The history of clay
The first evidence of the production of bricks dates back
to the days of the Babylonians, more than 5000 years ago.
At first they were used in their unbaked form, simply left
to dry in the sun and it was only in 2500 BC that they began
to be baked.
Stone wasn’t always available and when it was, the
crafting process was difficult and time consuming. Clay
on the other hand, was perfectly easy to mix and mould and,
once dry, was a valid support for early constructions.
Right from the start, the brick has always been a parallelepiped
with a precise golden relationship between its three dimensions.
The length is normally twice the width and the width is
twice the thickness. Thanks to the fact that is so easy
to mould, clay has always enabled the construction of bricks
with different profiles, enabling the builder to artistically
enhance the construction, setting different trends in different
periods and places.
From the Sumerians to the Babylonians, from the Assyrians
to the Egyptians, from the Greeks to the Romans, terracotta
bricks represent a material which has been used beyond every
national boundary throughout history. There is considerable
evidence of the rich medieval architecture in Europe.
The terracotta brick continues to one of very few products
made exclusively of natural materials: clay, sand, water
and fire being the elements used in the creation process.
The support provided by the latest technology in controlling
the baking process creates a product that represents a choice
aimed at guaranteeing durable constructions which are both
attractive and economically remunerative in time.
Terracotta in Piedmont
There is evidence of use of terracotta in the Po Valley
dating back as far as the 2nd century BC. Brick soon became
the material most commonly used in urban and rural constructions.
It became synonymous with home and the domestic hearth.
In a region which has no stone or marble quarries but is
rich in clay, it was necessary to do the best with what
was available and terracotta was the perfect surrogate for
more prestigious materials, so much so that it was sometimes
coated with plaster and decorated to imitate marble, and
its’ use became extremely popular in the whole Po
Much earlier than in other areas of Italy, using the experience
of the Etruscans, a close networks of kilns was set up throughout
Piedmont. There is valuable evidence of the early kilns
and the handle brick, so-called because of the slit which
was used to grip the brick, making it easier to handle.
The typical dimensions of the handle brick were: base=29.5
cm x height=45 cm x thickness=6.5 cm, with an approximate
weight of 16 kg.
In addition to bricks, archaeological digs have unearthed
roof tiles, split tiles for roofing, floor tiles and decorative
mouldings. The role of brick products in the Middle Ages
has been extensively documented in written sources and abacuses
Decorative trimming elements were moulded to make cornices
and capitals to enhance public buildings, churches and palaces.
The architecture of our towns wouldn’t be the same
without the contribution made by terracotta. In projects
by architects such as Juvarra (1678/1736), Guarini (1624/1683
), Antonelli (1798/1888) and Vittone 1705/1770), terracotta
seduces and charms with prestigious presences.
The architectonic ideology of Guarini, in keeping with
other respected architects, stated that it was improper
to use materials which weren’t from the area and couldn’t
be found without spending considerable sums of money, and
that, generally speaking, it isn’t so much the material
that determines the beauty of a work, as the way it is used.
Thanks to perfect reproducibility and modest prices, terracotta
enables architectonic expression even in cases where money
is restricted and in rural areas, as opposed to the great
works of the famous architects mentioned earlier.
The symmetry of the constructions, largely arranged around
a central main body, surmounted by a streamlined tympanum
upon which the family coat of arms was displayed, surrounded
by absolutely symmetrical sleeves made of brick, with pillars
which were sometimes coated with plaster near the ground.
Brick and plaster decoration was used in the right proportions,
and shaped bricks were used to create decorative mouldings,
sometimes using different colours around doors, windows
and arches and to mark the different floors. Columns were
topped with impressive capitals and gratings were sometimes
created using special shapes.
Some examples of prestigious brick constructions in Turin:
Medieval Village, detailed view of the Pavilions of Venaria
Reale, Valentino Castle, the estate of the Royal Castle
of Racconigi, La Mandria and a rustic construction designed
by Antonelli, in Asti, the double lancet window of Palazzo
Solaro, the façade of Palazzo Strata, the string-course
of Palazzo Catena, in the Marquisate of Saluzzo, the Trojan
Tower and the antique Town Hall, St. John’s Belltower,
the tower in the Commune of Revello, in Biella, Palazzo
Gromo and the Civic Museum, in the Novara district, the
Gate of Gattinara and the Abbey of St. Nazario Sesia, in
the Alessandria district, the door to the church of Santa
Maria della Guardia of Sale etc. etc.
Even today, Fornace Ballatore contributes with its work
to faithfully restoring the artistic architectonic heritage
left to us by the great masters and enables the contemporary
designers who create today’s architecture, to express
themselves with its bricks, a material sometimes thought
of as poor, but noble, rich in history and definitely able
to withstand the passage of time, for centuries.