• Crowds and the Architectural Monuments of Italy

    By
    ‘Deyemi Akande, 2016 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Mar 6, 2018

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    All through my fellowship travels, one major challenge persists, one that I have done fairly well to conceal in my photographs—crowds. Nowhere more in Europe than in Italy did I experience the sheer weight of tourism as manifested in numbers. The popular sites were flooded with people and long queues, and while some of the venues were free to get in, I paid very dearly with 3–4 hours on the line in 3°C and gusty winds that made it all the more unbearable. For those from the temperate regions, I am sure this is nothing, but I am from the tropics and in Lagos we say, "My goodness it is so cold today," at 25°C.

    Certainly I did not expect to be the only one to show up at a renowned public monument, yet, one is never prepared for the number of people one finds at such locations. The streets were overflowing with people from different nations. In some locations, it became significantly apparent so much so that it developed into a topic of discussion amongst the tourists themselves—if you have ever visited the Trevi Fountain in Rome, you will get a good sense of what I am saying.  

    Vatican Square
    Fig. 1: A mammoth crowd awaits you as you enter the Vatican square. The crowd has no respect for time or weather, it has become part of the constant ‘tapestry’ of the square.

    Vatican Square
    Fig. 2: There is first the crowd and then there is the queue. Vendors will approach you to ask if you have a ticket to get into the Basilica as the queue is for those who are without one.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 3: A large number of people at the Trevi Fountain. Everyone is trying to get a photo of the beautiful work and everyone is getting in each other’s way.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 4: Another view of the crowd at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Whichever way you turn, surely a crowd was there to bless or frustrate your view.

    Fig. 5
    Fig. 5: A long queue which goes around two sides of the Cathedral del Fiore in Florence. It was very cold and the line moved only slowly. This was around 11 am. By the time I passed the cathedral around 7:30 pm, there were still people on a line waiting to go in.

    Fig. 6
    Fig. 6: A huge crowd at the Piazza Navona, Rome. Notice the Egyptian styled obelisk in the middle of the fountain. A similar obelisk is found at the Piazza de la Rotunda in front of the Pantheon.

    Fig. 7
    Fig. 7: The crowd in the nave of St Peter’s Basilica—truly not unexpected and actually flattering to the enigmatic building. It welcomes people from all over the world. In my 60 minutes or so inside this overwhelmingly beautiful space, I counted nine different languages from people who walked by until the words started sounding the same to me.

    Fig. 8
    Fig. 8: Inside the Vatican Museum, one finds himself unconsciously forced to move with the pace and group agitation of the crowd with barely any time to contemplate what you are seeing.

    No matter how well you plan your trip and itinerary, it is almost inescapable—you will come in contact with a sea of people in Italy, wherever you go; like you, they have also planned and travelled to see these monuments, probably with the hope of meeting as few people as possible at the entry points. The crowd in itself is not a bad thing. It speaks to the popularity of these sites and our unending connections to monuments, particularly those of a historic and religious nature. Also, with the crowd, comes the boom for a good percentage of local businesses. The funds collected at some of these sites may also serve as resource for the preservation and maintenance of the structure. There is, however, the challenge of the crowd ‘footprint’ and the consequent degrading of the priceless monuments. Some have argued—and I quite agree—that the idea of tourism funds helping the preservation of heritage sites is mostly a double edge sword as tourism itself contributes to the rapid degeneration of the sites.

    Pantheon
    Fig. 9: The Pantheon. The Piazza de la Rotunda in front has become a major hub for entertainment drawing tourists and large crowds to the square and the temple. Notice the people at the base of the photo.
     

    Rotunda
    Fig. 10: Inside the Rotunda.

    Fig. 11
    Fig. 11: A view of part of the Colosseum with scores of visitors moving around.

    Cathedral del Fiore, Florence
    Fig. 12: Groups of visitors at the western end of the Cathedral del Fiore, Florence.

    Cathedral del Fiore, Florence
    Fig. 13: A view of the side of the Cathedral del Fiore with a long queue of people waiting to go in. The main entrance is on the western end.

    Piazza Navona
    Fig. 14: Me, getting impaled by a Roman centurion (costumed street actor) at the Piazza Navona. Local small businesses and initiatives thrive with the presence of tourists.

    I am certain many would agree with me that when one thinks of contemplation, one often imagines serenity, little or no distractions, plenty of time to focus on a particular subject or idea with the aim of receiving something new from your rigorous but calm meditation on the subject in question. The idea of contemplation as described above is practically almost impossible at any architectural monument in Italy—at least the ones I visited. Why? The crowds and the energy at the sites are intensely positive but completely antithesis to the concept of quiet contemplation as articulated above. I probably felt the frustration most at the Vatican. The last time I saw that large of a crowd gathered in one place was at a festival I happened upon in my university days. The energy was high; everyone jostled for the right position to take a photograph of a sculptural piece or part of a building. There was hardly any time to properly observe and study the brilliant art pieces one is confronted with, as we moved from gallery to gallery. The crowd was constantly in the way and there is an unconscious pressure on the inside of you to keep moving as the crowd moves.

    Jane Fawcett has discussed the dangers and impact of crowds on heritage sites.1 She herself remained conflicted on the issue of tourism and material heritage as it only makes sense that these structures, which hold a critical part of human history and remain a testament to the potentials of man, should be made available for generations to see and be inspired by. Though restoration, documentation, and preservation has improved greatly since Fawcett’s 1987 paper (which is focused on cathedrals in England), like her, I remain troubled about the future and continued authenticity of these structures. By authenticity I mean a time may come when through years of restoration, what we may be left with is an entirely new structure which is only a replica of the original. Chip by chip over the years due to wear and tear, we may completely erase and replace the original for an alternative without even knowing. Philosophically this appears to be inevitable and imminent; my real fear is that the crowd ‘footprint’ may catalyse the process.

    A question comes to mind here: at what point does the Parthenon in Greece, for instance, with all the reconstructive elements and placements stop being the original Greek Parthenon of the goddess Athena and starts being a sublime replacement?

    Vatican Museum
    Fig. 15: Well, I bought a ticket online two days before, but that didn’t stop what I was to meet inside—more people. Here, inside the Vatican Museum. To concentrate on the beauty of the art in the museum is a little tough, particularly with the huge number of visitors. 

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 16: A tourist striking a pose to gesture holding up or pushing the tower of Pisa back into position. These type of photos are very popular with tourists visiting the Tower of Pisa. When one takes the photo of the individual from another angle however, it becomes an interesting and often hilarious depiction of people acting strange.

    Colosseum
    Fig. 17: A view of the Colosseum with tourists taking photos.

    Fig. 18
    Fig. 18: Cathedral of Florence. Notice the people at the base of the cathedral.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 19: Tourists inside the Cathedral of Pisa.

    Rotunda
    Fig. 20: We come, we touch, we tread and we degrade—the impact of tourism on heritage sites isconcerning and far from solved. People inside the Rotunda—The Pantheon in Rome.

     

    The Rome I Saw

    They say there are two Romes; the one the tourist sees and then the real Rome. I do not mean to pretend like I am clueless as to what this means but perhaps because of the focus of my study, I saw mostly the tourist areas and needless to say, it was simply beautiful. I had received several warnings before entering the country from friends to be very cautious and weary of the people in Rome and Italy in general. To my relief, I had nothing to worry about in the end. A lot of the people I met and interacted with, from the police at the airport to the lady at the corner shop, were all very helpful and pleasant. Of course, this is not to say that absolutely everyone in these places were pleasant. In many of the sites I visited, I often stood out and got a lot of (unwanted stereotypical) stares, but when the circumstance brings about an actual interaction, many are shocked that I speak English and that I am in fact a university teacher.

    Speaking of sites in Rome, naturally Saint Peter’s Basilica was my first port of call. The basilica building and indeed the whole of the Vatican space leaves you with no doubt that art and architecture are extremely potent instruments to propagate an idea, in this case, faith. Details of the mesmerising experience I had with the architecture will be discussed in my next article. One thing I am eager to mention is that through the instrument of sculptural art and ornamentation, the Vatican has left no room for doubt as to who is in charge—one will find the papal insignia everywhere and on everything, even when you are not looking and when you are in fact looking, it is amazing how many you will find around. This constant visual repetition becomes a very powerful communication that unconsciously upholds the order and hierarchical structure of the land. In Rome, I saw that sculpture and architecture are in the very center of the socio-religious message.

    Piazza Navona
    Fig. 21: Details of one of the statues at the fountain in the Piazza Navona. Notice the Papal insignia on the upper part of the photo. The two keys crossed beneath a Papal tiara also called a triregnum.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 22: Again, the crossed keys underneath a triregnum, the Papal insignia as seen at the topmost part of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

    Fig. 23
    Fig. 23: Over a door way inside the Vatican Museum, notice two Papal insignia—one is gilded and is positioned just under the blue plated sign that reads GREGORIVS XIII PON. The other just above the stone carved emblem.

    Fig. 24
    Fig. 24: A full frame of the earlier featured statue at the fountain in Piazza Navona.

    Fig. 25
    Fig. 25: Another statue at the Piazza Navona, here a male figure is seen wrestling with an octopus. The gull perches on top the figure’s head.

    Saint Angelo Bridge
    Fig. 26: Saint Angelo Bridge built by Emperor Hadrian. The bridge is directly in front of the Sant’Angelo Castle. The castle is a 2nd century cylindrical castle now museum.  

     

    On the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon

    Once you get past the crowd and you freeze the noise, you will at once notice that the design of the Trevi fountain is an absolute evidence of the masterful craftsmanship in ancient Italy. It was designed by Nicola Salvi after controversially ‘winning’ a competition.2 Salvi started work on the fountain in 1732, though the fountain was later completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762, as Salvi died before completion in 1751. The Trevi fountain is to me a marriage of stone and water, two naturally immiscible materials, but here presented emphatically as one. The niche in the center with the majestic freestanding columns beautifully frames Oceanus—god of all waters and the Titan lord of the seas. Notice how movement and fluidity is represented in the abstracted clam shape at the base of Oceanus.

    On to the Pantheon, and its glory never seems to wane. How do you visit Roma without seeing the Pantheon, the ‘roman centurion’ I featured above told me, “Be a man, brave the cold,” he says mostly by body gesticulation. So, I did brave the cold and walked from the Piazza Navona through the streets with the help of a map and many kind police officers that dotted every major cross point. The temple continues to draw a crowd even almost 2,000 years after its construction. It commands quite a presence within the tight square it now finds itself at the Piazza de la Rotunda. The triangular pediment slightly hides the dome structure from the outside but do not be deceived, the full splendour of the dome becomes apparent as you enter the Rotunda. Partly what draws one to domes are the elaborately decorated inner core—the dome of the Pantheon, in spite of its plainness (coffered concrete with simple geometric patterns), remains as stately as any of the greatly decorated domes.

    Trevi Fountain
    Fig. 27: The full frontal view of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Here I have eliminated all human distractions so that focus is on the masterful piece. Notice the fluidity of form at the base of Oceanus—the lord of all the seas.

    Fig. 28
    Fig. 28: Details of the sculptural representation of Oceanus carefully framed by the niche.

    Fig. 29
    Fig. 29: The frontal façade of the Pantheon showing the fountain of the Piazza de la Rotunda in the foreground. Notice the Egyptian style obelisks similar to the one at the Piazza Navona.

    Fig. 30
    Fig. 30: The fountain at the Piazza de la Rotunda in front of the Pantheon. Notice very closely the Papal insignia on the emblem attached to the base of the obelisk. 

    Fig. 31
    Fig. 31: A view of part of the coffered dome and the oculus of the Pantheon and part of the apse inside the Rotunda.

    altar inside Pantheon
    Fig. 32: An altar inside the Pantheon.

     

    Florence and the Dome of Brunelleschi

    In Florence, one finds one of the most prestigious architectural heritage sites of Italy, the Cathedral of Florence, dedicated to the Santa Maria del Fiore. An impressive piece of architecture that spots what is probably the most popular dome in the whole of Western Europe—Brunelleschi’s dome. The dome crowns the cathedral with all glory. The beautiful cathedral we see today is the culmination of several artists and artisans though it was started by Arnolfo di Cambio in September of 1296. Arnolfo died in 1302 and Master Builder Giotto took over. Brunelleschi won the competition to build the dome over the finished cathedral in 1420 and through years of relentless work and innovations, the dome was finally completed in 1434 and this paved the way for the cathedral’s consecration in 1436—140 years after it had been begun.

    Florence has a long and chequered history of social and political turmoil. It was first besieged, though unsuccessfully, by the Ostrogoths around 405, then, the Byzantines in 539 and the Goths in 541. Much later, infighting and clashes between factions—the Guelghs, followers of the Pope, and the Ghibellines, the supporters of the Emperor—raged for years, fracturing the very structure of Florence’s political stability through to the mid-13th century. Interestingly, all the unsteadiness was not enough to dowse the flourishing arts and literature of the land. Some of the world’s greatest artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo worked in Florence when it was at its peak. As it was in the ancient times, so it is now, the sight of the dome will arrest your consciousness. My default practice is to walk right to the center and look directly up into the inner copula, the feeling is the same from dome to dome—such powerful visual expression of beauty.

    Brunelleschi’s Dome of the Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 33: Brunelleschi’s dome of the Florence Cathedral.

    Giotto’s Campanile
    Fig. 34: A view of the of the cathedral’s bell tower (Giotto’s Campanile). The construction of the tower started in 1334 by master builder Giotto. The tower stands at about 265 ft high.

    Florentine Baptistery
    Fig. 35: A view of the Florentine Baptistery also known as the Baptistery of St Giovanni. The octagonal baptistery is situated directly opposite the Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 36: Details of the front façade of the Florence Cathedral showing the west door and ornamentation. This 19th-century façade was designed by Emilio de Fabris.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 37: The central western door of the Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 38: Details of a sculpture and decorative elements on the western façade of Florence Cathedral.

    Florence Cathedral
    Fig. 39: A view of the western façade showing its ornamentation and part of the rose window.

    Cathedral del fiore
    Fig. 40: Inside the Cathedral del Fiore. A view looking towards the altar and a hint of the inner dome.

    Cathedral del Fiore
    Fig. 41: Looking up into the inner copula of Brunelleschi’s dome inside the Cathedral del Fiore. The mosaic we see today was done after about a hundred years of the completion of the dome by Vasari, the famous artist. Vasari, on the order of Cosimo I de’Medici, worked on the fresco from 1572 until his death just two years after. The fresco is a representation of the Biblical Last Judgment.

    Cathedral del Fiore
    Fig. 42: A view of part of the inner copula of the dome and the altar.

     

    Pisa

    I made my way to Pisa, a quite small town roughly 80 km from Florence, to see the famous leaning Tower of Pisa. It was indeed worth the while. The tower, simply known as Torre di Pisa, is actually a detached bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral. The cathedral, a baptistery, and the bell tower are all situated in a spacious square called the Piazza del Duomo. The characteristic tilt of the tower is a result of building on weak soil. The tower was built in phases over two centuries and initial construction work started in 1173. The fault started becoming apparent in 1178 and by completion in the 14th century, the tower had sustained a tilt of about 5 degrees giving an approximately 12 ft displacement of the topmost part. Nevertheless, and in fact probably because of the fault, the fame of the tower has grown immensely. In spite of the tilt, the over 185-ft-tall structure maintains a dignified aura and has remained a wonder to see. As I made my way up the spiral stairs of the tower to see the massive tower bells at the top, I could not help but wonder if these are the same steps used by the famous Galileo Galilei as he made his way to the summit of the tower for his famed experiment on mass and speed of descending objects. 

    The tower, the cathedral, and the baptistery all in the complex were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.3 Recent efforts by modern engineering has now stabilized the tower at least for another 200 years they say.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 43: The famous leaning Tower of Pisa. Due to soft base soil beneath causing an approximate 5° tilt, the building gave way gradually over the years to its now iconic position.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 44: A view of the tower with its characteristic columns.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 45: Details of columns on the Tower of Pisa.

    Tower of Pisa
    Fig. 46: I wonder if Galileo Galilei went up these same steps for his famous experiment. One gets a floating feeling as you climb the stairs moving from the low side to the high. A slight centrifugal force continues to tug on you until you reach the summit. 

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47: The tip of the tower with tourists to scale. Notice the bells on the tower top.

    Tower of Pisa bell
    Fig. 48: One of the bells at the summit of the Tower of Pisa.

    Pisa Baptistery of St John
    Fig. 49: The Pisa Baptistery of St John. Said to be the largest baptistery in the whole of Italy.

    Pisa Baptistery of St John
    Fig. 50: Floral and figural ornamentation on the portal of the main entrance of the Pisa Baptistery.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 51: A view of the Cathedral of Pisa. Also known in Italian as Il Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta. It is a Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 52: Details of the columns on the western façade of the Cathedral of Pisa.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 53: The bronze central door of the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa bronze door
    Fig. 54: Details of the bronze central door on the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa bronze door
    Fig. 55: Details of the bronze central door of the Cathedral of Pisa’s western façade.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 56: A view of the interior of the Cathedral of Pisa looking towards the altar from the nave.

    Cathedral of Pisa
    Fig. 57: A view of the interior of the Cathedral of Pisa showing columns that demarcate the nave from the northern isle.

    Piazza dei Miracoli sculpture
    Fig. 58: A curious bronze sculpture on the grounds of the Piazza dei Miracoli which means Square of Miracles—this is where the Pisa Baptistery, the Cathedral of Pisa, and the Tower of Pisa are situated. The square is also known as the Piazza del Duomo. The sculpture appears to be of an angel with broken wing.

    Piazza dei Miracoli sculpture
    Fig. 59: The reverse view of the sculpture of the angel with the broken wing.

    aerial view Pisa
    Fig. 60: A view of the town of Pisa from the top of the Tower of Pisa.

     



    1 Fawcett Jane, “The Impact of Visitors on the Medieval Cathedrals and Abbeys of England” in Old cultures in new worlds. 8th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium. Programme report - Compte rendu. US/ICOMOS, Washington (1987) 876-883.

    2 Gross Hanns, Rome in the Age of Enlightenment: The Post-Tridentine Syndrome and the Ancient Regime (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 28.

    3 "Piazza del Duomo, Pisa". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved August 8, 2016.

    13 Comments
  • Ruin as Ornament

    By
    ‘Deyemi Akande, 2016 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Feb 5, 2018

    Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    I am not from a culture that values ruined objects. We see and relate to them more as an eyesore than vestiges of a great past. In fact, culturally, we are obligated to repair, replace or remove ruined objects. As a historian, who is also Yoruba, being in Greece presents a chronic and well-founded conflict within me. Thankfully, culture alone does not inform my actions. While I confess that at first glance Greece fatigued me and it was tough for me to relate to the ruins, however historic and revered, it will take more than cultural indoctrination to prevent the uncontrollable high you feel when the thought crosses your mind that Socrates may have touched this very column I am now touching.

    To untrained minds, a ruin is exactly what it is—devastation and decay. It should have no visual appeal and no beauty; at least not the type that will draw us to it. Ruins should have no function and no useful value to us in the present age where our taste and needs have morphed over time to such extent that an ancient piece of jewelry, for example, is now so dated and useful only in an archaeology show-and-tell class or perhaps historic movie sets. Ruin, in basic terms, should mean the collapsed remnant of what was once great, now a deformed structure that no longer carries the appearance of majesty. In Greece, these suppositions are in fact not the case. Every year, millions of people give all to travel to see Greece’s architectural ruins. Ancient architectural sites, rank among the top three reasons why people visit Greece. Those ancient ruins have arguably become Greece’s most valuable asset and a very present evidence of the absence of a former glory.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 1: A vestige of former glory. The western façade of the Parthenon ("parthenos" in Greek). The temple of Athena, the Virgin goddess and protector of Athens showing its elegant Doric styled columns.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 2: Western façade of the Parthenon, temple of Athena. Practically all of its ornamented pediment has been lost to time.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 3: Closer details of the remnant of the pediment showing relics of the once glorious pediment sculpture.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 4: Details of the pediment showing remnants of its sculpture.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 5: Details of the fluted columns showing deterioration from age.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 6: Ionic capitals of the Erechtheion and the remnant of the pediment showing new marble from recent reconstructive restoration work.

    The word ruin, as most architectural relics are called, has its origin in a Latin word ruina from ruere, which is ‘to fall’. I imagine this word to be quite apt for the description of architectural relics. For it is through the falling of an empire or a civilization that neglect comes to its structures and through neglect the gradual surrender to the powers of nature, which forces all that came from dust to return to dust. Thus, a ruin is not in itself an end but a mid-point in the cycle of life. After all, ruin is defined as the physical disintegration or the state of being destroyed. Speaking of definitions and the word ‘destroyed,’ it is important for me to mention for the record that not all ruins follow the romantic process of gradual disintegration described above. Many modern ruins remind us of another type of legacy, one with much violence and meaningless destruction. The character and posture of this other type carries a different kind of tension. Through it, the articulation of humanity’s bad judgments are ever so apparent. As I write, Aleppo, Mosul, and Raqqa all come to mind. I speak here of the atrocious destruction of architecture with a heavy heart, I will not belabour you to deviate too far off to mention the meaningless destruction of human life.

    At the SAH 2017 Annual Conference in Glasgow, I was honoured to sit in a panel alongside extremely brilliant minds: Getty Research Institute’s Maristella Casciato, Abby Van Slyck of Connecticut College, Zeynep Kezer of Newcastle University, and Getty Conservation Institute’s Jeffery Cody. Dianne Harris of the University of Utah moderated. The panel discussed the challenges of practising architectural history in context of the current anti-knowledge political climate. Mr. Cody was so generously kind to give me what appeared to be his only copy of an excellent book ‘The Battle for Home’ written by Marwa Al-Sabouni, a young Syrian architect. I was immensely struck by her words as she described the utter tragedy of the reduction of Syrian built heritage to ruins. Early in her introduction, Marwa states that it is only through architecture that we see the point of view that is no one’s in particular and everyone’s in general. Buildings do not lie to us; they tell the truth without taking sides. Every little detail in an urban configuration is an honest register of a lived story.1 Indeed, the architectural ruins of Syria fully carries on its back, the mark of our collective actions or inactions.

    Battle for Home
    Fig. 7: My copy of The Battle for Home by Marwa Al-Sabouni gifted to me by Jeffery Cody.

    So what draws us to “rubble”? Perhaps the strong force behind architectural ruins are tied to the fact that they are concrete evidence of a past civilization and, a connection to our common quest for survival and a pursuit of greatness. Ruins are the vestige of an attempt at a life of substance by people before us. We are irresistibly attracted to them on account of a strong primal instinct we have to reach out to our ancestors and to touch the past. We humans have a burning desire always to connect with people like us either from a different place or time. The ruins are a proof of the triumph of the people of the past and to us, a glimpse of how the people of the future may see our legacy.

    Erechtheion
    Fig. 8: The Erechtheion amidst hundreds of old marble slabs that were once a part of one temple or the other on the Acropolis.

    Fig. 9
    Fig. 9: Marble columns, metal columns. Scaffolds now stand where the Naos used to be. The once sacred space now lays bare to all under the sun.

    Erechtheion
    Fig. 10: The marriage of the old and the new. New marble is seen integrated with ancient marble on a column on the Erechtheion.

    Erechtheion
    Fig. 11: The base of the Ionic columns of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis showing trimming ornamentation and the worn stylobate.

    Erechtheion
    Fig. 12: The six beauties—caryatids—of the Erechtheion, worn with age but elegant nonetheless. Vitruvius in his treatise speaks of caryatids as immortalised forms of women (wives) from Caryae captured as slaves and presented in architecture as carriers of the weight of their shame for their state.

    Caryatids of Erechtheion
    Fig. 13: Caryatids of Erechtheion. Closer details of the women of caryae in long robes.

    Fig. 14
    Fig. 14: A view of the Parthenon, temple of Athena, on the Acropolis showing scaffolds from the restoration work. Notice the strong line of columns and the corner piece column showing clear signs of entasis.

    Fig. 15
    Fig. 15: The Theatre of Dionysus.

    Theatre of Dionysus
    Fig. 16: Arched walls of the Theatre of Dionysus.

    Theatre of Dionysus
    Fig. 17: Details of the arched wall of the Theatre of Dionysus.

    Acropolis
    Fig. 18: Drums from old columns litter the grounds of the Acropolis.

    Acropolis
    Fig. 19: Piles of architectural elements and marble blocks from the ancient structures. The piles on the Acropolis are like a massive jig saw puzzle. The restoration teams are constantly trying to figure out what fits where.

    Acropolis column
    Fig. 20: Drums from columns litter the grounds. Some from the past and some from the recent restoration efforts. The restorers being so meticulous will very easily
    discard any reconstructed architectural pieces that does not perfectly fit.

    Ordinarily, I would see ruin only in its most superficial quality and would have delineated it as waste had I not come across the idea of the "afterlife of architecture." Afterlife of architecture is a concept that speaks to the remnant value and aesthetics of derelict architecture. It discusses the tactile qualities that preserve aspects of an architectural idea in a way that tells the story of the life of the building. Patricia Morton puts it beautifully: The “afterlife” of buildings is critical evidence of the origins of the present in the “trash of history.”2 In another work, Rumiko Handa puts a different but insightful twist to it; she argues that “afterlife” is in fact the very life of a building, as the notion that architecture is complete when the construction is finished is problematic and unrealistic.3

    Beyond the obvious, there is far more to architectural ruin in Greece than meets the eye. The majestic ‘left overs’ carry on more clout and reverence than most of the modern structures in the ancient city. I know not of a single modern edifice both on the Mainland or Islands of Greece that gets nearly as much attention. In fact, as it is to be seen in the Acropolis Museum—same as any museum for that matter—the fantastic ultra-modern building complex is valuable only in context of its content. The fascination with the ancient Greek ruins have a well-established history of its own. Julien-David le Roy’s Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grece, published in 1758, is a testament to this.

    Originally the notable architectural ruin may have been accidental or an unplanned result that evolved through time in some cases such as the great ruins (Colosseum, Acropolis, Machu Picchu, etc.) or through a devastating event such as war (Racqua, Post WWII Warsaw, Paris, etc.), but as civilization passed, the idea of ruin flourish among romantics, artists, and culturists such that the purposeful creation and incorporation of the ideology of ruin into their art became the order of the day. This was particularly true of the 18th century when ruin was centre-stage in European art.4 Poets, novelists, landscapists, and architects were overcome with the idea of a picturesque rot. The craze, Dillon (2012) continues, inspired some well-known architectural absurdities: in 1740 Westmeath, Lord Belvedere built a ruined abbey to block the view of a house where his ex-wife had moved in with his brother, and in 1796 William Beckford designed his fantastical Fonhill Abbey as a “habitable ruin,” sadly the thing kept falling down. In the 20th century, Albert Speers, Hitler’s architect, is believed to have planned and designed Hitler’s future Germania with its potential “ruin value” in mind. Speers believed that using special materials, or by obeying certain laws of statics, one might be able to build structures, which, after hundreds or thousands of years, would more or less resemble our Roman models.5 The Second World War will however test the taste for ruin to its limits.6

    Erechtheion
    Fig. 21: Delicate balance. Restoration work shows new marble integrated with the old on the Erechtheion.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 22: Part of the ruins of the Parthenon showing triglyph and the corner area of the pediment.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 23: A synthesis of the old and the new. Columns of the Parthenon showing the ‘marriage’ of old and new marble in a restoration effort.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 24: Details of the ornamentation on the Parthenon.

    Parthenon
    Fig. 25: Scaffolds around a Parthenon column show progress in restoration work.

    Fig. 26
    Fig. 26: A fr
    agment of old acroterium lay about on the Acropolis hill.
     

    Short Note on the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

    The Acropolis Museum is a notable building and a place of pride to Athenians and Greece as a whole. The beautiful edifice designed by architect Bernard Tschumi in conjunction with Greek Architect Michael Photiadis stands over the old ruins of a Roman and early Byzantine settlement in Athens. Tschumi’s Acropolis Museum was opened to the public in 2009 and it houses over 4,000 archaeological objects mostly from excavation projects on and around the Acropolis hill. This ultra-modern building is not the first museum for the Acropolis. An initial collection house dedicated to artifacts found on the acropolis was established as far back as 1874. This museum later grew in the 1950s but the structure eventually became inadequate as archaeological work on the Acropolis advanced discovering far more objects than the building could hold, thus the idea for a grand new building was conceived. The current Acropolis Museum allows you see the active ancient archaeological site just below it through a glass floor. The museum is located close to the hill just opposite the Theatre of Dionysus and it is about a 15-minute walk from the Parthenon itself. Inside the museum, one will find an impressive array of relics from the ancient glory of the Acropolis. Both fragments of the original and plaster reconstructions are displayed in a way that educates the viewer on the actual and original forms that adorned the gables of the great temples.

    Acropolis Museum installation
    Fig. 27: An installation inside the Acropolis Museum. The piece shows the remnant of the architectural sculptures that once adorned the pediment of the old temple.

    Caryatids in Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 28: The Women of Caryae—Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum.

    Caryatid in Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 29: Frontal view of a caryatid with long robe (as Vitruvius puts it) in the Acropolis Museum.

    Caryatid Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 30: Details of the upper frontal side of a caryatid.

    Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 31: Side view of a caryatid with long robe on display in the Acropolis Museum.

    Acropolis Museum
    Fig. 32: Several friezes, steles, and architectural sculptures excavated from the Acropolis hill are on display inside the museum.

    Fig. 33
    Fig. 33: Remnant of two marble torso pieces from a pediment sculpture.

    Fig. 34
    Fig. 34: A 1990 plaster model reconstruction of the floral akroterion that once crowned the top of the Parthenon pediment. The original akroterion on top of the ancient Parthenon had a height of 4 meters.

    Fig. 35
    Fig. 35: Plaster models of pediment sculptures from the Parthenon. See Figs. 3 and 4 where the original still adorns the ruins of the Parthenon.

    Fig. 36
    Fig. 36: A cityscape view of the city of Athens just around the slope of the Acropolis hill. In the centre of the photo is the modern Acropolis Museum. In the foreground is th
    e Theatre of Dionysus.

    If one is bemused by the collection of the Acropolis Museum, then he has not visited the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Formerly called the Central Museum but renamed in 1881, the National Archaeological Museum boasts of over 11,000 pieces of valuable exhibits. The museum is said to be the largest in Greece and one of the most reputed on the world scene for its rich collection, which provides a detailed picture of ancient Greek civilization. The Neo-Classical building was designed by L. Lange for the Greek government and the construction, which started around 1865, was completed in 1889. The museum houses world renowned pieces like the bronze statue of Poseidon, known as the Artemision Bronze, the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon, which has been dated to 1550–1500 BC, several well preserved frescoes and wall art from antiquity, several friezes, and remnants of different architectural elements of great temples. From its metallurgy collection, it also boasts of the famous Antikythera mechanism. The museum’s 120-year-old library of archaeology is also a collection to marvel at. With over 20,000 volumes, it houses several rare volumes on art, science, ancient religion, and philosophy.

    National Archaeological Museum, Athens
    Fig. 37: View approaching the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

    Fig. 38
    Fig. 38: Roof-mounted sculptures to the left of the approach view of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

    Fig. 39
    Fig. 39: The base of a funerary kouros made of Pentelic marble. The fine piece built into the Themistokleian wall was found in Kerameikos in Athens and it is date to around 510 BC.

    Fig. 40
    Fig. 40: Fragments from the largest rotunda in ancient Greece—The Tholos. The Tholos was built between 365–355 BC. The lion heads acted as a water sprout, a type of gargoyle. Several heads lined the base of the rotunda’s roof.

    Fig. 41
    Fig. 41: Funerary stele made out of Poros stone features a chariot scene. This piece is a 16th-century work and was found at a Mycenaen grave.

    Fig. 42
    Fig. 42: Another grave stele made of Pentelic marble and dated around the 4th century BC. This piece if from the north western part of Athens.

    Artemision Bronze
    Fig. 43: The bronze statue of Poseidon also known as the Artemision Bronze. The slightly larger than life size naturalistic piece was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision hence the name.

    Fig. 44
    Fig. 44: A beautiful and well preserved fresco from the island of Thera. This room features delicate paintings on plastered walls. The ‘Boxing Children’ and the antelope frescoes are now both celebrated works in their own rights.

    ‘Boxing Children’ fresco
    Fig. 45: Detail of the ‘Boxing Children’ fresco.

    Fig. 46
    Fig. 46: Another fine example of well-preserved wall fresco found in Akrotiri. The fresco features a colorful landscape in spring. Researchers believe that the art depicts the rocky landscape of Theran before the volcanic eruption.

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47
    : Detail of the landscape in spring fresco from Akrotiri.

    Ruins are obviously more than just the reminders of an illustrious past, they are also stencils for future. Ruins speak to persistence and a quality that becomes imperative if the future is to see a trace of the present. These critical thoughts about ruins are instructive to me even as I battle with the cultural conflict inside me about the value of ruins. In all, I find some sense and direction in the words of Georg Simmel from his essay “The Ruin” as quoted by Brian Dillon in his article "Fragments from the History of Ruin": "Architecture is the only art in which the great struggle between the will of the spirit and the necessity of nature issues into real peace, in which the soul in its upward striving and nature in its gravity are held in balance. Nature begins to have the upper hand: the brute, downwards-dragging, corroding, crumbing power produces a new form. But at what point can nature be said to be victorious in this battle between formal spirit and organic substance? The ruin is not the triumph of nature, but an intermediate moment, a fragile equilibrium between persistence and decay."7

    Lycabettus hill Athens
    Fig. 48: A view of the city of Athens in the lowlands around the Lycabettus hill.

    Fig. 49
    Fig. 49: Athens city centre in the lowlands around the Acropolis hill.

    Athens, Greece
    Fig. 50: A nigh
    t view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis hill.



    1 Marwa Al-Sabouni, The Battle For Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016), 8.

    2 Patricia Morton, "The Afterlife of Buildings: Architecture and Walter Benjamin's Theory of History" in Rethinking Architectural Historiography, ed. Dana Arnold, Elvan Altan Ergut, and Belgin Turan Ozkaya (Routledge, 2006), 360.

    3 Rumiko Handa, “Learning from the Ruins: Theorizing the Performance of the Incomplete, Imperfect, and Impermanent” (paper delivered at Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality Symposium, 2012).

    4 Brian Dillon, “Ruin lust: Our love affair with decaying buildings,” The Guardian, February 17, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/feb/17/ruins-love-affair-decayed-buildings (accessed January 11, 2018).

    5 Brian Dillon, “Fragments from a History of Ruins,” Cabinet, Issue 20 Ruins, Winter 2005/06.

    6 (Dillon 2012)

    7 (Dillon 2005)

    8 Comments
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