On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

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

1. I HAVE now spoken of lime and sand, with their varieties and points of excellence. Next comes the consideration of stone-quarries from which dimension stone and supplies of rubble to be used in building are taken and brought together. The stone in quarries is found to be of different and unlike qualities. In some it is soft: for example, in the environs of the city at the quarries of Grotta Rossa, Palla, Fidenae, and of the Alban hills; in others, it is medium, as at Tivoli, at Amiternum, or Mt. Soracte, and in quarries of this sort; in still others it is hard, as in lava quarries. There are also numerous other kinds: for instance, in Campania, red and black tufas; in Umbria, Picenum, and Venetia, white tufa which can be cut with a toothed saw, like wood.

2. All these soft kinds have the advantage that they can be easily worked as soon as they have been taken from the quarries. Under cover they play their part well; but in open and exposed situations the frost and rime make them crumble, and they go to pieces. On the seacoast, too, the salt eats away and dissolves them, nor can they stand great heat either. But travertine and all stone of that class can stand injury whether from a heavy load laid upon it or from the weather; exposure to fire, however, it cannot bear, but splits and cracks to pieces at once. This is because in its natural composition there is but little moisture and not much of the earthy, but a great deal of air and of fire. Therefore, it is not only without the earthy and watery elements, but when fire, expelling the air from it by the operation and force of heat, penetrates into its inmost parts and occupies the empty spaces of the

fissures, there comes a great glow and the stone is made to burn as fiercely as do the particles of fire itself.

3. There are also several quarries called Anician in the territory of Tarquinii, the stone being of the colour of peperino. The principal workshops lie round the lake of Bolsena and in the prefecture of Statonia. This stone has innumerable good qualities. Neither the season of frost nor exposure to fire can harm it, but it remains solid and lasts to a great age, because there is only a little air and fire in its natural composition, a moderate amount of moisture, and a great deal of the earthy. Hence its structure is of close texture and solid, and so it cannot be injured by the weather or by the force of fire.

4. This may best be seen from monuments in the neighbourhood of the town of Ferento which are made of stone from these quarries. Among them are large statues exceedingly well made, images of smaller size, and flowers and acanthus leaves gracefully carved. Old as these are, they look as fresh as if they were only just finished. Bronze workers, also, make moulds for the casting of bronze out of stone from these quarries, and find it very useful in bronze-founding. If the quarries were only near Rome, all our buildings might well be constructed from the products of these workshops.

5. But since, on account of the proximity of the stone-quarries of Grotta Rossa, Palla, and the others that are nearest to the city, necessity drives us to make use of their products, we must proceed as follows, if we wish our work to be finished without flaws. Let the stone be taken from the quarry two years before building is to begin, and not in winter but in summer. Then let it lie exposed in an open place. Such stone as has been damaged by the two years of exposure should be used in the foundations. The rest, which remains unhurt, has passed the test of nature and will endure in those parts of the building which are above ground. This precaution should be observed, not only with dimension stone, but also with the rubble which is to be used in walls.


1. THERE are two styles of walls: “opus reticulatum,” now used by everybody, and the ancient style called “opus incertum.” Of these, the reticulatum looks better, but its construction makes it likely to crack, because its beds and builds spread out in every direction. On the other hand, in the opus incertum, the rubble, lying in courses and imbricated, makes a wall which, though not beautiful, is stronger than the reticulatum.