Temple of Portunus (Temple of Fortuna Virilis), Rome, 3rd-4th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
Roman Concrete and the Revolution in Roman Architecture
The change the Romans believed in was a shift from what we call traditional Roman architecture to innovative Roman architecture. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today, what we call innovative, and what we’ll call in the course of this semester, innovative Roman architecture.
We’ve already talked about what we’ve called traditional Roman architecture, and I just want to look again with you [to the] Temple of Portunus (above), that we looked at last time, the Temple of Portunus in Rome, near the Tiber River, a temple that was put up in the late second, early first century B.C. And we talked about the fact that this was a traditional Roman building of this day. A traditional Roman building though that was quite derivative, that looked back at Greek architecture, Greek religious architecture, and Etruscan religious architecture, and drew from both of those, drew elements from both of those, and combined them together into what we termed a new Roman creation, at least in the traditional vein. We talked about the fact that the Etruscan elements of this particular monument were its tall podium, were its deep porch, were the freestanding columns in that porch, were the single staircase and the emphasis on the façade, that having that single staircase achieved.
We also talked about the fact that while there were columns all around the structure, which is actually a Greek way of doing things, that those columns were attached or engaged into the wall, which still gave it a certain sense of flatness, including on the back, that was also characteristic of Etruscan architecture. We also talked about the Greek elements that were incorporated here, and those included the fact that the building was made out of stone, and also the fact that one of the traditional Greek orders, in this case the Ionic order, was used for the structure. So this bringing together of Greek and Etruscan elements in this thoroughly Roman building, but a building that again we would call a traditional Roman building. And what do I mean by traditional? All the traditional Roman buildings share in common the following features. They have columns and they have walls, and those columns and walls serve a structural purpose and that is to hold up the flat or the sloping ceiling, the sloping roof, and that is in fact exactly what you see here.
Etruscan La Montagnola tomb, Sesto Fiorentino, 7th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
But at this very same time, in the second century B.C. and into the first century B.C., we begin to see a new kind of experimentation that is going on concurrently with this, an experimentation that grows up in some of the same towns that we see traditional buildings like this. And what made this experimentation different than anything that had come before is the fact that the Romans use, for these buildings, a completely new material, and that material is concrete. We talked about the fact that already in the Temple of Portunus concrete was used, but concrete was used only in the podium. You can’t see it. It is inside the podium and serves to strengthen–concrete has a great deal of strength and can sustain great weights–and so it was placed in the podium for utilitarian purposes so that it could help to support the temple that was located on top. But again, none of its expressive possibilities were explored by the designer of the Temple of Portunus or any of the other temples we looked at last time.
But what begins to happen also, in the course of the second and first centuries B.C., is architects beginning to realize that this new concrete technology has an opportunity to transform Roman architecture, and they begin to experiment with that transformation. In order to understand the concrete buildings that we’re going to be looking at this morning, which are absolutely fascinating–and I hope you’ll be as enthralled by them as I am, and they again stand at the very beginning of this development of innovative architecture in Rome–it’s important to know a bit about concrete, Roman concrete that is, and I want to make a few points about it. Roman concrete — the Latin term for it is opus caementicum, as I’ve indicated here. Roman concrete is different from what we think of today as concrete. It’s a composite of various natural elements that becomes a liquid mass when mixed with water and eventually hardens into a very, very strong substance, much stronger than any of its ingredients are on their own. Roman concrete was a mixture of stone rubble and liquid mortar, and composed of lime, sand and something called pozzolana — pozzolana being a volcanic substance, which was very plentiful in Italy, especially around the area of Pompeii, Herculaneum, the area of Campania.
Concrete was used in Rome from the early second century B.C. on, but it was not until the end of the second century, and the beginning of the first century, that the expressive possibilities of concrete began to be fully realized. Concrete–I think this is also important to mention, when you think about concrete construction in relationship to stone construction, that we’ve already discussed — concrete is not cut or quarried the way stone is. Concrete is caste in molds. Concrete can be caste in any shape, at least any shape that a carpenter can build with wood. And like modern builders, the Romans erected wooden frames for their walls and ceilings and they poured concrete into those wooden frames. What’s most important for us, in the context of this lecture and in this course in general, is that the introduction of Roman concrete into Roman architecture freed the Roman architect from the confines of a rectilinear architecture that they had inherited from the Greeks, the kind of rectilinear architecture that made up a temple like the Temple of Portunus. This is a very momentous change and one that will have a lasting impact on the buildings of the Romans.
Pantheon and interior dome, Rome, 118-128 CE / Wikimedia Commons
Let me try to give you a sense of what I mean by this. One could argue that the greatest concrete structure built by the Romans was the Pantheon. And I remind you of the Pantheon on the right, in fact the dome of the Pantheon, which would not have been possible without concrete construction. But it’s interesting to compare the Pantheon to an attempt that Etruscan architects made to create something similar but out of stone. I show you on the left-hand side of the screen an Etruscan tomb that dates to 600 B.C. So, very early in time, 600 B.C., an Etruscan tomb at a place called–it’s not on your Monument List–but at a place called Quinto Fiorentino, Q-u-i-n-t-o, new word, F-i-o-r-e-n-t-i-n-o. Quinto Fiorentino, an Etruscan territory. And what the architects have done here is to try to create a round tomb, and they’ve used stone, as you can see, and they have laid those stones. They’ve cut and quarried the stones as usual. They’ve tried to cut them in the shapes that they need in order to make this work. And they’ve piled them, one on top of the other, row after row after row, until they’ve gotten — it started out okay at the bottom, but as they get further and further on to the top and it gets rounder and rounder, and converges at the apex, they start to have trouble, as you can see. And although it’s a heroic, a valiant attempt on their part, it isn’t terribly successful, at least to my mind, aesthetically. And, in fact, they were worried about it falling down, so they even had to place a stone pier here, to support the dome, to make sure that it didn’t drop. And actually that was pretty successful, because here it is, still today, looking pretty good in that regard.
Temple of Vesta, Rome, 7th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
But with the introduction of concrete into architecture, under the Romans, building a dome like the Pantheon was simplicity itself. All you needed to be able to do was to build one of these wooden models, wooden structures, that you then poured concrete into, and voilà, you have the dome of the Pantheon. So simplicity itself, transformational, vis-à-vis Roman architecture. The only problem with concrete — there were two problems with concrete that the architects of this period had to contend with. One of them was that concrete has to be protected from moisture–that’s number one–and number two, that concrete is less attractive than stone. The Roman architects of the second and first centuries B.C. solved these two problems in the same way. What they decided to do was when the concrete was still wet, they attached stone to it. This could either be large ashlar blocks, stone blocks, or it could be small pieces of stone, that uncertain work or opus incertum that we talked about last time, pressed into the concrete when it was wet, and when it all dried, that stone both made the building look more attractive and also protected the building from moisture. We looked last time at that opus incertum facing. I remind you of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, which you see here, and you will recall that the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli had concrete, both in its podium, for utilitarian purposes and to support the great weight of the temple, but also that the architects explored making the cella wall, the curved cella wall, also out of concrete. And then when that concrete was wet they put in these small cut, irregularly shaped stones, called uncertain work or opus incertum, to protect that.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, Palestrina, Late 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia annular vault / Courtesy Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner
So we saw that already in the Temple of Vesta, even though it was a traditional temple, based on Greek and Etruscan models. And we’ll see it again today, in several buildings, and I’ll show you just one example, the last structure that we’ll talk about today, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, an extraordinary structure built on a hillside, that also used opus incertum as the facing. And you can see it used here for the wall and also for the coffered ceiling above. And so a stone facing, opus incertum, that was particularly favored in the second century B.C. and into the first century B.C. Over time the choice of facing changed. Although ashlar blocks, tufa, travertine, and opus incertum were popular in the second and first centuries, as time goes on things change.
Horrea Epagathiana, Ostia, 2nd century BCE / Photo by Michael Zale, flicker, Creative Commons
We’ll see, under the Roman emperor Nero there was a revolution, another kind of revolution of sorts, in Roman architecture, and we’ll talk about the reasons for that and so on later in the semester. But with that revolution came an interest in a new facing material, namely brick — brick that was originally stuccoed over. And, in fact, the opus incertum work and the tufa stone that we’ve talked about already today tended to be stuccoed over as well. But by the second century we begin to see an appreciation for brick in its own right, the attractiveness of brick, and the Romans begin to use exposed brick as the facing for their buildings. And I show you one example. It’s a detail of a warehouse in the Roman port city of Ostia, that we’ll look at later in the term, with this exposed brick facing; very attractive, different colorations and so on and so forth. Just to alert you to the fact that again the kind of facing that we’re talking about today will not be the only facing that is used by the Romans over time.
The First Experiments in Roman Concrete Construction
Porticus Aemilia site plan
I want to show you today a series of these concrete constructions, concrete experiments we might call them, that begin to turn up, not only in Rome itself, but also in some of the cities close to Rome, that we saw Rome began to colonize in the Republic and into the age of Augustus — cities that either are the same or very close to the ones that we looked at last time, and I’ll show you a map momentarily. I just want to begin with one in Rome itself. This is the so-called Porticus Aemilia in Rome. The Porticus Aemilia was a warehouse, a very large warehouse on the banks of the Tiber River. The Porticus Aemilia was built, as you can see from the dates on your Monument List, very early on, 193 B.C., and then restored in 174 B.C. Only a small fragment of the Porticus Aemilia survives today, but we have a lot of evidence, a lot of clues, that we can piece together through scholarly detective work, to determine what this building looked like in antiquity, and we can get a quite accurate sense. We have, for example, the words of the great Roman historian Livy, Livy, who was writing in the age of Augustus. He tells us that the Porticus Aemilia–he describes it, he mentions the Porticus Aemilia–and he tells us it was located on the east bank of the Tiber River, and that it was southwest of one of Rome’s Seven Hills, the Aventine Hill. Southwest of the Aventine Hill, which is enormously helpful because it gives archaeologists and so on a clue as to where they might look for remains of this particular structure.
Porticus Aemilia, Rome, 193 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
So we have that. We also have a fragment of the building, we believe, because it’s located just in the right place, and I show it to you here. It’s not much. It’s essentially a hunk of concrete that includes an arched doorway and some arched windows, but it’s very important in terms of allowing us to reconstruct what this structure looked like in antiquity. But most significant of all, we have a fragment from what is known as the Marble Map of Rome. The Marble Map of Rome, called the Forma Urbis–and I’ve put that word on the Monument List, that title on the Monument List for you, the Forma Urbis–the Forma Urbis was a great marble map that was made of Rome in the early third century A.D., under the emperorship of Septimius Severus, and put up on a wall in Rome, and we’ll talk about its location later on in the semester. But it purported to represent all the buildings that were standing in Rome in the early third century A.D. It is fragmentary today, but there are a fair number of fragments, and fortunately a couple of those fragments, or several of those fragments, are fragments that represent the Porticus Aemilia.
Porticus Aemilia reconstruction / VR Lab, University of California, Creative Commons
So we can tell from that, from Livy’s description, from this fragmentary remain, we can piece together what it looked like. And you can see it here, a very, very long rectangular structure that went all along the bank of the river. Storage, you need a lot of storage, especially as the Romans began to conquer the world, they were trading more extensively with other parts of the world, and consequently they needed places along the Tiber River to store the goods that were both going out and coming in. So they build this gigantic warehouse along the banks of the Tiber. Now there’s a fair amount of disagreement about some of the smaller details of this warehouse and what it looked like in antiquity. So we have to do the best that we can to bring that evidence together to determine what it looked like. But as I said, in some details you’ll see there’s variation. So several of the things I’m going to show you vary slightly, but the only one that you’ll be ultimately responsible for is the one that’s on your Monument List. But I just want you to be aware of the fact that there are different interpretations of exactly what it looked like.
Barrel vault diagram / University of South Florida, Creative Commons
What we are sure of, and what’s most important for us today, is that it was made of concrete and that it had barrel vaults. What was a barrel vault? A barrel vault was a vault that was again made out of concrete, placed on a wall, and then the vault was shaped like the side of a barrel, as you can see here, which is why it’s called a barrel vault — shaped like the side of a barrel, resting on walls down below. A fairly simple shape that could not have been made, or would be very difficult to make out of stone, but was easily able to be made out of concrete. And we see a series of those barrel vaults, placed one next to another, for the warehouse, for the Porticus Aemilia in Rome. It was placed–and actually I neglected to mention, Livy also tells us that the Porticus Aemilia had four tiers — it was tiered in four levels — and we see those four tiers here, rising up ever so slightly along the slope of the Tiber River.
This is a cross-section of what the inside of the Basilica Aemilia might have looked like. You see those great barrel vaults here. You see that the architect has been adventurous in the sense that he has not placed the barrel vaults on solid walls, as we saw in that diagram, but has opened those walls up, created piers and arches above those piers to create these arcades, which is quite ingenious and very smart, because what it does is enable there to be both axial movement, through the building, but also lateral movement. You can walk not only along each barrel vault, but you can walk in between the piers which, as I said, creates a sense of much more openness, and lateral as well as axial movement. The other thing that you see here are the back walls, where we can see just what we saw in that fragment of the building, the arched doorways, as well as the arched windows in the back walls, which of course allow light into the structure. Lots of activity needed to happen here, as things were moved in and out, and those who worked here needed to be able to see everything that they were doing.
The view that you have on your Monument List is this one. It’s a restored view of what the Porticus Aemilia might’ve looked like in antiquity, and it’s very helpful. It’s a cutaway view, which gives you most of the major features, all in one place. You can see that it is indeed tiered. There are four tiers for this structure, that they move up slightly as they move up the slope of the hill. You can see the use of the barrel vaults. You can see the piers down below. You can see the flat roof that these seemed to have. But as they rose up slightly along the slope of the hill, you can see that the designer has placed small, curved, slit windows on each tier to allow again additional light into the structure. And you can also see, from this diagram, that it was made of concrete and faced with opus incertum work — these small, irregular stones that we saw in the Temple of Vesta also used as the facing material here. Here’s one more restored view, which shows you roughly the same: the four tiers, the barrel vaults, the windows on the various tiers, and then most importantly these doorways and windows in the back, as well as the general space that was available inside this extraordinary building.
Italy in Roman times / Vox, Creative Commons
I mentioned that while we’ll look at a couple of buildings, several buildings in Rome, I also want to go out to some of the colonies that were founded by the Romans, in the vicinity of Rome, in the second and first centuries B.C., where they began to build, as we saw. They began to plan towns. They began to put walls around those towns. They began to put temples in those towns and they also began to put other structures, including warehouses and sanctuaries and the like. The ones that we’re going to look at today–here again, Rome is at the star–and we’re going to look at buildings in Terracina, over here, in Tivoli, and also in Palestrina. And you can see the proximity of those to others we talked about last time, Norba and Cosa and Falerii Novi, and so on and so forth. It’s not surprising, again, to see the Romans turning to their environs as they make these earliest towns and as they start to fill these towns, to make them into the kind of mini-Romes that they so desired.
Market Hall, Ferentino, c.100 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
So we’re going to look at a series of these, of different dates and of considerable interest, in terms of what they herald for the future of Roman architecture. The first that we’re going to look at is a market hall, a market hall at a place called Ferentino, and it dates to–I may have neglected to show you Ferentino on that map but it’s in with all the others there, Ferentino–around 100 B.C., it dates to. And you can see that it’s essentially one giant barrel vault, one giant barrel vault, which was used as the market hall. You can see also that that giant barrel vault, which is made of concrete, has opening off it, on the sides, a series of arched areas, also barrel vaulted on the inside. These were used as the market stalls inside this marketplace. You can also see I believe very well that the facing that is used for this concrete is opus incertum work for the walls and for the vaults. And then what they’ve done to emphasize the location and the shape of the arches, they have used stone around those — also to give further solidity to this part of the building they have used stone. And you can see it’s a combination of nicely cut ashlar blocks, down here, but also the voussoir blocks that we saw in the Falerii Novi gate, used over the arches. So this combination of both stone, of opus quadratum stone, and also of opus incertum, used as the facing for this particular structure.
Markets of Trajan, Rome, 100-110 CE / Wikimedia Commons
What’s significant about this building is that it looks forward to things that we’re going to see later on develop in Roman architecture. Primarily I showed you in the introductory lecture a glimpse of the Markets of Trajan in Rome, and I remind you here of the great market hall of the Markets of Trajan, which is even more sophisticated in its use of concrete, because it has ribbed vaults, as you can see. But this experimentation that we’re going to see in the early second century A.D. in Rome would not have been possible without the experimentation in concrete that took place in this very early stage in the second century and in the first century B.C.
Sanctuaries and the Expressive Potential of Roman Concrete Construction
Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur, Terracina, 4th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
Even much more interesting in fact is the building that I’d like to turn to now, and this is the so-called Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina. It dates, we believe, to 100 to 70 B.C., and it is, like so many Roman buildings, spectacularly sited. I had mentioned this on several occasions. We looked at the Mediaeval hill town of Cori, for example, where the Temple of Hercules was located at the very apex of the hill. The Romans had an incredible knack for choosing extraordinary locations on which to site their buildings, locations that made those buildings — that accentuated those buildings from a distance — but also gave those who went to the buildings amazing views out from those buildings. This is one of those examples, the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina.
View of the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur from the sea / Wikimedia Commons
The best view of this sanctuary is from the sea. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be floating on a boat somewhere near Terracina–and it’s a beautiful place to float–you will see, from a distance, the great podium of the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur. But you can also see it from the town, which is where we’re situated here. We’re standing in the town, a couple of decent pizzerias right in front of us, and we’re looking up at the hill on which the sanctuary finds itself. Now as you look up to that hill, all you can actually see is all that’s actually up there now, which is the podium of the sanctuary. The temple is no longer there, although there’s some evidence up there, some remains that gives us a decent sense of what that temple looked like in antiquity. But the podium is extremely well preserved, and you see it again magnificently sited at the top of that hill.
Restored view of the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur / Wikimedia Commons
This is a restored view of what the podium would’ve looked like–what the podium does look like, as we see it here–and as it would have supported the temple on top, and also a back columnar element over here, that was roofed, as you can see. If we look at this restored view, we see several things that are worth noting. One, that the temple itself is very much a traditional building and one that is very much in the tradition indeed of the buildings, the temples, that we’ve already discussed: this combination of Etruscan plan and of Greek elevation that we saw in so many of these. You can see, for example–and again there’s enough evidence for us to be pretty sure that this is what it looked like — high podium, single staircase, emphasis on the façade, deep porch, freestanding columns in that porch, but columns that seem to have encircled the monument. So this combination of–and stone construction we think–so a combination once again of Etruscan and Greek elements for the temple.
You’ll probably notice that the temple is slightly skewed, the angle of the temple of skewed, it’s not straight on with the podium, which is very unusual for the Romans. We’ll see that the Romans were very interested in everything being exactly as it should be: axial, symmetrical, both sides matching. It’s very unusual for them to skew something like this. Why did they do it? It probably had something to do either with something that was already on the site, some other building, that forced them to do this, or having something to do with the particular god who was honored here and the location — the way they wanted that to be in relationship to various elements of the rites–or east-west, or whatever. There was something that caused them to put this in the position that they did. And you can also see that it isn’t–it has this back colonnade behind it, covered colonnade behind it, but it isn’t attached to it in any way, which is also unusual, as we’ll see. The podium you see down here, made up of a series of arcades. You can see once again both axial and lateral access, because just as in the Porticus Aemilia, they have created smaller arcades in the side piers, to allow this kind of axiality in the structure, or movement through the structure in more than one way.
The podium is extremely well preserved, as you can see, and extremely impressive. It’s an extraordinary place to go. It’s a lot of fun to go there to see this. It’s off the beaten track, to a certain extent, but it is on the road between Rome and Naples, so that if one is going from Rome down to Pompeii, this is the sort of thing one can stop and take a look at, and there’re some other interesting things along the way as well. We see here the great podium, as it looks today. It’s made out of concrete. You can see both the large arcades and then these lateral ones that I mentioned before, on the interior face of the piers. You can also see that they have used opus incertum facing here. These are regular stones, all bunched together to create an attractive appearance, although this was probably stuccoed in antiquity. And then they have used stone blocks to emphasize the juncture of each of these walls, but also to help give the building increased stability. So this combination of stone–well it’s all stone–but this combination of blocks of stone and the smaller opus incertum stones for the facing of the podium.
Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur view through arches / Wikimedia Commons
And here’s a wonderful view, I think, that shows you a panorama through a number of these lateral arches, and gives you some sense of how carefully orchestrated this was by the architect who was responsible for this. It’s never too early for me to emphasize that the Romans were very concerned with creating vistas and panoramas, from one part of a building to another, from one part of a complex to another, and they never lost an opportunity to do that. So that as you stand and look through a series of these lateral arches, you can see how carefully arranged that was, to pay attention not only to the way in which the arches–you can see them in a series, as you can see here, looking almost as if they’re diminishing in size, although they aren’t really–but also this idea of creating exciting visual experiences. As you walk through something, not just to walk through it, but to see something that really amazes you and that fascinates you, and that creation of vista and panorama — both panorama out onto the countryside, from the hilltop, but also a panorama or vista through a building — is something quintessentially Roman, and we’ll see it turning up again and again and again as a major objective of Roman architecture.
Sanctuary of Jupiter cryptoporticus / Wikimedia Commons
The sanctuary had below it an underground passageway called a cryptoporticus–and I put that word on the Monument List for you–a cryptoporticus that was used essentially for storage, for storage purposes for this sanctuary. And, believe it or not, we actually have the cryptoporticus still preserved, and we can look at it. And it’s interesting because here too we see the architects using concrete construction, creating a barrel vaulted corridor, in this case with windows on the end and then a few doorways and some slit windows, all of them arched, as you can see here, to allow light into the structure. It was used, as I said, for storage purposes, storage having to do with the cult, and so on and so forth.
It’s very important–and we’re going to look at a couple of other sanctuaries as well–to keep in mind that these sanctuaries were meant–they were different than an individual temple in a forum inside an urban complex. They were meant to draw pilgrims from far and wide, which is one of the reasons that they were placed in such prominent positions, on tops of mountains, so that you wouldn’t–if you were going by in your cart, or whatever, and saw this, from a distance, or coming by sea, in a boat, seeing it from a distance, you would be drawn–it would be like a mecca that you would be drawn to. So these sanctuaries were meant to attract large numbers of people to them. So they needed to provide not just the temple itself but other things, and they were like malls. They often included shopping areas, souvenir shops, shopping stores for local specialties and that kind of thing, in order to encourage people to visit.
Sanctuary of Hercules and restored view, Tivoli, 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
I’d like to turn to another, also very interesting sanctuary, that was put up at around this time. This is the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli, and it was erected, we believe, sometime between 75 and 50 B.C., in Tivoli. It is an incredible place. It is not so different from the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur in its general intentions: this whole idea of creating this mecca for religious activity and also just a place that people would enjoy coming to and gathering together for social interaction. We see a restored view of what it looked like in antiquity. It is similar to and different from the Jupiter Anxur Sanctuary.
Sanctuary of Hercules arches / Wikimedia Commons
Just like the Jupiter Anxur Sanctuary, it rests on a very tall, on a tall and large podium. As you can see, the temple doesn’t stand in isolation but is raised up on this large podium. You can see that it has a temple in the center, this one completely pushed up against the back wall and completely straight. So axial: created in axial relationship to the podium. The temple, we believe, was also one of these traditional types of temples with the tall podium, with a staircase on one side, with columns going around at least three sides, deep porch, freestanding columns in that porch, raised up on its own podium, and then the larger podium down below. One of the features that we see here, that we did not see in the Jupiter Anxur Sanctuary, is the use of the circular staircase here, which adds drama to the design. It’s also on axis with the staircase of the temple itself, but it also serves as a kind of–it’s shaped like a theater, a theater cavea–we call it a cavea, the seating: c-a-v-e-a, the cavea of a theater. It’s shaped just like that, as you can see here, and we believe its purpose was not so much as a monumental entranceway or a monumental staircase, although it served that purpose, to a certain extent, but also as a place where people could gather and could sit and probably watch performances — religious performances perhaps, or perhaps other kinds of performances — in front of this, in front of the Temple of Hercules. And there may have been some kind of a stage building. There was a wall here, so there may have been also some kind of stage building in front of that semi-circular seated area.
Sanctuary of Hercules restored view / Wikimedia Commons
This is another restored view, showing you the same. You can perhaps see that theatrical area better here, again serving as a dramatic staircase but at the same time as a place where performances could take place at this structure. But all the other features are apparent. And I want you to pay special attention to the fact that we have the temple pushed up against the back wall, not one of the short back walls but–well none of them are short here–but against a long back wall, as you can see, but pushed up against it, dominating the space in front of it. We’re going to see, when we turn to Pompeii on Thursday, that this same idea of pushing a temple against a back wall is characteristic of forum design, the design of meeting and marketplaces, as it is for sanctuary design.
Sanctuary of Hercules arches with embedded columns / Wikimedia Commons
The Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli is preserved in part–and I can show you one very interesting detail, which is what you see now on the screen. We are looking at part–let me go back for a second just to point this out. If you look along the sides and the back, you will see that there are columns above and then columns with arcades: arcades and columns in the first story, and then columns on their own, in the upper story. So what I’m going to show you now is a section of the lower story of the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli. And we can see that what we have here is a very important combination–and it’s the first time we’ve seen this today–of arches with columns interspersed, columns placed, engaged or attached into the wall, in between these arcades, as you can see here. The construction is concrete. The facing is a combination of stone–look at the blocks, the ashlar blocks, and the voussoirs above the arches, and opus incertum work for the walls, as you can see here. But the scheme of columns in between arcades: extremely important. This is setting in place the kind of scheme that we’re going to see used for buildings like the Colosseum in Rome — so extremely important. There’s one detail here, there’s one detail about the columns though I wonder if anyone notices, that make them different than any other columns that we’ve seen thus far this term. Does anyone see what that is?
They don’t support anything. They are used here–the building is supported by the concrete construction. The columns don’t have any support role whatsoever. They’re there entirely for decorative purposes. So, excellent point. And still one more. Look at the facing of the column. What does that tell you? What is it, what kind of facing?
The columns are made of concrete too. The columns are not made out of stone, but the columns in this instance–it’s unusual–but the columns, in this instance, made out of concrete and also faced with opus incertum work. A view again of the complex, just to make the point that as at the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina there is an underground passageway, a cryptoporticus. But in this case–and you can see, it’s on the left, underneath the left side of the sanctuary–but in this instance, interestingly enough, this isn’t just a storage area, it’s actually a street. The ancient name for Tivoli was Tibur, t-i-b-u-r. There was a street called the Via Tiburtina, that made its way from Rome to Tivoli, and this underground passageway was actually the street. The street ran underneath the sanctuary. That street, or that part of the street that ran under the sanctuary, can still be seen today, and you can see–it looks almost like an underground subway or something like that–you can see barrel vaulted area, with a series of niches over here, probably for shops, so that along the way you could stop and shop beneath the sanctuary. So a street, in this case, that is part of the Via Tiburtina, leading from Rome to Tivoli.
Innovations in Concrete at Rome: The Tabularium and The Theater of Marcellus
Tabularium in the Roman Forum, Rome, c.78 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
I’d like to turn now to a couple of buildings in Rome, back to Rome, to look at first a building called the Tabularium, that dates to around 78 B.C., that was a very important building in Rome, because it was used to house the state archives, at that particular juncture. It was put up by a man–we even know who put it up–a man by the name of Quintus Lutatius Catullus, and I’ve put his name on the Monument List for you, and it was located on the north side of the forum, of the Roman Forum, and the south slope of the Capitoline Hill. And here I show you one of these excellent Google Earth fly-over views of this part of ancient Rome, or what this part of ancient Rome looks like today. And we see the landmarks that we’ve already pointed out: the Colosseum at the very top; the Roman Forum lying in front of the Colosseum; Mussolini’s Via dei Fori Imperiali; the Imperial Fora over here; the Palatine Hill up here; the Circus Maximus here; the wedding cake, so-called, of Victor Emmanuel, the modern building, nineteenth-century building over here; and then the Capitoline Hill, redesigned by Michelangelo, with the oval piazza.
The Tabularium is located right here. It is again facing the forum, the Roman Forum, but it is the back wall of one of Michelangelo’s palaces, the so-called Senatorial Palace designed by Michelangelo. What Michelangelo did is what was done so often by later architects, incorporated–didn’t tear down the earlier Roman Tabularium–but incorporated its wall as the back wall of his Senatorial Palace, and that’s exactly what it remains today. Here we see a view of the Tabularium. We’re standing on the Forum side, looking at what remains of the Tabularium, and we can see some of the features that we’ve already been discussing today. First of all, let me point out that it is made out of concrete. It’s made out of concrete. The building is concrete. But here in Rome they decided not to use–opus incertum work was not the rage in Rome. Instead they were much more interested in cut stone. And you can see that they have used cut stone in this structure, cut tufa stone–I think you can recognize the stone as tufa — remember tufa is indigenous to the city of Rome. Rome has a lot of fairly decent tufa.
They’ve used tufa here, and they have used tufa work also for the arcades above and for the columns. The capitals are done in travertine, added in travertine, considered the most important part, so they used the more expensive material there. But you can see here, as at the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli, that we have this combination of arcades and columns — and once again, as was already pointed out, columns that have no structural purpose whatsoever, columns that are there for pure decoration. And this scheme of arcades with columns is going to become extremely important in the future. One can go inside the Tabularium today and see what remains of the state archives. There are some very interesting corridors and vaulting that one can see. And, by the way, it’s a nice place to go because there’s also a panoramic window on which one can get some spectacular views, down over the Roman Forum, and some great pictures as well, photographs as well.
Tabularium passageway / Wikimedia Commons
We’re looking here at one of the corridors of the Tabularium. You can see that the arches are made out of stone, supported by columns, but in between them–there are a series of bays, as you can see here–and in between them we have domical ceilings that are made out of concrete. So concrete used here, combined–concrete for the domes–combined with stone, that the Romans were very–handsome stone that was in Rome itself favored, used for the arches and used to decorate the walls as well. And what’s interesting is that we find in these corridors a series of ramps and a series of steps. And there’s actually one staircase that has sixty-six steps–I’ve counted them–sixty-six steps, as well as ramps. And what we see happening here–and these are again covered by barrel vaults–what we see happening here is the Romans paying a lot of attention to varying the experience that you have when you walk through buildings. Sometimes you’re going to be walking on a straight path, sometimes you’re going to be walking on a ramp, sometimes you’re going to be walking on stairs, to vary that experience. And you’re going to see panoramas and so on along the way, to make it an experience to go into a building and to wander around that building. But we’re also going to see–and I’ll show you this particularly in the last structure we talk about today–we’re also going to see the Romans not hesitating to be the controlling force, that they very much were, and to establish certain pre-determined paths that you have to take. So you’re having a varied experience, but you’re kind of having it in the way that the Romans want you to have it, and that’s an interesting phenomenon that I hope we’ll think about together as we converse in the online forum.
Theatre of Marcellus, Rome, 13-11 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
I want to show you one last building in Rome today, before I show you the real pièce de résistance of concrete architecture of this early period. I’d like to show you one more building in Rome. It’s a later building, and in some respects it belongs in a later lecture. It’s the Theater of Marcellus in Rome, a theater that was put up by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, after the death of his nephew and son-in-law Marcellus. He seems to have put it up, that is, Augustus seems to have put it up. He was in great grief at the loss of this young man because he had hoped that Marcellus would succeed him. Marcellus was married to Augustus’ daughter, Julia. He’d hoped that Marcellus would succeed him, but Marcellus, unfortunately, died very young. Augustus was in incredible grief, and he put up this theater in Rome, this stone theater in Rome, in honor of Marcellus.
The theater was put up, as I mentioned, either in 13 or in 11 B.C. So I can talk about this–we have several lectures on Augustus–and I can talk about this in that lecture, but I decided to put it here because it really is the culmination, in a sense, of some of the experiments we’ve been talking about today, and I wanted you to see it in this context for that reason. We are looking at the Theater of Marcellus as it looks today. Parts of it are extremely well preserved, as you can see, at least these first two tiers here. The main reason that the building has survived, and you can–well I’ll talk about the details in a moment–the main reason that the building has survived–and I believe I mentioned this in the introductory lecture–is that it was re-used over time. It was re-used as a fortress in the Middle Ages, it was used as a palace in the Renaissance, and it was used most recently, and is still being used, as a very luxurious condominium today.
Theatre of Marcellus aerial view / Wikimedia Commons
It’s very difficult to get a sense of the way in which the ancient part of this structure relates to the rest of the structure today without going up above it. And by going up above it, and looking at it, both from above, you can see the relationship of this building to its modern locale. And, by the way, it’s just in the shadow, it’s very close to the Capitoline Hill; it’s a hop, skip and a jump from the Capitoline Hill, this area of Rome. It’s actually the so-called Jewish Ghetto area of Rome–it served as a ghetto in times past and is still referred to that way today–and it has some of the best restaurants in Rome. If you have never had carciofi alla Judea, Jewish artichokes, wow, they are incredible, and there are several, lots of restaurants in this area that has [have] them. They’re a real Roman treat. It’s considered a very characteristic part of the cuisine of ancient Rome, and it’s definitely something to experience. But we see the Theater of Marcellus right here, and you can see, both the façade, which is the ancient part of it, but also the rest of the building and the way in which it is used today as a condominium with apartments opening off these lovely courtyards with trees and plants and flowers and all sorts of things there. And there’s another famous temple, the Temple of Apollo that is located right outside; there are at least three columns preserved of that temple, but also its podium right in front of the Theater of Marcellus.
StudyBlue / Creative Commons
[This is a] re-creation of the Theater of Marcellus. And it allows us to look at some of the features of that building. Again, sorry that I have to talk so much about terminology at the beginning but, as I mentioned, once we get through this, the first couple of weeks, we won’t have to do much of that anymore. But the basic components of a Roman theater were the seating, which is called the cavea, c-a-v-e-a, which is this semicircular seating that we see here. The cavea is usually divided into a series of wedge-shaped sections–which you cannot see here, but I’ll show you in another view in a moment–wedge-shaped sections that are called, each are called the cuneus, c-u-n-e-u-s, cuneus. And then there is a stage building–we’re seeing the back of that here–but a stage building facing the seating, called a scaenae frons.
What’s important to us here, in the context of this lecture, is that while the Greeks built their theaters–and Greek theaters were the main prototype for Roman theaters–while the Greeks built their theaters on hillsides, the Romans were not content, as a civilization that was interested primarily in urban centers, the Romans were not content to build their theaters on hills. They didn’t want to be constrained by having to build their theaters where hills happened to be, and so now, with concrete construction, what they were able to do instead was to build a hill out of concrete anywhere they wanted to build a hill out of concrete, right in the center of downtown Rome, and then hollow that concrete out in order to create the entrances and exits from that structure. And that’s exactly what they did for the Theater of Marcellus.
Theatre of Marcellus close arcades view / iStock
If we look at this detail of the outside of the Theater of Marcellus, we will see that this building, made out of concrete, is, like the others we’ve talked about today, faced with some kind of stone. In this case the stone is travertine. The decision of Augustus was to get this more expensive stone, bring it from Tivoli, and use it for this structure. Blocks of stone, ashlar blocks of stone, as you can see here, and interspersing, among the arcades, columns; columns that, as were pointed out before, have no structural purpose whatsoever; columns that serve only as decoration, and the fact that they were decoration is apparent in the fact that they have varied the orders here. We see the Doric order used for the first story and the Ionic order used for the second story, and we think there may have been a third story; today what you see up there is part of the later construction. But if there was a third story, whether that had columns or pilasters, which you’ll remember are flat columns, if it had those, those were probably of the Corinthian order. Because that is exactly the scheme that we see on the later Colosseum: Doric, Ionic and alternately Corinthian. But we’re sure at least of the Doric and of the Ionic.
View of the barrel-vaulted, annular corridor on the ground level of the Theater of Marcellus in Rome. / Photo by Roger B. Ulrich, Creative Commons
So these columns have no structural purpose whatsoever; purely decorative. In a sense they’re kind of the icing on the cake. They don’t hold up the building but they decorate it in a very nice way, and it shows you that the Romans are beginning to use what the Greeks used as structural components of their buildings, namely columns, to hold up walls, to hold up roofs, they are using them for purely decorative purposes, playing around with their original purpose and using them in a different way, and we see that happening in spades here. If you go into the building you will see the corridors of the Theater of Marcellus. You will see what first looks like a barrel vault, done out of concrete construction, resting on stone, on travertine piers. But you see that that barrel vault curves. A curving barrel vault is technically called an annular vault. You see an annular vault here, or a diagram of an annular vault here. It’s essentially again a barrel vault that curves. We sometimes refer to it as a ring vault, because of its shape. So you see those annular vaults used in the Theater of Marcellus. These are the same vaults that will be used ultimately in the Colosseum.
Theatre at Epidaurus, 4th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
A quick view of a typical Roman theater, the Theater of Marcellus in Rome, and a typical Greek theater. This is the famous Theater at Epidaurus, of the mid-fourth century B.C. in Greece. And I show you — just wanted to point out the main differences. They look superficially alike in that both of them have an orchestra, they have an area of seats, they have a stage building, but there are some important differences. One is–and you can’t see that over here — but the Greek theater had a round orchestra; the Roman theater always has a semicircular orchestra. Both of them have seats, the cavea. Here you can see these wedge-shaped sections of seats called the cuneus, that both Greek theaters and also Roman theaters had. Both of them have stage buildings, although the stage building is more prominent in the Roman context. But the most important distinction is the one I’ve already drawn, and that is, as you can see at Epidaurus, the Greeks build their theaters on hilltops; you can see the trees and part of the hill very clearly here. The Romans build theirs on hills made out of concrete — not always, there are some exceptions to that. We do have some Roman theaters built on hills, when the hill happened to be in a good location and particularly beautifully sited, but for the most part Romans build them on their own concrete construction.
Concrete Transforms a Mountain at Palestrina
Monument of Victor Emmanuel, the Vittoriano, Rome 1925 / Wikimedia Commons
I’ve mentioned the Monument of Victor Emmanuel, the Vittoriano, and I just wanted to say a couple more words about it because–and you’ll see how it fits into the context here in a moment–because it’s a nineteenth-century building. And it’s a building that was put up to honor the first king of the kingdom of Italy. His name was Victor Emmanuel I. It was put up in 1885, and you see it here, again, a major landmark in the city. This is a Google Earth image once again. But the reason I show it to you in this context today is that it is in a sense terraced on the slope of the Capitoline Hill. You see Michelangelo’s oval piazza up there. It’s terraced on the slope, a series of levels. Staircases leading to terraces, leading to other terraces, leading to the top of the building, decorated with statuary. It’s a real experience to climb up it. It’s an amazing place to go. It has the Tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier here, with guards and an eternal flame and all of those things. And I must add, for any of you who have not been in Rome in the last year, and who are hoping to go sometime soon, or whenever in the future, they have just added, on top of the Victor–it was always a great place to climb up and see great views of Rome–but they have just added an elevator, a modern elevator that they’ve created, that you can now take up, taking you even higher than you were ever able to go before. The views of Rome from there are among the most spectacular that one can see in the city. So I happened–unfortunately when I was there this past June it was raining, and it doesn’t rain in Rome that often at that time of year, but it was, so many of the pictures that I took are sort of a grey background and so on and so forth. But nonetheless some of the most spectacular views you can see of the city. So don’t miss out on that opportunity.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia aerial view / Wikimedia Commons
But I show it to you in this context because of all of this terracing up a hill. The idea for this kind of thing goes way back to the second century B.C., and comes from buildings like this one. This is, without any question, the masterpiece of Roman concrete architecture, concrete construction, sanctuary design, in the second and first centuries B.C. We’re not absolutely sure of its date. For a long time–this is, by the way, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, at a town called Palestrina. The date is very controversial. There are many who long associated it with the Roman general Sulla, and said that it dated to 80 B.C. There are others who have contended that it’s much earlier than that; it dates to the second century B.C, and if it dates to the second century B.C, it’s even more amazing, because that means it comes at the beginning rather than at the end of this second and first century B.C. development. I tend now–I’ve gone back and forth. I taught it as a Sullan building for quite awhile. Now I’ve been teaching it the last few years as a second-century building. It probably doesn’t matter all that much; it dates to one or the other and it’s an example of what was going on at that particular time. But I’m giving you a date this year as second century B.C., which I think, at this juncture, is probably–my personal opinion is that’s probably where it belongs.
You’re looking at it here. It is an incredible–it is part of an incredible hill town. Just like Cori, the city of Palestrina is a beautiful hill town. You can see it here with all the wonderful red roofs of the town that tie the design of the town together. The culminating monument of that town is still the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia. Once again the Romans have found a spectacular locale for this sanctuary cum theater cum shopping mall, mecca for Romans of its day, on this hillside. Once again they have in fact taken over the entire hillside. They have terraced the hillside, as we can see, and they’ve essentially poured concrete on that hillside to create a system of ramps and stairways and with a temple at the very apex.
It is pretty well preserved today. You can see there’s an awful lot of it still there. If you’re coming by car, you can either park down here or up there, and you can make your way up the ramps, up the staircase to the various levels, and then up to the theatrical entranceway into the uppermost part. The Temple of Fortuna herself, which was at the apex and was located probably in what may have been a kind of mountain alcove, at that particular time, was transformed in the seventeenth century, by the famous Barberini family–famous Italian family; popes came from that family and so on–transformed into–they were very smart too–transformed into a nice little palace that they could go and stay in when they felt like it. A small palace but one that takes the exact shape of that uppermost part of the sanctuary. I’ll show that to you in a moment. Here’s a view from Google Earth. You can see Google Earth doesn’t always work. When you go out to some of the smaller places, it’s hard to zero in on it well enough to get a decent focus. But you can see it actually here. You can go to Palestrina and see it on Google Earth. These are the various tiers, with the palace at the uppermost part.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia restored view / Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a restored view–it’s on your Monument List–that gives you a sense of what the building looked like in antiquity. You can see the entranceway was down here, a small arched entranceway. But you really needed to go up the ramps. You could go up on either side. So we see this composite, just like we saw at the Tabularium, this combination of ramps and staircases to make your way up; varied experiences, but at the same time a pre-determined path. Because while you had some choice when you first arrived, you could go up the ramp on either left and right–and you can see it was a covered ramp in antiquity–but when you got here you had one choice, you had to go up the stairway, to this level, and then there were some shops here you could explore. But then if you wanted to go up to the next level, you had to go back to the central stairway, up to this level, back to the central stairway, and then to the stairway in the shape of a theater at the uppermost part. So again, experience is stressed, your experience of the building was stressed, but at the same time your path was determined by the Roman designer.
Sanctuary of Fortuna hemicycle / ipentity, Creative Commons
This is another view of the same, where we can see the entranceway, the ramps, the staircase leading you from one to the other; the uppermost staircase. Here you can well see the theatrical — the way in which the theater, the semi-circular theater is used both as an attractive entrance stairway to the structure, but at the same time as a place where performances could actually take place. Then what’s called a hemicycle. You see several hemicycles here, these curved areas. The columns follow that curve. You see that hemicycle at the very top, and then at the apex of the structure the shrine of Fortuna herself, a small round shrine. In fact it’s almost an anticlimax to see how small the shrine at the uppermost part of the structure is.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia hemicycle terrace / Wikimedia Commons
How did the Romans achieve this? They created, as you can see here, a series–or they converted the hillside into a series of man-made terraces. They built those terraces up, in some instances, by barrel vaults. You can see the series of concrete barrel vaults here, as they have built some elements up along the way. And the ultimate result was what you see here — the same sort of thing we saw before, the ramps, the staircase, the hemicycles with columns supporting a curved wall, a series of shops, the spectacular theater-like staircase, the curved hemicycle at the uppermost part, and then peaking up at the top the Temple of Fortuna herself.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia stairway to the hemicycle terrace / Wikimedia Commons
It’s hard to conjure up in a classroom in New Haven the actual experience that one has when one goes to Palestrina and climbs through this structure, and it’s not as well preserved today as it once was, obviously, in antiquity. But in the few minutes that remain I want to try to recapture, or try to take you through that experience. We’re obviously–and to show you how arduous it actually was. It’s a climb up there, and in fact this is one of those examples, and there are many in Italy, that one likes to call Stairmasters made by nature, essentially — places that you can go and you can put, exert a lot of effort into making your way to the top of this sanctuary. The best natural Stairmaster in Italy is of course–any of you who have been along the Amalfi Coast, know there’s nowhere on the Amalfi Coast that you don’t have to climb up and down, at multiple times of day. And that’s exactly what’s happening here. And you can see how steep this path up the ramp was, and we’re going up the ramp again. It was covered in antiquity. It’s open to the sky today.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia travertine capital / Alamy
As we go along the ramp we see the remnants of some of the capitals. These are travertine capitals, as you can see here, fallen down. But if you look at some of these capitals in detail, you see something quite extraordinary, and that is the capital isn’t straight. The uppermost part of the capital slopes. Now why is that? The reason that is, is because if you’re going to put columns along the inner wall of the ramp, which is what they did, the column–the capitals–have to conform to the incline of the ramp, and so they have slanted those capitals. The whole idea though of changing–the Greeks would never do something like that; it would be sacrilege to change the shape of a capital. But this Roman architect has done that with abandon here. He needed to do it, because he needed to fit it into the scheme, although he could’ve not had columns there, but he wanted to have columns there. So he slanted them. This whole, this sort of sacrilegious approach to traditional Greek and Etruscan architecture, the willingness to change things, to experiment–I told you this was a change you believe in–the willingness to change these things, to experiment with them in ways that had never been done before, to go against the tenets of traditional ancient architecture, namely that of the Greeks and Etruscans, is something quintessentially Roman and something that we see happening here, and again heralds a very innovative future.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia aerial of ramps and capitals / Wikimedia Commons
Here we see again the ramp, we see the capitals, the slant of the capitals, and we see that the work here was done, was concrete faced with opus incertum, both for the walls and also for the ceilings. As one makes one’s way up the ramps, we see these alcoves, all of this done–the various shops, the alcoves–all of it done with concrete faced with opus incertum. We see the remains of the hemicycles. You can see the columns made of tufa with travertine capitals supporting this curved attic of the hemicycles. We see the vaulting with its concrete construction. This is an annular vault once again, where we can see the facing in the coffers is opus incertum work. Another view of that, both the wall and the annular vault, decorated with opus incertum work; a detail of that opus incertum work to show you how very attractive it was. It’s a pity that it was stuccoed over in ancient Roman times. A view that I took again just to give you a sense of how steep the climb is. You’ve made it up the ramp, now you’re at the central staircase, you’re on your way up. It’s very, very steep. The stairways are pretty–are short, so that it’s a very arduous trip up, as I said. And then you can get a sense of the fact that you would’ve seen the Sanctuary of Fortuna at the top; now you see the embracing arms of the Barberini Palace, but you can see those arms follow the exact shape of the original hemicycle that was once there. And you can also see the theater staircase very well preserved; and I show you a detail of that theater staircase, leading into the doorway into the museum today.
And we return to the restored view of the structure itself, with the temple or the shrine of Fortuna at the very apex, a shrine that unfortunately no longer survives. But I think as you look at this last view of this monument, you can see that what the architects have created through this terracing, through pouring concrete on this spectacular hillside, is a kind of a pyramid, a kind of a pyramid with the goddess at the apex; a pyramid that I would contend was more extraordinary through what the Romans did with concrete than what nature itself had provided in the form of this mountain. And it gives you an incredible sense of what the Romans were capable of doing in the second and first centuries B.C., vis-à-vis concrete architecture, experiments that again are going to have a lasting impact on the architecture that we’ll be studying in the course of this term. Thank you.