Dinocrates and his colossal project for Mount Athos

Marco Vitrubius Polión begins the second book of his work «De architectura»:

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Dinocrates presents to Alexander the Great his project for Mount Athos, the work of Jean-Baptiste Corneille, s. XVII

The architect Dinocrates, trusting in his projects and his ingenuity, marched from Macedonia to the army of Alexander, who was getting to be the lord of the world, eager to earn his protection. Dinocrates was the carrier of letters, endorsed by his friends and friends who were addressed to the main cardinal leaders, whom they requested kindly and with the ability to access Alexander as soon as possible. They promised it, but the interview was delayed a lot, waiting for the right moment. For that reason, thinking about Dinocrates that made fun of him, he chose to eat directly. He was a man of great stature, a pleasant face, exquisite bearing and elegance. Trusting in her natural gifts, leaving her clothes in the inn, perfuming her body with oil, crowning her head with garlands of poplar, covering her left shoulder with a lion’s skin and taking her right hand a nail; Thus, he advanced with dignity before the tribunal where Alexander gave justice. His careful presence called the attention of the people and even Alexander himself noticed him. Showing great surprise, Alexander ordered that he be allowed to pass by who was who. He contested: «I’m Dinocrates, architect of Rhodes and I work for projects and services, worthy of your greatness. He transformed Mount Athos into the figure of a manly statue; in his left hand he designed the walls of a large city and on his right a huge patera that collects the waters of the rivers that flow in that mountain, in order to pour them into the sea from his own hand ». Alexander was pleasantly satisfied before the description of the project and at once he asked himself if he was near the city there were fields that presented it with his wheat harvests. When he told him that the supply was not possible if it was not for overseas transport, he replied: «Dinocrates, I carefully observed the magnificent structure of your project and I like it. But he warned that if someone had a colony in that same place, perhaps his decision was very critical. Therefore, just as a newborn baby can feed his baby milk and without it, it can not develop, so that a city can not grow, it does not have the fields that accompany it; However, it is not possible to increase the number of its inhabitants. Therefore, regarding your plan, you can do the whole class of compliments, but the location of the city should be disapproved. It is my wish that you stay by my side, because I want to serve your work. » From this moment, Dinocrates no longer departed from the king and followed his steps to Egypt. When Alexander observed that he found a port protected by nature itself and an extraordinary market, in addition to the fields planted with wheat that covered the whole of Egypt, as well as the enormous advantages provided by the impressive Nile River, he ordered that he found there city, named Alexandria, in honor of his own person. In this way, Dinocrates, appreciated for its attractive appearance and its great price, reached the category of distinguished citizens. But to me, O Emperor, nature has not given me much stature, age has shaved my face and disease has diminished my strength. Therefore, you already see me deprived of fairy tales, achieve fame and reputation, I hope so, thanks to the help of science and my books.

That Dinocrates was in charge of the design of the urbanism of Alexandria is certain, but the anecdote of the disguise Hercúelo and the excessive colossus is completely false. The excessiveness of the project makes it little credible and in addition Dinocrates demonstrated in the planning of Alexandria and other works a talent incompatible with the fatuity with which Vitruvius shows it.


On the other hand, Vitruvius does not understand very well the story that counts and interprets it as a metaphor about appearance and talent. Centuries later, Giorgio Martini understands it as an illustration of «the similarity between a city and the human body». Actually, Alexander the great -in the words of Luis Fernández-Galiano- makes «an exemplary description of the built environment as an open system, receiver of nutrient flows of matter and energy.»


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