figure cup with meander pattern at borders
The meander mosaic of the tepidarium
A classical labyrinth
Roman mosaic from Chedworth Roman Villa (England)
Meanders on the façade of a building from Paris, very similar with the ones from Roman mosaics
Border pattern from 1800–1830, with meanders in it
Cast iron balcony decorated with meanders in Paris
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