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Legends of Stone - Our six of the best

Over the years, we have helped create several modern-day legends of stone. From a £9m transformation of a ‘Manchester Princes’ Victorian villa to a brand-new development of family homes in the De Freville conservation area of Cambridge.

This got us thinking of other legends of stone around the world, that we were not involved in.

Here’s our ‘six of the best’

The Temple of Hera – Greece

The temple of Hera in Olympia is one of the oldest monuments in Greece and is synonymous with the Olympic games. It’s where the Olympic flame is lit before starting its journey around the world.

Built in the 7th Century BC, it is one of the most prestigious buildings of ancient Greece and is dedicated to Zeus and his wife, the goddess Hera.

Interestingly, the temple’s design was based on Doric architecture, usually associated with masculine virtues and considered to be the cheapest of the three orders, the other two being Ionic and Corinthian.

In England, during the 18th Century, Doric architecture saw a revival, where previously it had been the domain of military buildings such as the Royal Hospital Chelsea, thus signalling a more formal, simple and serious phase to public constriction.

The temple of Hera comprised three rooms, one of which contained statues of Zeus and Hera, supported by 16 columns and was constructed primarily of limestone for the lower levels and mud brick, for the upper parts.

This is unlike many contemporary Greek temples that were usually constructed of marble.

However, this was only possible if there was a local ready supply of marble due to the high cost of transportation and skilled labour. In the case of Hera, they used local limestone and wood, covered in locally sourced terracotta.

The temple remained intact for about a thousand years until the third century AD and today stands as ruined world heritage site.

Taj Mahal – India

A legend of stone and a legend of love is how best to describe the Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth in 1631, it was also the final burial place of the Emperor himself.

Constructed of white marble and red sandstone and located in Agra on the banks of the river Jamuna, it took almost twenty years to build and involved 20,000 stone carvers, masons and carpenters from as far away as Turkey and Iraq.

It is said that over 1000 elephants transported the building materials, including marble and semi-precious stones such as jade, crystal, turquoise, from across India and Asia.

The Taj Mahal – ‘crown of places’ – is widely thought to be one of the most beautiful buildings ever created. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 8m visitors each year and considered to be one of the new seven wonders of the world.

The iconic dome, constructed of clean white marble, is framed by four minarets and two adjoining buildings. One is a mosque and the other a guesthouse, both built from red sandstone.

Although the temple is a monument of love, it is also a reflection on the sheer wealth of the

Mughal Empire. It is estimated to have cost 32 million rupees (£4.8m in 1640 or £678m in today’s money.

A vast sum, even then, for a monument – albeit ‘the most beautiful tomb ever known’

The Colosseum – Italy

Completed in 80AD, Rome’s Colosseum, was the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire, measuring 620 x 513 feet (190 x 155 mtrs.) and is now considered to be another one of the ‘new seven wonders of the world’.

Built as a gift to the Roman people by Emperor Vespasian, (following Nero’s tyrannical rule) the Colosseum was in active use for more than 400 years until falling into neglect and eventually becoming a source of building material.

It was also unique, in that it was designed as a freestanding structure, comprising stone and concrete, rather than the Greek style of being built into the hillside. As well as stone, other building materials included marble, much of it recycled from other sites, volcanic rock, brick and Travertine.

Travertine is a sedimentary limestone and has, because of its longevity and versatility, been used as a building material since Ancient times. It is the main building material used in the Colosseum.

Other famous buildings constructed from Travertine include the Sacre-Coeur basilica in Paris and the colonnade of St Peters Square in Rome.

The Colosseum, believed to be named after a nearby colossal statue of Nero, stood 157ft (47.8 mtrs.) high with distinctive exterior walls laid on 90cm thick Travertine stone.

It could accommodate over 50,000 spectators.

Visitors at the time would have enjoyed major events and spectacles such as gladiator shows, acrobats and magicians and animal hunts. It is also reputed to have included simulated naval battles, with the Arena filled with water and featuring specially trained swimming horses and bulls.

However, in later years, the Colosseum has had a tumultuous history. Around two thirds of the original building have been lost, much of it by natural disasters. However, Man has also played his part. The church, as owners of the building, sold some of the stone, in the 14th century the area was ransacked by bandits, and in 1700 Pope Clement XI turned it into a warehouse.

By the 20th century, a combination of weather, natural disasters, neglect and vandalism had destroyed much of the iconic building including its revered marble decorations. However, the Colosseum remains an iconic symbol of Rome and even appears on the Italian 5 Euro Cent coin.

The Great Pyramid – Egypt

The Great Pyramid of Giza, completed in 2560 BC, is the largest of three pyramids and is the last remaining ancient seven wonders of the world. Built from over 2m blocks of limestone and granite, it was, at 146.6mtrs (481ft) the tallest man made structure in the world for almost 4000 years until Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1311 AD.

Constructed over a twenty-year period, it was estimated by 19th Century Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie, that to create a structure of over 2.3m blocks would mean installing around 800 tonnes of stone every day.

That’s an average of putting 12 blocks into place every hour – 24 hours a day.

Also, the logistics of raising and precise positioning of the huge granite slabs – some weighting as much as 80 tonnes – seem impossible when judged against modern construction standards.

Although local quarries supplied much of the bulk stone, over 5.5m tonnes of Tura limestone, used for the casing, was transported across the Nile and 5,000 tonnes of granite quarried in Aswan – over 500 miles away.

On completion, the structure was finished off with white casing stones – highly polished white limestone. Petrie in his 1880 survey of the Great Pyramid said that the precise placing of the casing stones was the equivalent of an optician’s skill but on a much larger scale.

Pons Fabricius – Italy

In Italian, it is known as the Ponte Fabricio or the Ponte dei Quattro Capi, or ‘four heads –two pillars depicting the two-faced Roman god Janus that were moved there in the 14th century.

In ancient Rome, it was known as Pons Fabricius and is the oldest Roman bridge in the City.

Built in 62 BC it consists of two broad arches and a smaller, more decorative one, where the two arches meet in the middle. It is rare in that it remains in its original location, stretching from the Colosseum side of the river Tiber to Tiber island in the middle – home of the annual ‘Isola del Cinema’ film festival.

The Pons Cestus, another Roman bridge continues the link to the Western side and Vatican City.

The Pons Fabricius bridge is indeed a legend of stone.  Built under the auspices of ‘City Engineer’ Fabricius (whom the bridge was named after) on the site of a former wooden bridge, that was destroyed by fire, it has remained in constant use, ever since its construction, despite being patched up after a flood in 23 BC.

White House – USA

It was George Washington who insisted that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be built of stone and embellished with extensive stone decoration. It was also the President himself who chose the location and commissioned French-born architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design the ‘Presidents House’.

Unfortunately, the closest quarry was 40 miles down the Potomac and there were very few stonemasons in the USA so the trades largely comprised of Scots, Irish and English builders.

In addition, L’Enfant was sacked after conflicting with the Federal City commissioners.

The mantle was picked up by Irish architect, James Hoban who designed an Irish Georgian–style mansion modelled on Leinster House – still standing in Dublin and home to the Republic of Ireland’s national parliament.

The ‘White House’ took eight years to build. However, George Washington never moved in as he died in 1799 -12 months short of its completion. It was his successor, John Adams, who, in 1800, became the first President to occupy the building.

It was however a short-lived occupation as he lost office to Thomas Jefferson after just four months.

A final twist in the construction of the ‘White House’ is the legend of the missing cornerstone. Laid on 13 October 1792, that was the last time anyone saw it.  In 1949, during Harry Truman’s renovations, army engineers could not locate it and in 1992, celebrating the building’s 200th anniversary, x-ray machines scanned all the walls and still found nothing.