On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

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

1. IN walls of masonry the first question must be with regard to the sand, in order that it may be fit to mix into mortar and have no dirt in it. The kinds of pitsand are these: black, gray, red, and carbuncular. Of these the best will be found to be that which crackles when rubbed in the hand, while that which has much dirt in it will not be sharp enough. Again: throw some sand upon a white garment and then shake it out; if the garment is not soiled and no dirt adheres to it, the sand is suitable.

2. But if there are no sandpits from which it can be dug, then we must sift it out from river beds or from gravel or even from the sea beach. This kind, however, has these defects when used in

masonry: it dries slowly; the wall cannot be built up without interruption but from time to time there must be pauses in the work; and such a wall cannot carry vaultings. Furthermore, when sea-sand is used in walls and these are coated with stucco, a salty efflorescence is given out which spoils the surface.

3. But pitsand used in masonry dries quickly, the stucco coating is permanent, and the walls can support vaultings. I am speaking of sand fresh from the sandpits. For if it lies unused too long after being taken out, it is disintegrated by exposure to sun, moon, or hoar frost, and becomes earthy. So when mixed in masonry, it has no binding power on the rubble, which consequently settles and down comes the load which the walls can no longer support. Fresh pitsand, however, in spite of all its excellence in concrete structures, is not equally useful in stucco, the richness of which, when the lime and straw are mixed with such sand, will cause it to crack as it dries on account of the great strength of the mixture. But river sand, though useless in “signinum” on account of its thinness, becomes perfectly solid in stucco when thoroughly worked by means of polishing instruments.

1. SAND and its sources having been thus treated, next with regard to lime we must be careful that it is burned from a stone which, whether soft or hard, is in any case white. Lime made of close-grained stone of the harder sort will be good in structural parts; lime of porous stone, in stucco. After slaking it, mix your mortar, if using pitsand, in the proportions of three parts of sand to one of lime; if using river or sea-sand, mix two parts of sand with one of lime. These will be the right proportions for the composition of the mixture. Further, in using river or sea-sand, the addition of a third part composed of burnt brick, pounded up and sifted, will make your mortar of a better composition to use.


2. The reason why lime makes a solid structure on being combined with water and sand seems to be this: that rocks, like all other bodies, are composed of the four elements. Those which contain a larger proportion of air, are soft; of water, are tough from the moisture; of earth, hard; and of fire, more brittle. Therefore, if limestone, without being burned, is merely pounded up small and then mixed with sand and so put into the work, the mass does not solidify nor can it hold together. But if the stone is first thrown into the kiln, it loses its former property of solidity by exposure to the great heat of the fire, and so with its strength burnt out and exhausted it is left with its pores open and empty. Hence, the moisture and air in the body of the stone being burned out and set free, and only a residuum of heat being left lying in it, if the stone is then immersed in water, the moisture, before the water can feel the influence of the fire, makes its way into the open pores; then the stone begins to get hot, and finally, after it cools off, the heat is rejected from the body of the lime.

3. Consequently, limestone when taken out of the kiln cannot be as heavy as when it was thrown in, but on being weighed, though its bulk remains the same as before, it is found to have lost about a third of its weight owing to the boiling out of the water. Therefore, its pores being thus opened and its texture rendered loose, it readily mixes with sand, and hence the two materials cohere as they dry, unite with the rubble, and make a solid structure.