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Roman Fireplaces & Chimneys

For it is observable, that during all my researches among the ruins, I could not perceive the smallest vestige of a fireplace. Though this was a circumstance to which I attended with particular care (I), fireplaces however the Ancients undoubtedly had, as Vitruvius mentions them, and directs the cornices of those rooms in which they were used, to be pure or unenriched, that the dirtiness contracted by the smoke might be the more easily wiped off.

There are many passages in the Roman authors (z) which prove that they used chimneys in their different apartments; and Palladio (3) and Barbaro assure us that, in their time, there were still to be seen the remains of fireplaces, with vents for carrying off the smoke, in three different parts of Italy; but at the same time it is no less evident, that the most common method of warming their rooms, especially in the houses of persons of distinction, was by conveying hot air to them through pipes fixed in the walls (4).

In Pliny's description of his summer villa at Tuscum, he mentions a large Cubiculum, which in hot weather was sufficiently warmed by the sun, and when the weather was cloudy, it received a supply of warm air from the Hypocauston: And in his letter concerning his winter villa at Laurentinum, he expressly takes notice of his bedchamber being warmed by hot air, which, without doubt, was also conveyed from the Hypocauston. In the days of Vitruvius, chimmneys seem to have been more common, but it is probable that as the passion for pomp, and the love of expense in building increased, the use of funnels in conveying and distributing hot air, might be gradually introduced, and the Romans might come to prefer this method, which had all the advantages of fire, without being subject to any of its inconveniencies. The use of hot baths, which became more frequent after the age of Vitruvius, contributed not a little to spread the fashion of warming the different apartments by means of flues.

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