|1(11)/2002, p. 7
Niches from antique houses in Marina el Alamain Alexandrian architectonic forms – examples of use
Studies of the antique so-called Alexandrian architectonic detail, are the subject of this article. The results of these studies, in the area of archeological excavations in Marina near El-Alamain in north Egypt, have been presented. They were carried out on the examples of wall niches (aedicula), situated in representative accommodations, called an andron, of antique Greek-Roman houses. In Marina, relics of five such niches were found, variously preserved and allowing reconstruction in different degrees. A sixth niche is known to have existed.
The architectonic setting of the niches was created by elements of the Corinthian order in its particular modification, described as Alexandrian. Simplification and stylization is characteristic to it. The architectonic detail stylized in this manner was earlier called Nabataean. This was due to the discovery of the first examples in Petra (the land of the Nabataeans). The special architectonic order occurring there is still the Nabataean. It also appears in Marina, in Cyprus and in the region of Alexandria. However, more frequent in those places is the occurrence of three similarly stylized, different orders. They correspond to the classic Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders. It is lately believed that Alexandria and the neighbouring region was the centre where these forms took shape. Hence, the definition of these orders as Doric, Ionic and Corinthian in the Alexandrian modification. The framework of the niches described was executed in the Corinthian order.
These niches being small objects, on the borderline between sculpture and architecture, allow us almost complete reconstruction. This is why they constitute a better material for studies on the arrangement and architectonic proportions of an order than objects of a larger scale and more monumental. Such are, for example, the columns and other portico elements only partly preserved in Marina. After finding the elements of a complete aedicula and its reconstruction, studies aiming at recreating the canon of construction of the Alexandrian-Corinthian order were undertaken by the author, in the years 1999–2000. For a more convincing recreation of these rules an analysis of more than one object is necessary. It has been conducted in this article. The proportions of several niches and individual elements of portico columns have been compared.
All the niches compared had an almost identical architectonic arrangement of the framework. On either side, on the sill, were placed attached columns, which stood out from the wall face. From the interior side of the niche each column had a flat pilaster of the same height and properties. On the capitals of the attached columns and pilasters and inside the niches, against the wall, rested architraves. In plan they had the shape of a horseshoe embracing the aedicula from three sides. Above the architraves there were no friezes, apart from one niche. Higher up, were mouldings. They ran around the niche, repeating with their outline the architraves’ arrangement. On the bottom surfaces of the mouldings, extending beyond the architraves, a stylized decoration was placed. It had the form of simplified consoles or an offset profile composed of such consoles, squares and sometimes rhombs. One of the niches had a moulding of classic forms. The edges of the tympanums rested on the outer, extreme sections of the mouldings. They were triangular or arched.
The comparison of the niches’ proportions showed that they all had the same ratio of attached columns’ height to the diameter of their base and to the width of the niche. The height of the attached columns was nine times the diameter of the base and equal to the whole framework of the aedicula. The ratio of their height to the distance between them was also constant for all the niches described. This was not dependent on their size. The distance between the largest and the smallest niche differed fivefold. Obviously, there must have existed a canon of constructing the architectonic order, which created the niches’ framework. Such a canon also existed in the classic Corinthian order. It has been described by Vitruvius and comparison with his description was the basis of reconstructing of the Alexandrian-Corinthian canon. This canon, as it appears, was not always fully respected. Sometimes, in small objects, an attempt was made to make up for the small proportions of the whole by increasing the size of certain elements. It was so in the case of the aedicula from the house denoted as H10, reconstructed in the years 1999–2000. Proportions of the orders creating the settings of the other niches are more regular, very near to the classic, Vitruvian proportions and recurring in all of them. A drawn reconstruction presents the theoretical measurements of the canon of the Alexandrian-Corinthian order.