Word of the Day: Ashlar

Ashlar stonework Palazzo Rucellai Florence Italy

An ashlar is a large stone hewn to square sides, for use in building or laying pavement. It also refers to the particular method of stone masonry called ashlar or ashlar-work, which makes use of hewn stones, often made to a specific proportion, as opposed to rubble-work, which makes use of unhewn stone.

According to The Stonemason and the Bricklayer, a manual from 1891, by the self-described (but unnamed) editor of the “Industrial Self-Instructor”:

“The stones for the best class of [ashlar] work should be carefully proportioned, the length, depth and breadth having what is called a harmonious relation to each other [a proportion further described in the book].”

Anything less than this constitutes “sham” or “false” ashlar, which can only result in inferior and unstable stonework.

Ashlar
Example of the “broken ashlar” style of wall. Illustration courtesy of chestofbooks.com

In literature from the Middle Ages, there are references to “ashlars” used as weapons, being hurled from fortress walls at attackers below.  Whether they were made for this purpose, or the defenders were simply desperate enough to use the stones of their own buildings, I don’t know — either way, it would be a pretty effective missile.

The usefulness of ashlar-type stonework has certainly been recognized throughout many eras, and many parts of the world.

Ashlar wall at Machu Picchu
An ashlar-style wall dating to the 16th century, at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Today, ashlar work is still very much alive and well, though its definition (at least, according to the author quoted above) has been expanded to include a number of styles that include a variety of types of dressed stone.

Still, harmony, stability, and fine craftsmanship lie at the heart of ashlar stonework, with the aim of creating a structure that will stand for centuries and beyond.

Unless, of course, one is aiming simply to throw it at an enemy’s head.

Featured photo: ashlar wall of Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

 

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