First of all two of the many illustrations of the remarkable tombs of the Persian kings at Naqsh-i Rustam, fifth century B.C., which Semper comments on repeatedly. Semper knew these and other works from Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor from engravings, in this case from Gailhabaud.
The rock tombs appear as colonnaded galleries high on the cliff (today some 25 m, 75 ft above natural grade, which in its time was lower). Like the ancient Egyptian rock tombs, they are caves behind a portico. On the rock face there are full scale, carved reproductions of the colonnades in the Persepolis palace, with their wooden columns clad in stucco, and spans and slendernesses typical of wood construction —colonnades of which only the stone bases remained after Alexander.
The photograph is also particularly interesting because it very didactically presents two contrasts:
- the cave and facade building cut into the cliff —a literal presentation of the analogy of the street as a canyon cut into the urban mass, and the block facade as urban drapery— as a backdrop for the freestanding building of the Kaaba, and
- work cut into the rock against masonry blockwork.
Tombs and kaabas (“cubes”) were originally plastered in colors —that is to say, the rock did not express as rock on the cliff, and the blockwork did not express as ashlar in the kaaba—, which leads us to a third point.
[click to enlarge]
|The top of the Kabah-i-Zardusht (Cube of Zoroaster), partially below today’s grade; on the left Tomb IV (Darius II), and behind the cube Tomb III (Xerxes). There are two other similar tombs in this complex, and three additional ones on the slope of the mount the nearby Persepolis leans against. Roozbeh Taassob - Wikimedia.|
The Greek temple
The Greek temple, its structure illustrated here by Furtwängler as stacked blockwork, in reality only presented itself in that way on the podium —and the expression of the stone block disappeared on the stone wall faces and skeletons (“carpentry”). The fine grain of the marble block allowed for a thin covering, a paint, while the rough shape of the cut poros stone in Southern Italy required a thicker covering.
In large luxury buildings the Romans did certainly at times use large monolithic columns —an effort beyond the possibilities of the small Greek free cities, with their limitations in workforce and local stones. The Romans were also driven by the desire to decoratively use the stone color, vein and grain of the rich marbles and granites, unlike the Greeks of the classical era. The Greek preference for the marvellous “white stone” as a base for the several types of coverings is discussed by Semper in his very first writings, and his evidence-based explanations for the architectural reasons which make perfectly understandably this apparently so contradictory use, is one of so many points in which Semper turns upside down all previous interpretations.
|Temple of Aphaia in Aegina. Furtwängler, Aegina (1906).|
|The temple in Aegina after Charles Garnier, Temple de Jupiter Panhellénien à Egine (1881).|
As is also mentioned by Semper, and is generally known but not always adequately pondered, not even the Greek temple stone block is properly a block: the faces are perfectly defined along their edges, resulting in perfect wall faces built without mortar, but it is only at their edges that the blocks stack and abut; the bottom and end faces are recessed. Conceptually, the simple parallelepipedic block along the face of the Greek temple wall, even in those cases where the wall is one block thick, resembles our concrete masonry units or Lego blocks, and even drywall walling, more than single-wythe common brickwork.
|Corner block from the Propylaea. Edge strips for contact with the adjacent blocks, cavities for hoisting tools and anchoring clamps, and the recessed wall face perimeter strip (peritaenia) defining the finished plane of the still unfinished wall. The finish work on the stone blocks, done by cutting instead of plastering, and leaving them ready for painting, was called “dressing” up to the well into the twentieth century. Harrison Eiteljorg, II, csanet.org.|
Not only each block face, but also the overall shape of each individual block can only be understood as a fragment of a larger, complex shape. See below the threshold piece of the Temple of Athena Niké. (This beautiful building had been disassembled by the Ottomans in 1686, in order to use its stone for new Acropolis defenses. When these defenses were torn down in 1835 enough blocks were found to enable the full reconstruction of the temple. The drawing makes perfectly clear that any given block found in the mass of a fortification wall perfectly reveals its original position and relationship to the adjacent blocks —the reconstruction process, which was completed very fast, must have been fairly straightforward.)
|Temple of Athena Niké, Athens. The cella threshold and the anta wall base. Wesenberg, “Zur Baugeschichte des Niketempels’, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 96 (1981).|
Nothing will be found in this blockwork of the temple itself (unlike in the podium) of the block expressed as a formal unit, with repetition, rhythms, or patterns —as in the exterior walls of the Italian Renaissance palaces, or even in the nineteenth century English brickwork (which presents, with its patterns and its pieces specifically designed for each corner, seam and border, a perfect example of the masonry wall face expressed itself as textile work, composed as if it were cross-stitch embroidery on canvas). Covered in Stereotomy, formal aspects.
A bit more about kaabas
Finally (these pictures are not included in the appendix), a few photographs of the Kaaba in Mecca, in the process of being ceremonially (and very literally) dressed. I think Semper would have loved this originary expression of dressing in architecture as illustration for his excursus.
|By Medineli - Wikimedia.|
|The Kaaba in 1910. Library of Congress, and Wikimedia.|