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C - 11 : An Ancient Invention Keeps Us Dry

After yesterday’s heavy reading, something lighter today, What do these three photos below have in common?

View of Kotor in Montenegro

View of Dubrovnik in Dalmatia (Croatia)

View of the roofs of Venice

You must have guessed - the roofs are all red and made with Monk and Nun tiles - one of the most funny names I ever came accross for construction material. Monk and Nun tiles are identical but they are placed in a different way on the roof. First a vertical line of tiles with the convex side up is laid down, then covered by a line of tiles with the concave side up. The overlapping makes the roof water proof. The tiles also overlap on the top and the bottom with the previous respectively the following tile. This lay-out ensure a perfect draining of water. The tiles do not need any fixing. They are just laid on top of each other as we do in Chantrou, our country house in France. Once a year we have to climb on the roof to check their position and move some back but they are basically maintenance free.

Monk and Nun tiles forming a water tight roof layer

Together with Roman bricks, these tiles are an invention that revolutionised construction. Without Roman bricks, there would be none of the grandiose Roman buildings such as the public bath, palaces or amphitheatres we still admire today. Together with concrete, Roman bricks made construction fast, cheap and durable. It is no surprise that the Romans also invented the M&N tiles. They are easy to mass produce - from the same brick yards as Roman bricks - are easy to staple, very easy to transport, not heavy and easy to lay down.

Monk and Nun Tiles stapled for transportation

It is one of the many ancient innovations which survived 2’000 years of European turmoil. All around the Mediterranean, roofs are covered with these tiles. When you travel through France, there is this distinct line at the latitude of Valence where suddenly all houses are covered in M&N tiles. You know that you are in the “midi” as the French call their south when you see them.

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