Monday, December 28, 2009

Steampunk Ruins

The ironworks in V├Âlklingen (Germany) were closed in 1986 and became later a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gigantic blast furnaces and Cowper stoves are rusting and became slowly covered by vegetation.

A real impressive site.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

After Mankind

Two nice covers of the U.S. science fiction magazine Fantastic Universe showing robots in typical human poses. To leave it clear that they are the heirs of mankind, who has not survived, the scenery is decorated with some human ruins.

Fantastic Universe (Dec. 1957)

Fantastic Universe (Aug. 1958)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Easy Booty

Maybe that today the most frequent connotation of ruins is that of misery and destruction. That’s how we see ruins nearly every day in the news and therefore these significations are much more common than any romantic or weird glorifications. Nevertheless there may be another meaning which is probably even older and that’s the banal view of ruins as easy booty.

Sure anybody is dreaming of hidden treasures, old weapons or precious statues, but reality is usually much more trivial. Since the beginning of civilization, meaning since the first ruins in history, these served above all as a resource of construction material. Probably already the Neanderthal men examined abandoned camps for timber, bones or useful stones.

Before mankind reached the modern western state of welfare there was no space for romantic reflections, ruins had to serve a certain purpose, they were used as quarries, as an easy resource of ready hewn stone.

Impressive ruins like the Heidelberg Castle were used over many years by the townsfolk to build their new houses. But the castle in Heidelberg was popular enough that the process was stopped already in 1800.

Many castles, monasteries, city walls, roman temples and aqueducts all over the world were not so lucky and disappeared in many completely from the map. Some where only saved by their huge amount of stones, so that there is still left something.

The gigantic Roman Colosseum served over centuries as a quarry for the new palaces in Rome. Maybe it would have been reduced to nothing with the faster construction in the 19th century. Fortunately already in 1749 the Pope declared it a sacred place by the blood of the Christian martyrs who perished there.

The famous Cluny Abbey for example, the largest church of Christendom until the construction of St. Peter in Rome, was sold as a quarry during the French Revolution and disappeared almost completely in some few years.

In older times there were no romantic feelings regarding ruins. Especially if construction material was needed urgently it was taken from what was near at hand regardless of any sentimentality. Nice examples could be seen in Greece, where Crusaders, Turks and Venetians constructed their fortifications with the remains of Greek temples.

Even the most impressive ruins of mankind like the Pyramids of Giza or the Great Wall of China were used over centuries as quarries.

The Pyramids of Giza were once covered by casing stones that formed a smooth surface. Some of the casing stones that once covered the whole structure can still be seen at the top, probably because they were there out of reach. But the most were used to build mosques or the immense Citadel of Cairo.

Despite being the tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site parts of the Great Wall of China are still used as a resource of construction material. For example the magnificent wall surrounding Beijing was torn down during the Cultural Revolution, the stones were used for newer buildings.

Sure that there may be ruins hiding treasures, housing memories or representing a glorious past, but that’s all luxury. Normally ruins are simple resources of stones. In the aftermath of World War II when great parts of Germany were destroyed many women were conscripted as so called "rubble women" (Tr├╝mmerfrauen) to clean the cities of all the debris. Another important task was to convert as much as possible of the debris into acceptable bricks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The New Art of Making Ruins

Fascinating documentary about the decay of Havana. There are many ruins in Havana, some are still inhabited. The documentary shows incredible scenes and also interesting interviews of people living there, who are explaining their situation with a certain kind of grim humour, which may be the only way to survive under circumstances like this.