Tracking down San Luis Obispo Mission’s architectural influences

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Tracking down San Luis Obispo Mission's architectural influences
The Roman fort at Arbela, which was based on ‘De architectura’ and built in A.D. 161

The three arches in the Mission campanile or bell tower facing the plaza have become iconic for our region. You can even see the arches already etched into entrance markers for the Los Osos Valley Road bridge being built over Highway 101.

Our Mission’s campanile is unique among the 21 California Missions. The five bells, each hung in its own arch, including two on the side, are above a large arched entrance.

We know that the campanile was added between 1812 and 1820 by Father Luis Antonio Martinez who served at the mission from 1798 to 1830. Did Fr. Luis have any architectural training? Probably not.

What he did possess was an 18th century reprinting of a book from ancient Rome that was rediscovered in the Renaissance. He also may have had a strong recollection of a beautiful church in his native Asturias, Spain.

The book, De architectura, was composed by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Vitruvius was a Roman writer who lived about the time of Julius Caesar and his nephew Augustus. As an architect and engineer, he placed in written form many of the architectural principles and designs used to build the roads, aqueducts, fortifications and cities and towns of the Roman world.

His De architectura, known today as The Ten Books of Architecture, was copied in both Latin and Greeks and used almost continuously for 1,800 years. []