Catching a Stone Mason at Work

In a medieval village with Roman roots, and with an economy largely based on tourism, there is no good time for making improvements to the infrastructure. Spello has been destroyed and recreated several times, including after a short battle here with Hannibal (about 217 B.C.) when the townspeople lost and Spello was nearly leveled. Each time the town was destroyed or damaged, it rose again atop its own ruins. Excavation for an expansion of a parking lot outside the entrance to Spello a few years ago resulted in the discovery of the intricate mosaic floors from an old Roman villa—and the parking lot extension became a tented archaeology dig, instead, and now is another spot on the itinerary of  Spello visitors.

I noticed in May that the main road in through the city wall had been excavated, and barricades diverted traffic to other entrances, while the street was removed to a depth of nearly 8 feet. New conduits for underground services were being installed, and here there is no guessing what will be discovered when ground is broken for modernizing aging pipes and terra cotta drains. Returning a few months later, I could see that the street was now filled in and paved in fresh asphalt, but the project was not yet completed.

Beside the ruins of Roman Spello, excavation goes on

Beside the ruins of Roman Spello, new excavation skirts remnants of the past

Near Piazza Kennedy, just below the Spello city walls, excavation is going on just yards from Roman ruins. Normally an elevated sidewalk takes people on foot through the remaining portions of what was the entrance to town in the time of Julius Caesar, and where the Roman acquaduct which brought spring water from Mount Subasio kept a large marble fountain filled with water. Foot traffic is now being diverted around the area by barrier fencing, but I imagine that archaeologists are cringing at the sight of digging equipment and piles of rubble being removed in such a historically significant location. Still, the residents need water, power and gas lines that function, and sewage and storm drains must keep up with the times.

Impact hammer breaks up concrete in the piazza

Impact hammer breaks up concrete in the piazza

Passing by the arch under which autos enter Spello, I passed a crew finishing the sidewalk that completed the update project for that section of the roadway. There had been a narrow sidewalk previously, about 18 inches wide, and often it was blocked by parked cars whose tires were up on the sidewalk. Now, the sidewalk was being expanded, and workmen were setting cubed cobblestones in a sandy bed, leveling them out, and then pushing fluid concrete into the spaces between the stones to stabilize the sidewalk surface. A final rinse with a pressure washer completed the job, both cleaning the surface and pushing the concrete deep into the crevices between stones.

Stone mason setting cobbles for a new sidewalk

Stone mason setting cobbles for a new sidewalk

Leveling each stone in a bed of sand

Leveling each stone in a bed of sand

Concrete slurry in the foreground, as the mason sets more stones and curb

Concrete slurry in the foreground, as the mason sets more cobbles and curb stones

Crew members push concrete slurry between stones

Crew members push concrete slurry between stones

Last section near the arch entry to Spello is finished

Last section near the arch entry to Spello is finished

I was interested to see a type of work that I might never see at home in California, so I stopped to watch and to take a few photos. The stone setter (“muratore”) chose the color of each stone he set from a pile of cobbles at his side, varying the pattern as he went, and carefully leveling each stone in place with his tools. He hammered the stones into a bed of sand and gravel, until the sidewalk was uniform and even with the curbstones, too. While he worked, a crew supplied him with stones piled nearby, with others mixing the concrete to set the stones, and using rubber blades to push the slurry into the spaces between the stones. The crew was moving efficiently along the sidewalk, and the job was nearly completed when I came back from my trip to the supermarket.

Mason's tools left behind while he takes a break

Mason’s tools left behind while he takes a break

Each member of the crew has his part to play in the process

Each member of the crew has his part to play in the process

It’s good to see that the local government is committed to providing essential services, while also trying to keep the charm of Spello’s historical locations intact. Investing in the improvement of the roadway didn’t necessarily have to clash with the surrounding medieval buildings and Roman ruins. It will be very interesting to keep an eye on this infrastructure project as it progresses into the central historic areas of Spello, and see what changes will be made to the Spello that I see today.

 

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