The Ten Books on Architecture, 3.4

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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The Foundations and Substructures of Temples

4The foundations of these works should be dug out of the solid ground, if it can be found, and carried down into solid ground as far as the magnitude of the work shall seem to require, and the whole substructure should be as solid as it can possibly be laid. Above ground, let walls be laid under the columns, thicker by one half than the columns are to be, so that the lower may be stronger than the higher. Hence they are called “stereobates”; for they take the load. And the projections of the bases should not extend beyond this solid foundation. The wall-thickness is similarly to be preserved above ground likewise, and the intervals between these walls should be vaulted over, or filled with earth rammed down hard, to keep the walls well apart.

2If, however, solid ground cannot be found, but the place proves to be nothing but a heap of loose earth to the very bottom, or a marsh, then it must be dug up and cleared out and set with piles made of charred alder or olive wood or oak, and these must be driven down by machinery, very closely together like bridge-piles, and the intervals between them filled in with charcoal, and finally the foundations are to be laid on them in the most solid form of construction. The foundations having been brought up to the level, the stylobates are next to be put in place.

3The columns are then to be distributed over the stylobates in the manner above described: close together in the pycnostyle; in the systyle, diastyle, or eustyle, as they are described and arranged above. In araeostyle temples one is free to arrange them as far apart as one likes. Still, in peripterals, the columns should be so placed that there are twice as many intercolumniations on the sides as there are in front; for thus the length of the work will be twice its breadth. Those who make the number of columns double, seem to be in error, because then the length seems to be one intercolumniation longer than it ought to be.

4The steps in front must be arranged so that there shall always be an odd number of them; for thus the right foot, with which one mounts the first step, will also be the first to reach the level of the temple itself. The rise of such steps should, I think, be limited to not more than ten nor less than nine inches; for then the ascent will not be difficult. The treads of the steps ought to be made not less than a foot and a half, and not more than two feet deep. If there are to be steps running all round the temple, they should be built of the same size.

5But if a podium is to be built on three sides round the temple, it should be so constructed that its plinths, bases, dies, coronae, and cymatiumare appropriate to the actual stylobate which is to be under the bases of the columns.

The level of the stylobate must be increased along the middle by the scamilli impares; for if it is laid perfectly level, it will look to the eye as though it were hollowed a little. At the end of the book a figure will be found, with a description showing how the scamilli may be made to suit this purpose.

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