On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

1. THE town being fortified, the next step is the apportionment of house lots within the wall and the laying out of streets and alleys with regard to climatic conditions. They will be properly laid out if foresight is employed to exclude the winds from the alleys. Cold winds are disagreeable, hot winds enervating, moist

winds unhealthy. We must, therefore, avoid mistakes in this matter and beware of the common experience of many communities. For example, Mytilene in the island of Lesbos is a town built with magnificence and good taste, but its position shows a lack of foresight. In that community when the wind is south, the people fall ill; when it is northwest, it sets them coughing; with a north wind they do indeed recover but cannot stand about in the alleys and streets, owing to the severe cold.

2. Wind is a flowing wave of air, moving hither and thither indefinitely. It is produced when heat meets moisture, the rush of heat generating a mighty current of air. That this is the fact we may learn from bronze eolipiles, and thus by means of a scientific invention discover a divine truth lurking in the laws of the heavens. Eolipiles are hollow bronze balls, with a very small opening through which water is poured into them. Set before a fire, not a breath issues from them before they get warm; but as soon as they begin to boil, out comes a strong blast due to the fire. Thus from this slight and very short experiment we may understand and judge of the mighty and wonderful laws of the heavens and the nature of winds.

3. By shutting out the winds from our dwellings, therefore, we shall not only make the place healthful for people who are well, but also in the case of diseases due perhaps to unfavourable situations elsewhere, the patients, who in other healthy places might be cured by a different form of treatment, will here be more quickly cured by the mildness that comes from the shutting out of the winds. The diseases which are hard to cure in neighbourhoods such as those to which I have referred above are catarrh, hoarseness, coughs, pleurisy, consumption, spitting of blood, and all others that are cured not by lowering the system but by building it up. They are hard to cure, first, because they are originally due to chills; secondly, because the patient's system being already exhausted by disease, the air there, which is in constant agitation owing to winds and therefore deteriorated, takes all the sap of life out of their diseased bodies and leaves them more

meagre every day. On the other hand, a mild, thick air, without draughts and not constantly blowing back and forth, builds up their frames by its unwavering steadiness, and so strengthens and restores people who are afflicted with these diseases.

4. Some have held that there are only four winds: Solanus from due east; Auster from the south; Favonius from due west; Septentrio from the north. But more careful investigators tell us that there are eight. Chief among such was Andronicus of Cyrrhus who in proof built the marble octagonal tower in Athens. On the several sides of the octagon he executed reliefs representing the several winds, each facing the point from which it blows; and on top of the tower he set a conical shaped piece of marble and on this a bronze Triton with a rod outstretched in its right hand. It was so contrived as to go round with the wind, always stopping to face the breeze and holding its rod as a pointer directly over the representation of the wind that was blowing.

5. Thus Eurus is placed to the southeast between Solanus and Auster: Africus to the southwest between Auster and Favonius; Caurus, or, as many call it, Corus, between Favonius and Septentrio; and Aquilo between Septentrio and Solanus. Such, then, appears to have been his device, including the numbers and names of the wind and indicating the directions from which particular winds blow. These facts being thus determined, to find the directions and quarters of the winds your method of procedure should be as follows.

6. In the middle of the city place a marble amussium, laying it true by the level, or else let the spot be made so true by means of rule and level that no amussium is necessary. In the very centre of that spot set up a bronze gnomon or “shadow tracker” (in Greek skiaqh/ras). At about the fifth hour in the morning, take the end of the shadow cast by this gnomon, and mark it with a point. Then, opening your compasses to this point which marks the length of the gnomon's shadow, describe a circle from the centre. In the afternoon watch the shadow of your gnomon as it lengthens, and when it once more touches the circumference of this

circle and the shadow in the afternoon is equal in length to that of the morning, mark it with a point.

7. From these two points describe with your compasses intersecting arcs, and through their intersection and the centre let a line be drawn to the circumference of the circle to give us the quarters of south and north. Then, using a sixteenth part of the entire circumference of the circle as a diameter, describe a circle with its centre on the line to the south, at the point where it crosses the circumference, and put points to the right and left on the circumference on the south side, repeating the process on the north side. From the four points thus obtained draw lines intersecting the centre from one side of the circumference to the other. Thus we shall have an eighth part of the circumference set out for Auster and another for Septentrio. The rest of the entire circumference is then to be divided into three equal parts on each side, and thus we have designed a figure equally apportioned among the eight winds. Then let the directions of your streets and alleys be laid down on the lines of division between the quarters of two winds.

8. On this principle of arrangement the disagreeable force of the winds will be shut out from dwellings and lines of houses. For if the streets run full in the face of the winds, their constant blasts rushing in from the open country, and then confined by narrow alleys, will sweep through them with great violence. The lines of houses must therefore be directed away from the quarters from which the winds blow, so that as they come in they may strike against the angles of the blocks and their force thus be broken and dispersed.