6There is also a kind of powder which from natural causes produces astonishing results. It is found in the neighbourhood of Baiae and in the country belonging to the towns round about Mt. Vesuvius. This substance, when mixed with lime and rubble, not only lends strength to buildings of other kinds, but even when piers of it are constructed in the sea, they set hard under water. The reason for this seems to be that the soil on the slopes of the mountains in these neighbourhoods is hot and full of hot springs. This would not be so unless the mountains had beneath them huge fires of burning sulphur or alum or asphalt. So the fire and the heat of the flames, coming up hot from far within through the fissures, make the soil there light, and the tufa found there is spongy and free from moisture. Hence, when the three substances, all formed on a similar principle by the force of fire, are mixed together, the water suddenly taken in makes them cohere, and the moisture quickly hardens them so that they set into a mass which neither the waves nor the force of the water can dissolve.
2That there is burning heat in these regions may be proved by the further fact that in the mountains near Baiae, which belongs to the Cumaeans, there are places excavated to serve as sweating-baths, where the intense heat that comes from far below bores its way through the earth, owing to the force of the fire, and passing up appears in these regions, thus making remarkably good sweating-baths. Likewise also it is related that in ancient times the tides of heat, swelling and overflowing from under Mt. Vesuvius, vomited forth fire from the mountain upon the neighbouring country. Hence, what is called “sponge-stone” or “Pompeian pumice” appears to have been reduced by burning from another kind of stone to the condition of the kind which we see.
3The kind of sponge-stone taken from this region is not produced everywhere else, but only about Aetna and among the hills of Mysia which the Greeks call the “Burnt District,” and in other places of the same peculiar nature. Seeing that in such places there are found hot springs and warm vapour in excavations on the mountains, and that the ancients tell us that there were once fires spreading over the fields in those very regions, it seems to be certain that moisture has been extracted from the tufa and earth, by the force of fire, just as it is from limestone in kilns.
4Therefore, when different and unlike things have been subjected to the action of fire and thus reduced to the same condition, if after this, while in a warm, dry state, they are suddenly saturated with water, there is an effervescence of the heat latent in the bodies of them all, and this makes them firmly unite and quickly assume the property of one solid mass. There will still be the question why Tuscany, although it abounds in hot springs, does not furnish a powder out of which, on the same principle, a wall can be made which will set fast under water. I have therefore thought best to explain how this seems to be, before the question should be raised.
5The same kinds of soil are not found in all places and countries alike, nor is stone found everywhere. Some soils are earthy; others gravelly, and again pebbly; in other places the material is sandy; in a word, the properties of the soil are as different and unlike as are the various countries. In particular, it may be observed that sandpits are hardly ever lacking in any place within the districts of Italy and Tuscany which are bounded by the Apennines; whereas across the Apennines toward the Adriatic none are found, and in Achaea and Asia Minor or, in short, across the sea, the very term is unknown. Hence it is not in all the places where boiling springs of hot water abound, that there is the same combination of favourable circumstances which has been described above. For things are produced in accordance with the will of nature; not to suit man’s pleasure, but as it were by a chance distribution.
6Therefore, where the mountains are not earthy but consist of soft stone, the force of the fire, passing through the fissures in the stone, sets it afire. The soft and delicate part is burned out, while the hard part is left. Consequently, while in Campania the burning of the earth makes ashes, in Tuscany the combustion of the stone makes carbuncular sand. Both are excellent in walls, but one is better to use for buildings on land, the other for piers under salt water. The Tuscan stone is softer in quality than tufa but harder than earth, and being thoroughly kindled by the violent heat from below, the result is the production in some places of the kind of sand called carbuncular.