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The oldest known labyrinth figure is the Classical 7 Circuit labyrinth (sometimes also called: the Cretan labyrinth). Its origin is about 1200 B.C. The further development falls in the time of the Roman empire from 165 B.C. till 400 A.D. The general name is Roman labyrinth and there are different types again. They have in common that different sectors (mostly four) are run one after the other.

The Classical 7 circuit labyrinth in square form

The Classical 7 circuit labyrinth in square form

In his book “Labyrinths and Mazes of the World” (published in 2003 by Gaia Books, London) Jeff Saward has described how the development of the Roman labyrinth from the Classical labyrinth is possible. Her I only want to put this across in a few steps.

We begin with the Classical labyrinth in square form.
In the drawings the boundary lines are shown in black. The seed pattern contained therein is emphasized in blue. The ways are put in orange, in the same width as the boundary lines.

The whole figure is reduced to a quarter through a rotation. The vertical parts of half the seed pattern move to a horizontal line.

The quartered Classical labyrinth

The quartered Classical labyrinth

To generate an entire Roman labyrinth from the quartered labyrinth, another two circuits must be inserted in every sector: One around the middle, and one at the outside. In the outer rings one walks to the the next sector, the last path leads to the center.
If one examines exactly the paths, one can recognize that the way is the same as the way back in a Classical labyrinth. Or differently expressed: In a Roman labyrinth one wanders four times the way back of a Classical labyrinth.

The Roman labyrinth

The Roman labyrinth

The path sequence can be understood with the help of the figures.  So one well can see the Classical labyrinth inside the Roman labyrinth.

Even better one recognizes the relationship with the Classical labyrinth in the diagram illustration.

The diagram of the Roman labyrinth

The diagram of the Roman labyrinth

The Roman labyrinth is self-dual like it is the Classical labyrinth. One sees this well in the following graphics. Howsoever the diagram is rotated or mirrored, the path sequence is always the same. Also it plays no role whether one walks in direction to the center or reversed, or whether one fancies the entrance below or on top.

The diagram of the Classical labyrinth in four variants

The diagram of the Classical labyrinth in four variants

There are different historical Roman labyrinth of this kind. The oldest one comes from the second century A.D. and is to be seen on a mosaic in Pont Chevron (France). This is why Andreas Frei calls it type Pont Chevron (see link below).

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The Chartres labyrinth has many qualities. For many it is by far the most perfect and beautiful labyrinth.

The special qualities of the Chartres labyrinth are not recognizable at first glance. One must look at it more exactly and try to understand the structure and the principles of its design.

First let us explore the self-duality.

The layout of the Chartres Labyrinth

The layout of the Chartres Labyrinth

The circuits in the drawing are numbered from the outside inwards as well as from the inside out (and the same way in the next diagram below).

First we determine the path sequence for the way in, from the outside (0) inwards (12):
(0)-5-6-11-10-9-8-7-8-9-10-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1-6-7-(12).

Now we number the circuits from the inside (0) outwardly (12) and then we read the path sequence for the way back:
(0)-5-6-11-10-9-8-7-8-9-10-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1-6-7-(12).

We ascertain, they are identical. So the Chartres labyrinth is self-dual, sign of its extraordinary quality.

The rhythm and the pattern of movement of a labyrinth is manifested in the path sequence. In the Chartres labyrinth the path sometimes touches two quadrants, sometimes only one. But never three or even four quadrants. The biggest step width is five (from circuits  0-5, 6-11, 1-6, 7-12). Most often, however, the step width is one. The most typical step sequence in the Chartres labyrinth is for me at the beginning 0-5-6-11 and 1-6-7-12 at the end. One immediately steps inside, reaches quite directly the innermost circuit, then oscillates through the whole labyrinth, and reaches unexpectedly the center from the outermost circuit. This expresses the dramaturgy of this special pattern of movement.

Admittedly, the counting is laborious. But walking the Chartres labyrinth needs no counting. The real experience can also made by walking.


What’s about the symmetry?

Let us have a look at the rectangle form and give different colors to the circuits. The entrance is at the bottom right and the center is reached on top left. The circuits are numbered in both directions, i.e. from the outside in and from the inside out. The horizontal distances between S, E, N, W, and S in the rectangular form are of no importance, as it shows the structure (Andreas refers to it as the pattern).

The rectangular diagram

The rectangular diagram

Circuit 6 represents the middle in both directions, this is the reflexion axis. The green and the blue fields are alike. Rotation and shifting shows that they are self-covering. The yellow fields are the connecting elements. They run step-shaped in serpentines.
Andreas calls them Cascading Serpentines  (kaskadierende Serpentinen) . He sees in this an own principle of labyrinth construction. To learn more, have a look at his website (see the link below).

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In one of the preceding articles we identified the meander contained in the classical (Cretan) labyrinth. Now we will go the other way round and turn the meander into a labyrinth. For this purpose, however, we will choose a different form of meander, otherwise it will be too boring.

Meander border

Meander border on a wallpaper at Boies-Lord House (Picture courtesy of © Chuck LaChiusa)

We will draw a scheme of the elements and number the vertical lines from the left to the right. This will be the circuits (the paths). The horizontal lines at the top and on the bottom represent the axis. There are only 6 circuits and not 7 as with the Cretan labyrinth. The path sequence is the following: A-3-2-1-6-5-4-Z. This should be the way leading inside. The way out: Z-4-5-6-1-2-3-A. Totally different from what we are accustomed to.

Scheme drawing meander border

Scheme drawing meander border

On the right element the circuits are numbered from the inside to the outside (of the labyrinth) in the scheme above. The path sequence for the way out is identical with the order for the way in. Besides, the sum of both rows always amounts to 7, which is also the number of the limiting border lines (the walls); see at the bottom right. The labyrinth is self-dual because an identical labyrinth appears when the path sequence is turned around. Moreover, the lower chain of signs is a palindrome because there is always the same chain of signs, whether you read it backwards or forwards.

From the path sequence and the scheme drawing (diagram) I can now deduct the corresponding labyrinth. I choose a round shape and will get  Ariadne’s thread for a 6 circuit labyrinth:

Ariadne's thread (in black) in a 6 circuit labyrinth

Ariadne’s thread (in black) in a 6 circuit labyrinth

I simply established an order of circuits strictly and schematically according to the path sequence. Additionally the centre only disposes of the width of one path. All this does not look very harmonious.

Now I will try to filter the seed pattern out of this labyrinth and to draw a labyrinth on this basis. This time the walls are black. This layout ressembles the look we are used to somewhat more.

The 6 circuit labyrinth with the coloured seed pattern

The 6 circuit labyrinth with the coloured seed pattern

When I look at the seed pattern more closely, I notice that the vertical bar of the cross is split in two by an additional passage, so to speak. The left part of the seed pattern is identical to the well-known seed pattern for the 7 circuit classical labyrinth; the right part is identical to the seed pattern for the 3 circuit classical labyrinth.
So I have put two halves of a seed pattern together and thus creatred a new, different labyrinth.  Or to say it more dashingly: Half a 7 circuit and half a 3 circuit labyrinth result in a 5 circuit one (3.5 + 1.5 = 5). Together with the additional passage this makes a 6 circuit labyrinth.

In order to obtain a more harmonious round labyrinth I will now choose a bigger centre and will not draw the walls in such a pronounced way. This makes the following drawing:

A 6 circuit classical labyrinth

A 6 circuit classical labyrinth

I can state now that the entrance axis and the goal axis lie on one and the same line. As usual I step into the third circuit immediately and then go towards the outside again. But unlike as in the Cretan labyrinth I then go directly from the very outside to the very inside and circle the centre. Then my way leads into the direction of the entrance and from the fourth circuit finally to the centre. The alignment us unusual, but I like it his way. I have never walked such a type of  labyrinth. Does anybody know such a labyrinth? Or who will be the first to build one of this type?

Now there the question arises: Is there such a type of labyrinth known in the history of labyrinths? There is.
So this is not an invention of mine because 1000 years ago someone had already this idea, or at least a similar idea. In Hermann Kerns book we find two examples with this alignment.
According to the suggestions coming from Andreas Frei one would have to call this type >St. Gallen<, because that is the first historical proof.

Type St. Gallen

Type St. Gallen (10th /11th century) Source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe, 1982, pict. 209, German edition

In a hand-written parchment from the 10th/11th century kept in the St. Gallen chapter library the round labyrinth can be found as an illustration to a text of  Boethius >Consolation of Philosophy< (around 480 – 524 AC). Obviously the designer wanted to draw a round Cretan 7 circuit labyrinth, made some errors and only drew 6 circuits and erased a lot to obtain a “right” alignment for a labyrinth. (Source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe, 1982, p. 176, 177, German edition).

The second labyrinth of this kind appears with the so-called  Jericho Labyrinths where the 6 circuits are to be found with a different alignment altogether.But there is also “our” type as a full-page miniature in a Syrian grammar book belonging to the Bishop Timotheus Isaac, written in 1775, in which the town of Jericho and Joshua are pictured as a labyrinth. (Source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe, 1982, p. 197, German edition).

The town of Jericho as a labyrinth

The town of Jericho as a labyrinth (1775) Source: Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe, 1982, pict. 229, German edition

I have turned the drawing so that one can recognize the design more easily. The 7 circuits of the Cretan labyrinth do exist, but the first, outer circuit is not accessible. So there are 6 circuits and an alignment as with the round type of St. Gallen. It is scarcely understandable how the illustrator came up with that layout, but it was certainly not with the method “trial and error”.

Further links

  • There is an article on Wikipedia about the meander, in which are already hints concerning the labyrinth.
    Here the link … >
  • I found the photo with the meander border on the wallpaper on the website of  Chuck LaChiusa. There you can find more photos of other meander types as well as some information related to meander and labyrinth.
    Here the link … >
  • Andreas Frei (Switzerland) is exploring intensively the structure of the labyrinth and has proposed a catalogue with 74 different historical labyrinth types so far. On his website you will find much more information and many basics in order to better understand the different types of labyrinths (in German by now).
    Here the link … >

Note from 01/09/2012:

Andreas Frei told me via e-mail that I am wrong with my opinion to consider my newly developed labyrinth as the type St. Gallen. Because in the St. Gallen labyrinth the path crosses the central axis, what is not the case in my labyrinth. So there are is more than one possibility to build a labyrinth from the same path sequence.

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Every enthousiast of labyrinths knows that there is a relationship between a labyrinth and a meander
Already the old Greeks and Romans and nowadays the experts of labyrinths knew and know that the original labyrinth (now called Classical, sometimes Cretan labyrinth) consists of two meanders added to each other.
It is also well known how to turn a meander (by rotating it) into a labyrinth.
Consequently it should be possible to develop a meander from a labyrinth.
Here it will be shown in an understandable way how an experimental labyrinthologist accomplishes this.

Two years ago we visited a classical labyrinth in Schwäbisch Hall (Germany), opposite the Comburg. Somewhat downhill there is an old Romanic church. The altar area had been painted in a historicizing way during th 19th century, and there I noticed a three-dimensional meander.

Labyrinth Schwäbisch Hall

Labyrinth Schwäbisch Hall

Meander Schwäbisch Hall

Meander Schwäbisch Hall

Meander University Hospital

Meander University Hospital

Meander Türnich

Meander Türnich

When I was in the University Hospital in 2008 because of my heart condition, the meander crossed my way on the flooer of the staircase in building D 20 as well, or rather – I crossed its way.
And just a few months ago, when visiting the new classical labyrinth at the Türnich castle grounds in Kerpen (Germany), we saw this wonderful meander border in the Hofcafé and Hofladen (castle yard café and shop). 

Labyrinth Schlosspark Türnich

Labyrinth Schlosspark Türnich

Hofcafé Türnich

Hofcafé Türnich

Only three days ago I found this beautiful Greek fret on a house in Würzburg (Germany), my home town. Within sight to the classical labyrinth in the garden of  house Saint Benedikt that Beatrice laid out there about 1990.

Labyrinth Haus St. Benedikt

Labyrinth Haus St. Benedikt

Meander Würzburg

Meander Würzburg

How does it work?

It would be best if all readers of this blog followed the explanation on a sheet of paper (preferably chequered). That way one understands it best in order to inwardly intensify it. That is how I actually did it as well. 

First the general view:

The layout drawing

The layout drawing

The 7-circuit labyrinth (here square) can be developped from the well-known seed pattern. The limiting border lines (the walls) and Ariadne’s thread (the path, the way) are equally wide. The path is black, and the walls are white or left out altogether.
Ariadne's thread (in black) inside the labyrinth

Ariadne's thread (in black) inside the labyrinth

From the labyrinth I develop a diagram in rectangular shape. I have described earlier (here the link to the post) how this works and is to be understood.
One could call the digram also operational plan, schedule, formula, direction for use, legend, painting according to numbers, structural plan, guide, explanation of signs etc. Maybe such a description would be helpful for a better understanding? 

The diagram

The diagram

The diagram is a design of the labyrinth in a rectuangular, schematic form. The paths are distorted and do not correspond to the actual lengths. Most important, however, – one can see the essential, the structure of the path, the path sequence, the changes of direction, the paths axes. 
The ways are numbered from the outside to the inside. The order in which the paths are taken is the meanwhile well-known path sequence: A-3-2-1-4-7-6-5-Z. This should help us when converting. According to the numbers one can oriente oneself and follow the twisting path. All those who have already stepped a labyrinth into the snow or know how to draw Ariadne’s thread in one stroke by heart have intensified this inwardly.

Now I squeeze the way structure on the sides to the smallest possible width. It is even more distorted now, but still correct. I practically created two single and identical meanders from one labyrinth, the lanes 1-2-3 and 5-6-7, connected via 4. The I start the way out of the labyrinth at the top. It corresponds to the into it, just in a mirrored fashion. The result is four meanders following each other: The Greek key or fret.

The diagram extended upwards

The diagram extended upwards

Now I will turn this design by 90 degrees to the right and thus obtain the rotated transverse meander.From the figures I can read the path sequence. Doing so, i notice that in front of me there are four identical elements. Each single element is a meander, and from those the labyrinth, or more exactly: Ariadne’s thread is constructed. The way into a labyrinth and out again therefore corresponds to a way through four meanders. Thus I recognize the relationship between a meander and a labyrinth. The meander is the depictive representation of Ariadne’s thread.

The rotated meander

The rotated meander

The Würzburg meander border

The Würzburg meander border

When comparing the diagram with the photos of the meanders above I see that the lines correspond.  The meander can also run from the right to the left, then it is flipped vertically. Or it can be flipped horizontally. However, the path sequence remains identical. Nothing else matters.
 Only the meander of the University Hospital does not fit the pattern. This means that not every meander pattern is suited to create a labyrinth.

Chalice from Chios 600 BC

Chalice from Chios 600 BC

This chalice from Chios (No. L 128) from the time about 600 BC I found in the Antikensammlung (antique collection) of the Richard von Wagner Museum of the University of Würzburg. On it a nice meander is to be seen.

Here an open offer for a homework:

What type of labyrinth is hidden there in? How many circuits does it have?

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The labyrinth is not symmetrically, at least not at first sight. But it can be mirrored.

Here as left-hand labyrinth. The first way inside (denoted with 3) leads first to the left.

The left-hand classical labyrinth

The left-hand classical labyrinth

Now mirrored. So we have the right-hand labyrinth, because the way inside turns to the right first.

The ways are numbered from outside to inside. Thus the way sequence can be expressed in numbers: A-3-2-1-4-7-6-5-Z.
That is also the rhythm of the labyrinth or its melody.

The right-hand classical labyrinth

The right-hand classical labyrinth

Here a completely different representation method for the labyrinth, a rectangular diagram.
The ways are distorted and drawn schematically. It is extended and brought into a rectangular form, turned and mirrored thereby. The entrance axis (A) is shown on the one side of the rectangle and the goal axis (Z) on the other side, although they lie close together.
Maybe you can imagine that the ways are drawn on a ring and then cut through and apart-folded, as e.g. on a can.

The classical labyrinth as diagram

The classical labyrinth as diagram

Why all this?

Because it lets discover that there is nevertheless a symmetry in the labyrinth.

Also the internal structure and the pattern can be seen.

The best would be to reconstruct all this on the basis of the different colours and numbers.

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