Once there was a Greco-Roman city-state named Madisonia, situated in that region where Italy, France and Switzerland meet. It was a city-state of only homeowners, located on lots of half an acre or more with strict covenants, and it was very secure from outsiders. In fact, it was the last city-state to fall to the Barbarian invaders. The story is told that in 525 A.D., the Madisonians took to their yachts and sailed into the West and were never seen in Western Europe again. Although their skills in architecture, interstate landscaping, boutique shopping, and marketing were told and re-told by bards through the centuries, many scholars questioned the existence of Madisonia, so thoroughly had its culture disappeared.
In the late 1990s, however, a few intrepid archaeologists and historians advanced the almost unbelievable theory that the Madisonians eventually washed up near what is now New Orleans and pushed up the Pearl River until they settled in what is now central Mississippi. After years of searching through archives and digging test pits, these determined scholars finally found the Madisonians, who had cleverly disguised their identity in the American era by taking the new name “Madison, The City.”
Scholars point to the remains of a Greco-Roman fortified city, hiding in plain sight and now occupied by a Petco, Dick’s and other retailers, a present day master-planned community in the lineage of the Campo de’Fiori with an authenticity of architectural details developed in the old country and, obviously, perfected here in the new. Moreover, the original grid pattern, a holdover from the Roman land measuring method of centuriation, is still evident and widely used.
An ancient aqueduct with arches of a more compressed variety than the famous Pont du Gard in southern France (which, of course, the original Madisonians would have known) brought water all the way from the natural springs later known as Allison’s Wells to the original fortified city. The aqueduct also demonstrates another feature of Madisonian culture, the use of Dryvet, also known as EIFS, often used in Madisonia in place of stone or the long, narrow Roman Brick used by the ancients. Today, the aqueduct has been adaptively re-used as an automobile bridge over the railroad, something the Romans, those consummate engineers, would no doubt have appreciated.
Using the laboratory of Madisonia, scholars can now study the true thread of classicism instead of sitting around asking themselves how classicism would have evolved if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen. The answers they have found are surprising, to say the least: lower orders of architecture would have been gradually eliminated, and in general classicism would have gotten bigger, more eclectic, plasticker (referred to as “more plasticky” by some academics), and both more bricky and more stuccoey at the same time.
Proportions and scale are much more robust in the Madisonian tradition than they were in ancient times. For instance, while Tuscan columns typically have a capital that is one-half the height of the column’s diameter, in Madisonia, the ratio is inverted, so that Tuscan capitals are twice as high as the column’s diameter (this is just an example, since Tuscan, being the lowest of the orders, is rarely seen in Madisonia). For Corinthian columns, where the capital is equal to about 1/6 the height of the column shaft, a completely inverted ratio would be too absurd, so the Madisonians have an unspoken rule that Corinthian capitals (their favorite order) should be about one-third the height of the shaft and twice its diameter. Also, while typical classical columns would begin to taper (called entasis) about a third of the way up the shaft, Madisonian columns often don’t taper at all, or taper closer to the top than to the bottom.
The Madisonian proportions are so distinctive that the eminent architectural historian Sir Banister Fletcher saw fit to highlight two examples of the Madisonian Corinthian in his influential A History of Architecture (Nineteenth Edition, 1987).
Once we understand the Madisonian proportions, we can begin to trace Madisonian influences throughout the region and establish what scholars call the “Madisonian cultural hearth.” For instance, notice this set of columns on the Spengler’s Corner building in downtown Jackson–Madisonian to its core, don’t you think?
Keep an eye out for Madisonian influences in your part of Mississippi–you never know when your discovery may change the course of Greco-Roman scholarship!
see Part II of the Madisonian Saga