Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 5, pp 995–1003 | Cite as

Technological study of “ghiara” mortars from the historical city centre of Catania (Eastern Sicily, Italy) and petro-chemical characterisation of raw materials

  • Cristina M. BelfioreEmail author
  • Mauro F. La Russa
  • Paolo Mazzoleni
  • Antonino Pezzino
  • Marco Viccaro
Original Article


This paper presents new petro-chemical data on some typical mortars found in many buildings in the historic city centre of Catania (Eastern Sicily). Extensively used in the architecture of the city from the second half of the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, these mortars are characterised by a particular aggregate locally known as “agghiara” or “ghiara”. This is the product of thermal transformation induced by the heating undergone by palaeo-soils, originally rich in organic matter, covered by lava flows, which change their colour to reddish nuances. The volcanic origin of ghiara is a peculiar feature of the Etnean area. Mixed with lime, it gives to mortars an intense reddish colour, as well as hydraulic properties, which are comparable with those of the historically used pozzolana. This work aimed at complete characterisation of these ghiara mortars, for providing information on several important technological aspects. In order to get information on used raw materials, sampling of some ancient underground quarries, located both in the historic city centre and at the periphery, was also performed. Results led to the complete characterisation of the selected ghiara mortars and yielded information on some technological features and the composition of both newly formed and secondary phases, these latter due to alteration processes. The hydraulic properties of mortars have been related to the occurrence of amorphous phases within the ghiara aggregate, which were identified by means of SEM morphological observations. These phases, formed during the “firing” process of palaeo-soils, react with lime producing hydraulic compounds (C–S–H and C–A–H), which are responsible for the mortars durability.


Ghiara mortars Catania Sicily Aggregate Amorphous phases Hydraulic properties 



The authors wish to thank the Etnean Speleological Centre (CSE), particularly Franco Politano and Giuseppe Calcagno, for their guide expertise during the quarry sampling. We would also express our gratitude to Gunter Doerhoefer for his editorial guidance and to an anonymous reviewer for the useful comments and suggestions provided.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina M. Belfiore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mauro F. La Russa
    • 2
  • Paolo Mazzoleni
    • 1
  • Antonino Pezzino
    • 1
  • Marco Viccaro
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze GeologicheUniversità degli Studi di CataniaCataniaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità degli Studi della CalabriaCosenzaItaly

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