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Vitruvius Basilica in Fano, Italy, journey through the virtual space of the reconstructed memory
There are numerous drawings kept in many libraries, which still have codes, editions, and translations of the De Architectura. This, together with the attention given by their authors to this building, shows the extraordinariness of this "factory" in the history of architecture and in the context regarding Vitruvio. One of the most important French researchers of the Basilica was Jean Quicherat (Quicherat 1877). He tried to gather and underline the reason for the importance of the Basilica and wrote "in the work written by Vitruvio, there are not so many interesting chapters like the one in which the Basilica of Fano is described. In this chapter we meet the theorist at work in an exceptional circumstance. Taking the Basilica as an example, he wanted to reaffirm the independence of art, which is "constructed" by established rules and he wanted to demonstrate that creativity is not incompatible with all those tiny regulations, which must be applied to architectonic practice. Vitruvio, however, did not say all the indispensable things. He left the reader to reflect and to say everything which had not been said, that is all the things that he judged could be interpreted in a description made for experts".
In fig. 1 and fig. 2 we can see two of the most famous examples of the reconstruction of the Basilica illustrated by writers of treatise and commentators of the De Architectura.
Of course the most important information regarding the reconstruction of the Basilica is not given only by the writers of treaties but especially by Vitruvio's text.
The description made by Vitruvio
The Basilica of Fano, as described by Vitruvio, had a central porticoed hall with a total dimension of 160 feet (approx. 47 m) by 100 feet (approx. 30 m). It had eighteen impressive columns with a 5 foot diameter (approx. 1,20 m), which went from the ground and formed, in one solution, the second order, the so called "giant order" loved by the renaissance artists such us Michelangelo and Palladio.
The Court was on the long side, according to tradition. Vitruvio said he had also added a very strange "aedes Augusti" and gave its measurements (width and depth) but they do not clearly show us where it was situated in relation to the plans of the Basilica. This unclear information represents one of the interpretative "knots" which must be resolved by the illustrators of the Basilica. The order was Corinthian. Vitruvio did not say that expressly but in an indirect way, giving the ratio between the height of the columns (50 feet) and their diameter (5 feet). In a previous text he mentioned that this ratio (10) was typical of the Corinthian order.
Besides the description written by Vitruvio, the other means of historical reconstruction come from some extraordinary archeological remains, which were discovered in 1840. The study included a systematic recognition of all the historical ruins found in those excavations and moreover new and modern research has been carried out with traditional techniques and instruments and using special photographic procedures.
The virtual reconstruction and visit
From the above brief outline (Vitruvio's text, reconstruction by the writer of treaties, archeological and historical-literary sources) we started the construction of the virtual model, which is no longer a means of representation and communication used by architecture but - according to the logic that generated this model - it became a powerful vehicle of analysis, research, knowledge and historiographic synthesis.
From this point of view the work carried out on the Basilica of Vitruvio in Fano has and wants to have an exemplary and exemplifying value. The representation and the graphic-informative analysis of the three-dimensional models become the instruments to research historiography in great depth.
The aim of the construction of the model is the attempt to reconstruct and re-plan the lost building, gathering signs and traces, which are necessary to form a kind of "preliminary investigative drawing", in the hidden corners of its history. At the end of this investigation it is important to have an instrument capable of giving a form and of summarizing the disarticulated knowledge. This knowledge should be easily replaceable, just like the pieces of a mosaic, not only on a sheet of paper but in a dynamic and changeable model, which is sensitive to the acquisition of the knowledge we have placed in the virtual dimension of an electronic elaborator.
The idea to tackle the complex study of an unknown building, which for many never existed, came from the above. This idea is to follow and to tie the fine threads made of drawings, reconstructions and notes about the Basilica, which accompany and significantly mark the evolution and the fortune of Vitruvio's text. We started from the consideration that only the characteristics of the "instrument" could have allowed us to give order and synthesis to two thousand years of disarticulated and contradictory knowledge. We actually thought of a drawing, which was no longer intended to be a set of lines having the aim of giving a form or as a statistic representation of that level of a knowledge closed inside its non-modifiability, but as kind of multimedia data bank. In this data bank words and knowledge and their precarious and modifiable character are hidden by lines and signs, which are in turn precarious, modifiable and evolving. Here data is continuously updated and the drawing is no longer represented by a definite form but by an "in fieri" form, which can be modified from the inside as the knowledge increases without offering a solution for continuity.