A couple of academic books I've read lately have talked about the coral architecture of Swahili coast and I've been meaning to look into it some more because it sounds cool, so I was pretty excited when I finally got a minute to dig into it while working out the details of the architectural style of the island culture my latest short story is set in.
- Roman mortar was a lot more durable than modern concrete thanks to some nifty chemical properties of the local volcanic ash.
- Ancient Egyptians used horses and carriages to carry supplies up scaffolding, which sounds terrifying and I'm pretty sure counts as definitive proof that horses are braver than I am.
- The Egyptian pyramids were built out of a combination of limestone, granite, gypsum and rubber.
- European castles were often built with a combination of masonry stone and limestone plaster.
- Brick is considered man's oldest manufactured product.
By the 13th century, the Swahili coast was dotted with palaces and houses built out of coral. Mangrove poles formed the ceilings, which was the main limiter of room size, so small rooms a common feature of coastal coral architecture.
Set In Coral
Because constructing buildings from stone and coral is a lot more costly and time-consuming than wooden or wattle-and-daub architecture, archaeologists believe the coral buildings along the Swahili Coast offered a stabilizing effect. Innovation and change is more difficult when it requires renovating stone structures.
The great stone-walled structures of the capital city of the Zimbabwe kingdom, Great Zimbabwe, were built without mortar yet remain standing centuries later. They're 36ft (11m) tall, which is pretty impressive for mortarless construction. The stones seem smaller and less complex than Inca masonry, though.
Jericho, the oldest-known city, is also home to the oldest known stone wall. They both predate local development of agriculture, and anthropologists don't think it was built for defensive purposes at all, but rather to be impressive. It may have served some ritual purposes as well.
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