VITRUVIUS, BOOK V, CHAPTER 1:
On the forum and basilica.



1. Graeci in quadrato amplissimis et duplicibus porticibus fora constituunt crebrisque columnis et lapideis aut marmoreis epistyliis adornant et supra ambulationes in contignationibus faciunt. Italiae vero urbibus non eadem est ratione faciendum, ideo quod a maioribus consuetudo tradita est gladiatoria munera in foro dari.

Translation

1. The Greeks plan the forum on the square with most ample double colonnades and close-set columns; they ornament them with stone or marble architraves, and above they make promenades on the boarded floors. But in the cities of Italy we must not proceed on the same plan, because the custom of giving gladiatorial shows in the forum has been handed down from our ancestors.

2. Igitur circum spectacula spatiosiora intercolumnia distribuantur circaque in porticibus argentariae tabernae maenianaque superioribus coaxationibus conlocentur; quae et ad usum et ad vectigalia publica recta erunt disposita.
Magnitudines autem ad copiam hominum oportet fieri, ne parvum spatium sit ad usum aut ne propter inopiam populi vastum forum videatur. Latitudo autem ita finiatur uti, longitudo in tres partes cum divisa fuerit, ex his duae partes ei dentur; ita enim erit oblonga eius formatio et ad spectaculorum rationem utilis dispositio.

Translation

2. For that reason more roomy intercolumniations are to be used round the spectacle; in the colonnades, silversmiths' shops; and balconies, rightly placed for convenience and for public revenue, are to be placed on the upper floors.
The dimensions of the forum ought to be adjusted to the audience lest the space be cramped for use, or else, owing to a scanty attendance, the forum should seem too large. Now let the breadth be so determined that when the length is divided into three parts, two are assigned to the breath. For so the plan will be oblong, and the arrangement will be adapted to the purpose of the spectacles.

3. Columnae superiores quarta parte minores quam inferiores sunt constituendae, propterea quod oneri ferendo quae sunt inferiora firmiora debent esse quam superiora. Non minus quod etiam nascentium oportet imitari naturam, ut in arboribus teretibus, abiete, cupresso, pinu, e quibus nulla non crassior est ab radicibus, dein decrescendo proceditur in altitudinem naturali contractura peraequata nascens ad cacumen. Ergo si natura nascentium ita postulat, recte est constitutum et altitudinibus et crassitudinibus superiora inferiorum fieri contractiora.

Translation

3. The upper columns are to be a quarter less than the lower ones; because the lower columns ought to be stronger for bearing weight than the upper ones. Not less one ought to imitate the natural growth of trees, as in tapering trees, the fir, the cypress, the pine, of which everyone is thicker at the roots. Then diminishing it rises on high, by a natural contraction growing evenly to the summit. Therefore since the nature of growing plants so demands, things are rightly arranged both in height and tickness, if the higher are more contracted than the lower.

4. Basilicarum loca adiuncta foris quam calidissimis partibus oportet constitui, ut per hiemem sine molestia tempestatium se conferre in eas negotiatores possint. Earumque latitudines ne minus quam ex tertia, ne plus ex dimidia longitudinis constituantur, nisi si loci natura inpedierit et aliter coegerit symmetriam commutari. Sin autem locus erit amplior in longitudine, chalcidica in extremis constituantur, uti sunt in Iulia Aquiliana.

Translation

4. The sites of basilicas ought to be fixed adjoining the fora in as warm a quarter as possible, so that in the winter, business men may meet there without being troubled by the weather. and their breadth should be fixed at not less than a third, nor more than half their length, unless the nature of the site is awkward and forces the proportions to be changed. When the site is longer than necessary, the committee rooms are to be placed at tehe end of the basilica, as they are in the Basilica Julia at Aquileia.

5. Columnae basilicarum tam altae, quam poerticus latae fuerint, faciendae videntur; porticus, quam medium spatium futurum est, ex tertia finiatur. Columnae superiores minores quam inferiores, uti supra scriptum est, constituantur. Pluteum, quod fuerit inter superiores et inferiores columnas, item quarta parte minus, quam superiores columnae fuerint, oportere fieri videtur, uti supra basilicae contignationem ambulantes ab negotiatoribus ne conspiciantur. Epistylia zophora coronae ex symmetriis columnarum, uti in tertio libro diximus, explicentur.

Translation

5. The columns of basilicas are to be of a height equal to the width of the aisle. The aisle is to have a width one third of the nave. The columns of the upper story are to be less than those below as herein above specified. The parapet between the upper and the lower columns ought to be one fourth less than the upper columns, so that people walking on the first floor may not be seen by persons engaged in business. The architraves, friezes and cornices are to be designed in accordance with the columns, as we have prescribed in the third book.

6. Non minus summam dignitatem et venustatem possunt habere conpartiones basilicarum, quo genere Coloniae Iuliae Fanestri conlocavi curavique faciendam, cuius proportiones et symmetriae sic sunt constitutae. Mediana testudo inter columnas est longa pedes CXX, lata pedes LX. Porticus eius circa testudinem inter parietes et columnas lata pedes XX. Columnae altitudinibus perpetuis cum capitulis pedes L, crassitudinibus quinum, habentes post se parastaticas altas pedes XX, latas pedes II S, crassas I S, quae sustinent trabes, in quibus invehuntur porticuum contignationes. Supraque eas aliae parastaticae pedum XVIII, latae binum, crassae pedem, quae excipiunt item trabes sustinentes cantherium et porticum, quae sunt summissa infra testudinem tecta.

Translation

6. At the Julian Colony of Fano, I let out for contract and superintended the building of a basilica not inferior to these in dignity and grace. Its proportions and harmonies are as follows: there is a vaulted nave between the columns 120 feet long and 60 feet broad. The aisle between the columns of the nave and the outside wall, is 20 feet wide. The columns are of an unbroken height, including the capitals, of 50 feet with a diameter of 5 feet. Behind them adjoining the aisle are pilasters 20 feet high, 2 1/2 feet wide and 1 1/2 feet tick These carry the beams under the flooring. Above, there are pilasters 18 feet high, 2 feet wide and 1 foot thick, which take the beams of the roof of the aisles which is lower than the vaulting of the nave.

7. Reliqua spatia inter parastaticarum et columnarum trabes per intercolumnia luminibus sunt relicta. Columnae sunt in latitudine testudinis cum angularibus dextra ac sinistra quaternae, in longitudine, quae est foro proxima, cum isdem angularibus octo, ex altera parte cum angularibus VI, ideo quod mediae duae in ea parte non sunt positae, ne inpediant aspectus pronai aedis Augusti, quae est in medio latere parietis basilicae conlocata spectans medium forum et aedem Iovis.

Translation

7. The space which remains in the intercolumniations, above the pilasters and below the tops of the columns, admits the necessary lighting. In the width of the nave counting the angle columns right and left, their are four columns at each end. On the side adjoining the forum, there are eight, including the angle columns. On the other side there are six, including the angle columns. The two columns in the middle are omitted, so as not to obstruct the view of the pronaos of the temple of Augustus which is situated in the middle of the side wall of the basilica and faces the middle of the forum and the temple of Jupiter.

8. Item tribunal quod est in ea aede, hemicycli schematis minoris curvatura formatum; eius autem hemicycli in fronte est intervallum pedes XLVI, introrsus curvatura pedes XV, uti, qui apud magistratus starent, negotiantes in basilica ne inpedirent. Supra columnas ex tribus tignis bipedalibus conpactis trabes sunt circa conlocatae, eaeque ab tertiis columnis quae sunt in interiore parte, revertuntur ad antas quae a pronao procurrunt, dextraque et sinistra hemicyclium tangunt.

Translation

8. The tribunal which is in the former temple, is in the shape of the segment of a circle. The width of the segment in front is 46 feet; its depth is 15 feet; so that those who come before he magistrates may not interfere with persons on business in the basilica. Above the columns are beams made of three 2 foot joists bolted together. These return from the third column on either side of the opening to the antae of the pronaos, and adjoin the curve of the tribunal right and left.

9. Supra trabes contra capitula ex fulmentis dispositae pilae sunt conlocatae, altae pedes III, latae quoqueversus quaternos. Supra eas ex duobus tignis bipedalibus trabes everganeae circa sunt conlocatae. Quibus insuper transtra cum capreolis columnarum contra corpora et antas et parietes pronai conlocata sustinent unum culmen perpetuae basilicae, alterum a medio supra pronaum aedis.

Translation

9. Above the beams vertically over the capitals, piers are placed on supports, 3 feet hig and 4 feet square. Above them, beams formed of two 2 foot joists, carefully wrought, are carried round the basilica. Thereon over against the shafts of the columns, and the antae and walls of the pronaos, cross-beams and struts support the whole ridge of the basilica, and a second ridge running out from the middle of the main ridge, over the pronaos of the temple.

10. Ita fastigiorum duplex tecti nata dispositio extrinsecus tecti et interioris altae testudinis praestat speciem venustam. Item sublata epistyliorum ornamenta et pluteorum columnarumque superiorum distributio operosam detrahit molestiam supmtusque inminuit ex magna parte summam. Ipsae vero columnae in altitudine perpetua sub trabe testudinis perductae et magnificentiam inpensae et auctoritatem operi adaugere videntur.

Translation

10. Thus there arises from the roof a double arrangement of gables. This gives a pleasing effect both to the exterior of the roof and to the high vaulting within. Further, we dispense with the ornaments of the entablatures and the provision of the upper columns and parapets. We are relieved from laborious details and escape a large expenditure, while the carrying up of the columns without a break to the beams of the vault seems to give a sumptuous magnificence and impressiveness to the work.

COMMENT

This chapter can be divided in three parts.

In the first part (sentences 1 - 3) Vitruvius gives some general remarks on the planning of the forum. In the first chapter he compares this planning with the Greek agora wich is described as roughly square. This can be seen in the agora of Athens and, according to Pausanias, on the agora of Tegea. But other cities have other ground plans for their agora (e.g. Korinth). Vitruvius is clearly generalizing a scheme that he had seen. Later, when the Romans built their own agoras in Greece they adopted a square ground plan as can be seen in the Roman agora of Athens, where a closed square is surrounded by colonnades on the four sides. This can best be compared to the actual Plaza Mayor of a Spanish city.
These agoras were surrounded by porticoes. Vitruvius gives a clear description of a double colonnade with an upper floor. At Athens the agora had at his south side a large portico and at the east side we can still admire the portico of the Pergamenan king Attalos II which is better known as the Stoa Poikile and which was completely reconstructed in 1953-1956 by the Americans to house the museum of the agora.

In contrast to this scheme the Roman forum had an oblong plan with an ideal ratio of 3/2. It was surrounded by double storeyed porticoes as can be seen at Pompei (although the ratio of the plan is here 7/2). Here too we can see what Vitruvius meant with his mention of a wider intercolumniation as compared to the Greek porticoes. The upper columns of the porticoes are a quarter less than the lower columns. This effect can also be seen at Pompei. The floor of the storey was clearly a wooden construction. This is indicated by the word contignatio in sentence 1. At Pompei we can see the traces left by the large beams which supported the floor on the back side of the architrave between the lower and the upper columns.

In the second part (sentences 4 - 5) Vitruvius gives some general ideas about the planning of a basilica. First he indicates the best place to construct a basilica, than he continues with the proportions of the building. Although at first sight this fragment seems clear enough, there remain a lot of unsolved questions when we read the text carefully.
Basically Vitruvius describes the basilica as a hall enclosed by a two storeyed portico. The second storey had a high parapet. Here it is not clear whether the columns of the second storey were placed on the parapet or the parapet was placed between the columns. Vitruvius says only "Pluteum, quod fuerit inter superiores et inferiores columnas..." "The parapet between the upper and lower columns...". This fragment led some scholars to the opinion that the basilica was the result of a piling up of architectural elements: on the ground floor the lower columns crowned by an architrave. On that architrave the parapet and finally on the parapet the upper columns. However, such a construction would have been very unstable: imagine the height of the lower column of 20 feet; the upper columns are a quarter less (sentence 3), i.e. 15 feet and the parapet is a quarter less than the upper column, i.e. 11,25 feet. This means that the roof was supported by a fragile combination of a continuous parapet with no supports or buttresses and a series of small columns. It is easily thinkable that this would collapse at the first serious wind pressure. The result of this way of building is e.g. reflected in the designs of Palladio in his 'Four books'. From these considerations it seems better to suppose that the parapet was placed between the upper columns and that these columns stood immedtiately on the architrave and cornice over the lower columns. By doing so the whole construction becomes much more compact and the upper columns are squeezed between and strengthened by the parapet.

A second problem is the roof of the basilica. In these sentences nothing is said about the roof. Some scholars have thought that the central hall had no roof but this is contradicted by the beginning of sentence 4: "..... so that in winter business man may meet there without being troubled by the weather". This supposes a roof. But it remains very unclear how the aisles were roofed: had the roof of the central nave a continuous slope over the aisles or had the aisles a proper, independent (flat?) roof. And how was this roof supported?

A last problem is the lightning of the basilica. There are no windows mentioned in this fragment nor is there some mention of a clerestorey. It is hardly thinkable that light could only come in through the entrance. This should be in shrewd contrast to the general layout of the basilica where the most important place was situated at the rear wall opposite the entrance. This would have been the darkest place.

In the third part Vitruvius proudly presents his own basilica at Colonia Iulia Fanestri the actual Fano. Archaeologically nothing has been found of this basilica. So we have only Vitruvius' text to try to make a reconstruction of this building.
Throughout the centuries many attempts have been made to reconstruct the ground plan and elevation of this basilica: this fragment, because of its details, kept the attention of all the commentators and translators.

A somewhat naive reconstruction was made by Cesare Cesariano in his edition of 1521. He clearly didn't understand the overall scheme of this basilica and based his reconstruction on the general layout of a basilica.

Closer to the possible reality are the designs of the Perrault translation of 1684. His perspective view is quite convincing but his groundplan hasn't an acceptable solution for the intersection of the basilica with the described aedes Augusti.

A better solution is presented in the Dutch translation of Ton Peters (1999). His groundplan and elevation follows the prescriptions of Vitruvius very closely. But he gives no answer to the question of the tribunal in the Aedes Augusti.

Although this problem had been solved earlier in an article by Karlfriedrich Ohr who gave an acceptable explanation.

The aedes Augusti was situated in the axis of the forum and piercing the rear wall of the basilica. In order to avoid hindrance to the merchants by the people who came to the basilica to plead their cause, Vitruvius placed the tribunal somewhat to the back, on the segment of a circle between the antae of the aedes.

The elevation of the basilica shows some innovations.

The first is the use of the collossal order in the columnar structure. In contrast to the general description of the basilica in the second part of this chapter where the lower and the higher storeys had their own columnar order, the basilica of Fano had a collossal setting with columns from the floor to the ceiling. The parapets of the first floor stood behind these columns. The use of this collossal order is quite unusual in Roman basilica architecture and occurs only at the basilica of Pompeii.

The second is the intersection of two volumes: the basilica proper and the aedes Augusti which stood in a right angle on the axis of the basilica. This intersection resulted in a complicated roof construction.

Where the description of the basilica of Fano seems very detailed, there are nevertheless a lot of details which stay obscure.
First there is the question of the lightning of the building. If we may believe Vitruvius light came only in through the openings between the roof of the galleries and the ceiling. There are no further windows mentioned.
Secondly there is the question how the floor of the second storey was held in position. Vitruvius mentions only square projections on the columns on which the beams of the floor were laid. He says nothing about the way these beams were held in the walls opposite the columns.
Thirdly: how were the galleries reached? Vitruvius mentions no stairs.
Finally there is the question of the form of the roof and the ceiling. Vitruvius remains very obscure about this. The crucial term in the discussion about the ceiling is the word testudo when Vitruvius speaks about the nave and the ceiling of his basilica. The first meaning of testudo is tortoise. From this meaning the notion of a vaulted ceiling could be derived. Vitruvius uses the word testudo in other contexts to indicate a vault. Also other authors use testudo in this meaning. From this considerations we can assume that the basilica of Fano had a vaulted ceiling as the design in the Perrault translation indicates. But this is in contradiction with the remarks in sentence 9 where Vitruvius clearly refers to a wooden structure for the roof formed by cross-beams over the central nave with central struts to support the ridge of the basilica. Also the beams over the capitals and which form the unifying device of the central nave with the aedes Augusti, are clearly in wood. So, we can safely assume that roof and ceiling were a normal timber construction in the form the design in the dutch translation suggests and which is vaguely indicated in the article of Ohr.

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.
K.Ohr, Die Form der Basilika bei Vitruv, in Bonner Jahrbuch 175, 1975, pp. 113-127.
W.Alzinger, Aspectus pronai aedis Augusti, in Vitruv-Kolloquium, Darmstadt, 1984, pp. 185-192.
H.Wiegartz, Vitruvs Darstellung der römischen Basilika, in Vitruv-Kolloquium, Darmstadt, 1984, pp. 193-238.
H.Knell, Vitruvs Architekturtheorie, Darmstadt, 1985.
K.Ohr, Die Basilika in Pompeji, Berlin - New York, 1991.
C.V.Walthew, A Metrological Study of the Early Roman Basilicas, Lewiston - Queenston - Lampeter, 2002.




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