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18 April 2011

Monday 18th April 2011; Roman Construction Techniques and Use of Stone

Week 2 of 12
Module 2: History and Theory of Conservation

This morning we had lectures from Gionata Rizzi on 'Roman Construction Techniques' and Patrizio Pensabene on 'Stones in Roman Construction.' 

Gionata is an architect and a consultant of UNESCO, ICCROM and the World Monuments Fund. We were given the etymology for many words used in construction (many of which date back to the Roman Empire or before) including the word 'street' which comes from the word 'strata' meaning layered; a street is composed of many layers to give it structure and stability. Columns are a common feature of Roman architecture and we discussed the benefits of monolithical shafts (those constructed of one piece of stone) in comparison to multi-drum columns (those constructed of a series of cylindrical pieces of stone placed on top of one another. It was originally understood that monolithical shafts would have a greater ability to survive earthquakes, however it has been discovered that due to their low centre of gravity they are easily toppled, whereas the multi-drum columns are able to adjust and move during ground movement, often becoming more stable.

Patrizio is a conservation architect and specialist in Roman construction materials, today he introduced us to many different types of stone present in ancient Rome. Marble was seen as a prestigious material and dominates Roman construction, however much of this is 'architectural marble' rather than geologically defined 'marble'. We were shown the main types of 'marble' present in Ancient Rome during the lecture and this afternoon during a walking tour around the buildings dating from this period (and later) we were able to identify these stone types. The majority of these stones come from Asia Minor and North Africa.

The Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosimedin has a fantastic example of a floor made out of beautifully cut small pieces of many of the different types of marble and stone; this type of flooring is known as 'opus sectile'. This variety of stone is likely to have come from previous buildings and has been recut to create this floor. The circular central pieces are likely to have come from ancient columns which have been sliced through. 

The 'opus sectile' flooring in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosimedin, Rome.

Anastilosis; acceptable or not? The portico of the San Giorgio al Velabro (below) was blown up by a car bomb in 1993 and left in fragments which have since been pieced back together.

The Portico of San Giorgio al Velabro which has been rebuilt following destruction by a bomb.

We looked at a fountain on Piazza di Campitelli which was conserved in 2003. Simon Warrack (pointing in photo) was actively involved in the conservation but says that the state of the fountain 8 years later is probably worse than when they started the conservation. This is because no maintenance has been carried out and limescale has been able to rapidly redeposit on the stonework.

Conserved fountain, Piazza di Campitelli, Rome.

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