The Ten Books on Architecture, 6.1

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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Of the Situation of Buildings According to the Nature of Different Places

1These are properly designed, when due regard is had to the country and climate in which they are erected. For the method of building which is suited to Egypt would be very improper in Spain, and that in use in Pontus would be absurd at Rome: so in other parts of the world a style suitable to one climate, would be very unsuitable to another; for one part of the world is under the sun’s course, another is distant from it, and another, between the two, is temperate. Since, therefore, from the position of the heaven in respect of the earth, from the inclination of the zodiac and from the sun’s course, the earth varies in temperature in different parts, so the form of buildings must be varied according to the temperature of the place, and the various aspects of the heavens.

2In the north, buildings should be arched, enclosed as much as possible, and not exposed, and it seems proper that they should face the warmer aspects. Those under the sun’s course in southern countries where the heat is oppressive, should be exposed and turned towards the north and east. Thus the injury which nature would effect, is evaded by means of art. So, in other parts, due allowance is to be made, having regard to their position, in respect of the heavens.

3This, however, is determined by consideration of the nature of the place and observations made on the limbs and bodies of the inhabitants. For where the sun acts with moderate heat, it keeps the body at a temperate warmth, where it is hot from the proximity of the sun, all moisture is dried up: lastly, in cold countries which are distant from the south, the moisture is not drawn out by the heat, but the dewy air, insinuating its dampness into the system, increases the size of the body, and makes the voice more grave. This is the reason why the people of the north are so large in stature, so light in complexion, and have straight red hair, blue eyes, and are full of blood, for they are thus formed by the abundance of the moisture, and the coldness of their country.

4Those who live near the equator, and are exactly under the sun’s course, are, owing to its power, low in stature, of dark complexion, with curling hair, black eyes, weak legs, deficient in quantity of blood. And this deficiency of blood makes them timid when opposed in battle, but they bear excessive heat and fevers without fear, because their limbs are nourished by heat. Those, however, born in northern countries are timid and weak when attacked by fever, but from their sanguineous habit of body more courageous in battle.

5The pitch of the voice is various, and of different qualities in different nations. For the eastern and western boundaries round the level of the earth, where the upper is divided from the under part of the world, and the earth appears to be balanced by nature, are designated by a circle which mathematicians call the horizon; keeping this circumstance in mind, from the edge on the northern extremity, let a line be drawn to that above the southern axis, and therefrom another in an oblique direction up to the pole near the northern stars, and we shall immediately perceive the principle of the triangular instrument called by the Greeks σαμβύκη.

6Thus the people who live in the region near the lower point, that is in the southern part towards the equator, from the small elevation of the pole have shrill and high toned voices similar to those on the instrument near the angle; next come those whose tone of voice is of lower pitch, such as the people in the central parts of Greece. Thus, proceeding by degrees from the middle to the northern extremity, the voice of the inhabitants gradually becomes of lower pitch. Herein we may perceive how the system of the world is harmonically arranged, by the obliquity of the zodiac from the appropriate temperature of the sun.

7Hence those who are in the middle, between the equator and the pole, are gifted with a middle pitch of voice, similar to the tones in the central part of the musical diagram. Advancing to the northern nations, where the pole is more elevated, the people, from an increased quantity of moisture, naturally possess lower toned voices, similar to the hypatè and the proslambanomenos. And finally, those nations extending from the middle regions to the south have shrill and acute voices similar to the tones of paranetè and netè.

8That the tone of the voice is rendered deeper by the damp nature of a place, and higher by its being of a hot nature, may be proved by the following experiment. Let two vases be selected, both equally baked in a furnace, of equal weight, and yielding the same tone, and one of them be immersed in water and then taken out: let both of them be then struck, and a great difference will be perceived in the tones they yield, as well as an inequality in their weight. Thus it is with the human body; for although all men are born of the same form, and under the same heaven, yet some from the warmth of the climate are shrill in voice, and others from a superabundance of moisture have a low tone of voice.

9So moreover, from the clearness of the atmosphere, aided also by the intense heat, the southern nations are more ready and quick in expedients: but the northern nations, oppressed by a gross atmosphere, and cooled by the moisture of the air, are of duller intellect. That this is so, may be proved from the nature of serpents, which in the hot season, when the cold is dispelled by the heat, move with great activity, but in the rainy and winter seasons, from the coldness of the air, they become torpid. Hence it is not surprising that man’s intellect should be sharpened by heat and blunted by a cold atmosphere.

10Though, however, the southern nations are quick in understanding, and sagacious in council, yet in point of valour they are inferior, for the sun absorbs their animal spirits. Those, on the contrary, who are natives of cold climates are more courageous in war, and fearlessly attack their enemies, though, rushing on without consideration or judgment, their attacks are repulsed and their designs frustrated. Since, then, nature herself has provided throughout the world, that all nations should differ according to the variation of the climate, she has also been pleased that in the middle of the earth, and of all nations, the Roman people should be seated;

11on this account the people of Italy excel in both qualities, strength of body and vigour of mind. For as the planet Jupiter moves through a temperate region between the fiery Mars and icy Saturn, so Italy enjoys a temperate and unequalled climate between the north on one side, and the south on the other. Hence it is, that by stratagem she is enabled to repress the attacks of the barbarians, and by her strength to overcome the subtilty of southern nations. Divine providence has so ordered it that the metropolis of the Roman people is placed in an excellent and temperate climate, whereby they have become the masters of the world.

12Since, then, it is climate which causes the variety in different countries, and the dispositions of the inhabitants, their stature and qualities are naturally dissimilar, there can be no doubt that the arrangement of buildings should be suitable to the qualities of the nations and people, as nature herself wisely and clearly indicates. To the best of my power I have made general observations on the properties of places as dependent upon nature, and I have given explanations for adapting buildings to the wants of different nations according to the sun’s course and the inclination of the pole. I shall now, therefore, briefly explain the symmetry, as well of the whole, as of the detail of private dwellings.

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