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Berica Stone
through the centuries

of the Berici Hills

Berica Stone's employment by men is a millenia-long story. Inscriptions by Paleoveneti peoples have been found in Costozza's quarries as well as a 4th century b.C. carved stone dedicated to Terminales divinities; a stone with inscribed local government's regulations and supposed to date back to Julius Ceasar's days was found in Nanto.

Under Roman rule Berica Stone's excavation was taken to a larger scale as it was used to turn nearby villages into monumental cities: St.Paul's and Degli Angeli bridges, Berga Theater and the aqueduct in Vicenza, Padua's and Verona's Arenas are made of it. Berica Stone was so well-known that even Vitruvius wrote about it in his Treaty on Architecture in 20 b.C: " From the Veneto comes a kind of stone so soft they cut it with a saw, like wood".

Roman officers were appointed to overseeing the excavation to make sure all material was employed for public building; the excavation itself was carried out by slaves. Blocks of stone were roughly shaped and polished on the spot by lapicidae, then dragged to the Bisatto river and loaded onto barges to be taken to Longare, Vicenza, Padua or Este.

With the end of the Roman Empire and subsequent barbarian invasions, most quarries were suddenly abandoned: their origin and purpose went forgotten and they got quickly envelopped by the mists of mistery and superstion. In the Middle Ages Berica Stone was sometimes used for building local churches, like St.Mauro in Costozza and Holy Mary in Nanto, but it was mainly employed in defensive buildings and fortifications, like the Tower in Longare, now destroyed.

During the Renaissance Berica Stone became popular again. Donatello, in Padua from 1447 to 1450 created the ground-breaking decorations of the Main Altar in St.Anthony's mostly with Berica Stone. Thanks to Donatello Tuscan Renaissance style became familiar to local sculptors, like Nicolò Pizolo of Villaganzerla,who made the altar in the Ovetari Family's Chapel in the Eremitans' Church in Padua, or Antonio Antico, Andrea Riccio and the other artists who worked in Nanto and Barbarano's churches.

Arts flourished in the rich and peaceful Republic of Venice fostered by artists such as Alvise Lamberti of Montagnana -later mustered to Russia by Tzar Ivan III to build the Kremlin- who displayed his genius in the southern facade of S.Maria dei Miracoli in Lonigo and Annunziata in Brendola, and Giacomo Porlezza and Girolamo Pittoni from Lumignano who took on young Andrea della Gondola, later renamed Palladio, as an apprentice.

Palladio learned his job as a stone-cutter in Bartolomeo Cavazza of Sossano's ateliers, a stone decorator and chiseller, and he was to be reminescent of Berica Stone versatility in his mature days as an architect, when he designed the ornamentation of his villas. In Palladio's villas, basements, capitals, architraves, friezes, doors' and windows' frames are made of stone, as well as floors, staircases and balconies; walls are of plastered bricks, stone being as expensive as it was.

Palladio's legacy was taken up in the following century by many decorators' ateliers, the most famous of all being Marinalis'. The Marinalis originally dwelled in Bassano del Grappa and moved to Vicenza in 1667. Orazio is the most important member of the family: an apprentice of Le Court in Venice, he brought Baroquism to Vicenza. His and his brothers Angelo and Francesco's statues are perfectly detailed, full of character and drama.

An excellent example is the World Machine in Villa Conti's monumental garden in Montegaldella, as well as the Villino Garzadori in Costozza,known as Marinali's Grotto.

Venetian noblemen and landowners took their pride in not letting their newly-built villas disfigure near to Palladio's, and hired great architects even to design lesser decoration: Francesco Muttoni uses mellow Berica Stone in the imposing farming-fabrics at Villa Fracanzan-Piovene in Orgiano and in those of Villa Camerini in Mossano.

The troublesome period that followed the fall of the Venetian Republic brought architectural extravaganzas to a sudden end. But if local stone-cutters were never going to work on large-scale projects again, they did keep showing their mastery in the ordinary objects they have been making up to today.