Stone is a building material whose use has accompanied the course of the history of Western architecture, leaving a particularly profound imprint on the Mediterranean area. The origins of stone architecture are found in the Egyptian period, when for the first time they began to quarry the stone for construction purposes, the same ancient civilizations will then erect imposing monumental complexes that in many cases have persisted up to our times.

It can be demonstrated that “Stone” material has always been current over time, given that its use has never known "down times". A very significant part of the archetypal forms currently still recurrent in constructions (even those made with non-stone materials) derive from the use of stone; no other material has been able to establish such a close and reciprocal relationship with the culture of peoples.

Stories of Porphyry, from Egypt to the city of Rome

The knowledge and the use of this stone are very ancient: important finds and monuments in porphyry have been discovered in the Assyrian-Babylonian, Egyptian and Roman civilizations places. Precisely in Roman times red porphyry, so called for its purple colour, became a symbol of great prestige and regal dignity. The title of “porphyrogenitus” meant “born in a room completely covered with porphyry”, a room existing only in the palaces of power. Many emperors were buried in porphyry sarcophagi. In ancient times and up to 500 A.D. porphyry came almost exclusively from the Egyptian eastern desert, from quarries carved in the Gebel Dokhan uplands, later renamed Mons Porphyrites for the colour of its rock; hence the name of Lapis Porphyrites and then of Ancient Red Porphyry which is still known today.

Baptismal font of Saint Peter in Ancient Red Porphyry - Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome - Vatican State

The story goes that the sepulchres of Nero and Settimo Severo were made of porphyry as also the most important parts of the imperial palaces of Diocletian and Constantine. The porphyry used in the following eras came from the ruins of the Roman palaces, as it occurred for the construction of the Sicilian rulers’ tomb monuments. Even the baptismal font of Saint Peter in Rome is the porphyry slab that covered the funerary monument of Otto II, overturned and processed in the seventeenth century. Giorgio Vasari speaks of porphyry in his work "Dell'Architettura", the author highlighted its hardness capable of putting a strain on Renaissance sculptors' instruments, even with the likes of Leon Battista Alberti and Michelangelo Buonarroti. R. Gnoli reports that: ".. to the prestige and charm of porphyry we finally have the choice of stone used for the immense sarcophagus of Napoleon, under the Dôme des Invalides". In Trentino porphyry was first used as a building stone and later as a roof covering layer for buildings, using coarsely processed and thin slabs. The first cube pavings date back to the last decades of the 1800s, with the opening of the first quarries in the province of Bolzano. In the 1900s, the evolution and multiplication of companies interested in the extraction and processing of porphyry, together with the expansion of the market, led to a very strong increase in production, as well as to a progressive improvement of the extraction equipment and methods.

Taken from:
Il manuale del porfido Paolo Tomnio e Fiorino Filippi Edizioni E.S.PO.

Stories of Beola, Serizzo and the city of Milan

The term “Beola” (gneiss) derives from the name of the town of Beura in the Val d'Ossola, while the history of the marketing of this material is linked to the waterways and especially to the Naviglio Grande that became navigable into the city of Milan in the late thirteenth century. Beola (gneiss) was widely used for the construction of civil buildings in Milan and Lombardy: for the construction of steps, door sills, window sills, plinths and for covering roofs and paving external yards.

Masonry and paving in Serizzo and Beole of Val D'Ossola - Sforzesco Castle in Milan

Serizzo was widely used since Roman times when this material was used to make columns. In Milan, Serizzo was used for the plinth and for the inner core of the Milan Cathedral pylons, in the Castello Sforzesco for the pavings and walls of the circular towers, as well as in various other civil and sacred buildings. In modern times Serizzo is used in many pavings and walls of private buildings, and it furnishes important works such as the airports of Milan Malpensa and Frankfurt, the metros of the cities of Milan, Brussels and Singapore, as a witness to the preservation of its historic representative function.

Stories of Luserna Stone and the city of Turin

The extraction of Luserna Stone dates back to medieval times, when it was mainly used in slabs for roofs, sidewalks, pavings, balconies and window sills of public houses. In the past it was considered a poor material, until in the nineteenth century Alessandro Antonelli, a great architect, thought to redeem it, using it for its most daring and admirable work: the Mole Antonelliana. In this architecture that soon became the symbol of the City of Turin, the Luserna Stone had both the task of covering the entire surface of the dome with natural-level flagstones and the important structural task of reinforcing the walls built by juxtaposing slabs, visible even today, among the brick courses, in order to give greater solidity to the building.

Serizzo and Beole masonry and flooring in Val D'Ossola - Mole Antonelliana in Turin

Turin, capital of the Savoy empire, soon became the bulwark of Luserna stone’s use, which reached its historic peak here in the Umbertine period. Today the Luserna Stone, whose market has become global, is used in civil construction for the production of pavings, coverings, outdoor furniture and interior furnishings, remaining a privileged actor for both contemporary architectures and for traditions of the past.

Stories of Trachyte and the city of Venice

The Trachyte from the Euganean Hills was already known in Roman times, as demonstrated by various findings of artifacts in the Veneto region, from Adria to Altino and to the Verona countryside. Its main use was in road paving, where it was known as "silix". In the Middle Ages the use of stone became much rarer because of the poor economy and an increase in the cost of labour following the end of slavery. River pebbles were preferred in the streets of the medieval cities, as they did not require particular processing and were easy to find. Stone started to be used again in urban pavings between 1600 and 1700 in the Venetian Republic, when, known as "Masegna", it was used for the typical slab paving as well as, in 1723, for the construction of the current paving of Piazza San Marco in Venice. The name "trachyte" (of Greek derivation and meaning “rough”) was given by the French Encyclopaedists in the late 1700s as evidence of the properties of a material particularly free of slipperiness, which can be used in humid and rainy climates, able to maintain its qualities even when wear has consumed its surface roughness.

Trachyte paving - Piazza San Marco in Venice

After the Second World War the first machines for slab processing were introduced. They were intended both for the production of pavings and of building coverings especially for the Lombard and Veneto market, already culturally accustomed to appreciate the peculiarities and the value of this stone beyond its chromatic characteristics which are certainly not the main features of this material.

Stories of Lessinia Stone and contemporary architecture

The exploitation of Lessinia Stone, also called Prun Stone, dates back to Protohistory:
according to some researchers, the extraction of this material began around the Iron Age, before the extraction of any other calcareous rock, and it spread widely for the construction of fortified villages and "Rhaetian" houses. The subsequent history of this stone, from the Roman age to the modern era, was however marked by the difficulty of accessing the mining sites, by the distance from the main use and trade centers, as well as by a certain obfuscation as a result of the imposing expansion of the neighbouring Valpolicella area. All this has in fact influenced the development of stone, relegating it for a long time to a secondary role compared to the most famous Veronese marble: Red Verona.

Masonry in Lessinia Stone - Cymbalist Synagogue in Tel Aviv

Currently, most of the difficulties of the past have been overcome by the technological development and new communication routes. Lessinia stone is used today in the construction industry, both in its natural conformation, in which the more or less roundish protuberances corresponding to the separation surfaces emerge, both in the different final configurations resulting from the different surface processing and finishing phases. Stone can be used in a variety of sophisticated and refined architectural contexts depending on the various finishing levels, starting from roughly brushed stone, which finds its natural location in rustic civil structures. In recent years many particularly important architectural interventions have been made using this material. Mario Botta has used it for some of his important works such as the Cymbalista Synagogue, the Jewish Heritage Center of Tel Aviv, as well as religious buildings such as the Seriate Church (Bergamo) and the façade of the Church in Genestrerio, Canton Ticino. Even Carlo Scarpa binds two of his important works to Lessinia Stone: the renovation of Castelvecchio in Verona, where the use of local stone was a natural consequence of the previous buildings and the Olivetti store in Venice where it is used as paving slabs in a preponderant quantity compared to the other materials present but at the same time with the ability to connect with them. The architect Paolo Portoghesi, also him an esteemed expert of this material, states that Lessinia Stone is the only material that has forced users to adapt to its characteristics: "Lessinia Stone has its own creative virtuality that has suggested stonemasons and bricklayers the way to make houses and there is no other place in Italy with an architectural grammar built on the material".

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