Vitruvius, Book I, chapter 4:
On the salubrity of sites



1. In ipsis vero moenibus ea sunt principia. Primum electio loci saluberrimi. Is autem erit excelsus et non nebulosus, non pruinosus regionesque caeli spectans neque aestuasas neque frigidas sed temperatas, deinde sic vitabitur palustris vicinitas. Cum enim aurae matutinae cum sole oriente ad oppidum pervenient et his ortae nebulae adiungentur spiritusque bestiarum palustrium venenatos cum nebula mixtos in habitorum corpora flatu spargent, efficient locum pestilentem. Item si secundum mare erunt moenia spectabuntque ad meridiem aut occidentem, non erunt salubria, quod per aestatem caelum meridianum sole exoriente calescit meridie ardet; item quod spectat ad occidentem sole exorto tepescit, meridie calet, vespere fervet.

Translation

1. In the case of the walls these will be the main points: First, the choice of the most healthy site. Now this will be high and free from clouds and hoar frost, with an aspect neither hot nor cold but temperate. Besides, in this way a marshy neighbourhood shall be avoided. For when the morning breezes come with the rising sun to a town, and clouds rising from these shall be conjoined, and, with their blast, shall sprinkle on the bodies of the inhabitants the poisoned breaths of marsh animals, they will make the site pestilential. Also if the walls are along the coast and shall look to the south or west they will not be wholesome, because through the summer the southern sky is warmed by the rising sun and burns at midday. Also that which looks to the western sun is warm at sunrise, hot at noon, burns in the evening.

2. Igitur mutationibus caloris et refrigerationis corpora, quae in his locis sunt, vitiantur. Hoc autem licet animadvertere etiam ex is, quae non sunt animalia. In cellis enim vinariis tectis lumina nemo capit a meridie nec ab occidente, sed septentrione, quod ea regio nullo tempore mutationes recipit sed est firma perpetuo et inmutabilis. Ideo etiam et granaria quae ad solis cursum spectant, bonitatem cito mutant, obsoniaque et poma, quae non in ea parte caeli ponuntur, quae est aversa a solis cursu, non diu servantur.

Translation

2. Therefore by the changes of heat and cold, bodies which are in these places will be infected. We may even perceive this from those bodies which are not animal. For in wine stores no one takes light from the south or west but from the north, because that quarter at no time admits changes, but is continuously fixed and unchangeable. So also those granaries which look towards the sun's course quickly change their goodness; and fish and fruit which are not placed in that quarter which is turned away from the sun's course do not keep long.

3. Nam semper calor cum excoquit aeribus firmitatem et vaporibus fervidis eripit exsugendo naturales virtutes, dissolvit eas et fervore mollescentes efficit inbecillas. Ut etiam in ferro animadvertimus, quod, quamvis natura sit durum, in fornacibus ab ignis vapore percalefactum ita mollescit, uti in omne genus formae faciliter fabricetur; et idem, cum molle et candens refrigeretur tinctum frigida, redurescat et restituatur in antiquam proprietatem.

Translation

3. For always, when heat cooks the strength out of the atmosphere and with warm vapours removes by suction the natural virtues, it dissolves and renders them weak, as they become softened by warmth. Moreover, we see the same thing in iron, which is hard by nature, and yet when it is heated through in furnaces, by the vapour of fire becomes so soft that it is easily fashioned into every kind of shape; and when, being soft and redhot, it is chilled and steeped in cold water, it hardens again and is restored to its previous character.

4. Licet etiam considerare haec ita esse ex eo, quod aestate non solum in pestilentibus locis sed etiam in salubribus omnia corpora calore fiant inbecilla, et per hiemem etiam quae pestilentissimae sint regiones efficiantur salubres, ideo quod a refrigerationibus solidantur. Non minus etiam quae ab frigidis regionibus corpora traducuntur in calidas, non possunt durare sed dissolvuntur; quae autem ex calidis locis sub septentrionum regiones frigidas, non modo non laborant inmutatione loci valitudinis sed etiam confirmantur.

Translation

4. We may also consider that is so from the fact that in summer, not only in pestilential, but in salubrious districts, all bodies become weak by the heat; and also, through the winter, even the regions which are most pestilential, are rendered salubrious because they are rendered solid by freezing. Not less also the bodies which are transferred from cold to warm regions cannot endure but are dissolved; while those which are transferred from warm places under the northern regions not only do not suffer in health by the changes of place but even are strengthened.

5. Quare cavendum esse videtur in moenibus conlocandis ab his regionibus quae caloribus flatus ad corpora hominum possunt spargere. Namque e principiis quae Graeci stoicheia appellant, ut omnia corpora sunt conposita, id est e calore et umore, terreno et aere, et ita mixtionibus naturali temperatura figurantur omnia animalium in mundo generatim qualitates.

Translation

5. Wherefore in laying out walls we must beware of those regions which by their heat can diffuse vapours over human bodies. For according as from the elements (which the Greeks call stoecheia) all bodies are composed, that is from heat and moisture and earth and air, just so by these mixtures, owing to natural temperament, the qualities of all animals are figured in the world according to their kind.

6. Ergo in quibus corporibus cum exsuperat e principiis calor, tunc interficit dissolvitque cetera fervore. Haec autem vitia efficit fervidum ab certis partibus caelum, cum insidit in apertas venas plus quam patitur e mixtionibus naturali temperatura corpus. Item si umor occupavit corporum venas inparesque eas fecit, cetera principia ut a liquido corrupta diluuntur, et dissolvuntur conpositionibus virtutes. Item haec e refrigerationibus umoris ventorum et aurarum infunduntur vitia corporibus. Non minus aeris etiamque terreni in copore naturalis conpositio augendo aut minuendo infirmat cetera principia terrena cibi plenitate, aer gravitate caeli.

Translation

6. therefore in whatsoever bodies, one of their principles, heat, is predominant, it then kills them and by this frequency dissolves the rest. Now a hot sky from certain quarters produces these defects; since it settles into the open veins more than the body permits by its natural temperament or admixture. Again, if moisture had filled the veins of bodies and altered their dimensions, the other elements, as though decomposed by liquid, are diluted and the virtues dependent on their proportion are dissolved. So from the chilling of moisture of winds and breezes, vices are infused into bodies. Not less the natural proportion of air and also of the earthy element by increase or diminution weakens the other element; the earthy by repletion of food, the aerial, by the heavy climate.

7. Sed qui voluerit diligentius haec sensu percipere, animadvertat attendatque naturas avium et piscium et terrestrium animalium, et ita considerabit discrimina temperaturae. Aliam enim mixtionem habet genus avium, aliam piscium, longe aliter terrestrium natura. Volucres minus habent terreni, minus umoris, caloris temperate, aeris multum: igitur levioribus principiis conpositae facilius in aeris impetum nituntur. Aquatiles autem piscium naturae, quod temperatae sunt a calido plurimumque et aeris et terreni sunt conpositae, sed umoris habent oppido quam paulum, quo minus habent e principiis umoris in corpore, facilius in umore perdurant; itaque cum ad terram perducuntur, animam cum aqua reliquunt. Item terrestria, quod e principiis ab aere caloreque sunt temperata minusque habent terreni plurimumque umoris, quod abundant umidae partes, non diu possunt in aqua vitam tueri.

Translation

7. But if anyone wishes carefully to apprehend these things by perception, let him regard and attend the natures of birds and fishes and land animals, and he will so consider differences of temperament or admixture. For the race of birds has one temperament, fishes another, far otherwise the nature of land animals. Birds have less of the earthy, less of the moisture, moderate heat, much air. Therefore being compounded of the lighter principles they rise more easily against the onrush of the air. But fishes with their watery nature (because they are tempered by heat and are compounded by much air and earth, but have remarkably little moisture), the less they have of the principles of moisture in their frame, the more easily they persist in moisture; and so when they are brought to land, they lose their life along with the water. Terrestrial animals, also, because they have a moderate degree of the elements of air and heat, and have less of the earthy and more moisture, inasmuch as they abound in moisture, cannot keep alive long in water.

8. Ergo si haec ita videntur, quemadmodum proposuimus, et e principiis animalium corpora compositae sensu percipimus et exsuperationibus aut defectionibus ea laborare dissolvique iudicamus, non dubitamus, quin diligentius quaeri oporteat, uti temperatissimas caeli regiones eligamus, cum quaerenda fuerit in moenium conlocationibus salubritas.

Translation

8. Therefore, if these matters are accepted as we have set forth, and if we apprehend by perception that the bodies of animals are compounded of elements, and if we judge that they suffer and are dissolved by excess or defect of them, we do not doubt that we must diligently seek to choose the most temperate regions of climate, since we have to seek healthiness in laying out the walls of cities.

9.itaque etiam atque etiam veterem revocandum censeo rationem. Maiores enim pecoribus immolatis, quae pascebantur in is locis, quibus aut oppida aut castra stativa constituebantur,inspiciebant iocinera, et si erant livida et vitiosa primo alia immolabant dubitantes utrum morbo an pabuli vitio laesa essent. Cum pluribus experti erant et probaverant integram et solidam naturam iocinerum ex aqua et pabulo, ibi constituebant munitiones; si autem vitiosa inveniebant, iudicio transferebant idem in humanis corporibus pestilentem futuram nascentem in his locis aquae cibique copiam, et ita transmigrabant et mutabant regiones quaerentes omnibus rebus salubritatem.

Translation

9. Therefore emphatically I vote for the revival of the old method. For the ancients sacrificed the beasts which were feeding in those places where towns of fixed camps were being placed, and they used to inspect the livers, which if at the first trial they were livid and faulty, they went on to sacrifice others, doubting whether they were injured by disease or faulty diet. When they had made trial of many, and had tested the entire and solid nature of the livers in accordance with the water and pasture they established there the fortifications; if however, they found them faulty, by analogy they judged: thet the supply of food and water which was to be found in these places would be pestilential in the case of human bodies. And so they removed elsewhere and changed their quarters, seeking salubrity in every respect.

10. Hoc autem fieri, uti pabulo ciboque salubres proprietates terrae videantur, licet animadvertere et cognoschere agris Cretensium, qui sunt circa Pothereum flumen, quod est Cretae inter duas civitates Gnoson et Gortynam. Dextra enim et sinistra eius fluminis pascuntur pecora; sed ex his quae pascuntur proxime Gnoson, si quae autem ex altera parte proxime Gortynam non, habent apparentem splenem. Unde etiam medici quaerentes de ea re invenerunt in his locis herbam, quam pecora rudendo inminuerunt lienes. Ita eam herbam colligendo curant lienosos hoc medicamento, quod etiam Cretenses asplenon vocitant. Ex eo licet scire cibo atque aqua proprietates locorum naturaliter pestilentes aut salubres esse.

Translation

10. But that it comes about that the salubrious properties of the soil are indicated by fodder and diet, we may note and learn from the districts of Crete which are around the river Pothereus, which flows between the two towns Cnossos and Gortyna. For cattle feed on the right and left bank of that river. But of these, the cattle which feed next Cnossos have, and those on the other side have not, an enlarged spleen. Whence also physicians inquiring about this matter have found in these places a plant which the cattle bellow for and, by it, lessen their spleens. So they gatter this plant and use this medicine to cure the splenetic, which also the Cretans call asplenon. Hence we may know by food and water whether the properties of places are pestilential or salubrious.

11. Item si in paludibus moenia constituta erunt, quae paludes secundum mare fuerint, spectabuntque ad septentrionem aut inter septentrionem et orientem, eaeque paludes excelsiores fuerint quam litus marinum, ratione videbuntur esse constituta. Fossis enim ductis aquae exitus ad litus, et mare tempestatibus aucto in paludis redundantia motionibus concitata marisque mixtionibus non patitur bestiarum palustrium genera ibi nasci, quaeque de superioribus locis natando proxime litus perveniunt, inconsueta salsitudine necantur. Exemplar autem huius rei Gallicae paludes possunt esse, quae circum Altinum, Ravennam, Aquileiam, aliaque quae in eiusmodi locis municipia sunt proxima paludibus, quod his rationibus habent incredibilem salubritatem.

Translation

11. So also if in marshes walls are laid out, and these marshes are along the sea, and they look towards the north or between the north and east, and these marshes are higher than the sea-coast, they will seem to be reasonably laid out. For if dykes are cut, there is made an outlet of water to the beach; and when the sea is swollen by storms, there is an overflow into the marshes, which being stirred and moved about and mixed with sea salt, does not permit the various kind of marsh creatures to be born there: moreover, those which, by swimming from higher parts, arrive near the coast, are killed by the unfamiliar saltness. An instance of this may be found in the Gallic marshes which are round Altinum, Ravenna, Aquileia and aother townships in like places which are nearest the marshes. For owing to these causes, they have an incredible salubrity.

12. Quibus autem insidentes sunt paludes et non habent exitus profluentes neque flumina neque fossas, uti Pomptinae, stando putescunt et umores graves et pestilentes in is locis emittunt.
Item in Apulia oppidum Salpia vetus, quod Diomedes ab Troia rediens constituit sive, quemadmodum nonnulli scripserunt, Elpias Rhodius, in eiusmodi locis fuerat conlocatum, ex quo incolae quotannis aegrotando laborantes aliquando pervenerunt ad M. Hostilium ab eoque publice petentes impetraverunt, ut his idoneum locum ad moenia transferenda conquireret elegeretque. Tunc is moratus non est, sed statim rationibus doctissime quaesitis secundum mare mercatus est possessionem loco salubri ab senatuque populo romano petit, ut liceret transferre oppidum, constituitque moenia et areas divisit nummoque sestertio singulis municipibus mancipio dedit. His confectis lacum aperuit in mare et portum e lacu municipio perfecit. Itaque nunc Salpini quattuor milia passus progressi ab oppido veteri habitant in salubri loco.

Translation

12. Those places, however, which have stagnant marshes, and lack flowing outlets, whether rivers or by dykes, like the Pomptine marshes, by standing become foul and send forth heavy and pestilent moisture.
Also in Apulia, the town of old Salpia (which Diomede returning from Troy established, or, as some have written, Elpias of Rhodes), was situated in such places. Thus the inhabitants suffered every year from various ailments. At length they came to M. Hostilius, and, making a public request, obtained from him that he should seek out and choose a fit site for transferring their walls. Then he delayed not, but forthwith, after fully ascertaining all the conditions, bought a site in a healthy place, and obtained permission from the senate and the Roman people to remove the town. He established the walls and divided the site and gave formal possession to the individual townsmen for a sesterce each. When this was done he opened the lake into the sea, and made a harbour out of the lake for the municipality. And so the people of Salpia now dwell on a healthy site at a distance of four miles from the old town.

COMMENT

In this text Vitruvius tries to convince the reader that he knows other things than architecture alone. His remarks on the health of places are greatly based on medical and philosipical literaure of his time. The principles of the effects of heath and moisture on nature and the human body were best described by Aristoteles and Galienus. Vitruvius certainly knew and understood this writings otherwise it would be impossible for him to give such a comprehensible summary in a few lines.

In sentence 6 we can read the medical theory about the function of the hearth and veins. The heart is the pump wich pumps the blood through the veins from the interior to the surface of the body. So warmth is transported from within to the skin where, through the pores, it comes in contact with the air and is cooled.
In our ears this theory seems a little bit simple but even in the 17th century commentators of Vitruvius thought they had to warn the reader that this theory was meanwhile overruled by 'modern' insights. Perrault, in his French translation of 1684 writes 'Les nouvelles experiences de la circulation du sang ont fait voir que les artères ne font que la moitié de cet ouvrage, & que comme il n'y a qu'elles qui portent la chaleur & la nourriture que le coeur envoye aux parties, il n'y a aussi que les veines qui lui puissent porter le rafraîchissement ou les autres qualitez que l'air de dehors luy peut communiquer.' This means that the blood transports not alone food to the parts of the body but also the qualities of the air (which came in the blood through nourishment and respiration).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Les dix livres d'architecture de Vitruve, Corrigés et traduits en 1684 par C. Perrault, Paris, 1684.
Vitruvius, De Architectura libri X, ed. F. Granger, London, 1962.
Ton Peters, Vitruvius, Handboek bouwkunde, Amsterdam, 1999.




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