Whether due to mortars, terrorism, free will or the musings of politicians – it seems mad to us now, in an age when preservation is a priority, that buildings of historical significance have been torn down without any governmental say-so. In every part of the globe, our lands are littered with the remains of what’s been left behind, or the spaces where things ‘could have been’.
So what are we, as historical tourists, missing exactly from in our archaeological passports? What should have been where, that is no longer here?
Ancient Aleppo Markets
The cost of disruption and human lives in Syria far outweighs the damage to stationary buildings. This market, registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, suffered tremendously during city wide fights, eventually going up in flames which destroyed the majority of the ancient ‘souk’. Somewhere in the region of 700-1000 shops have been destroyed, and water strikes have meant that containing the fire was nigh on impossible. What was once a huge tourist attraction within this thriving city is now just a marker of the tragedy that has taken over and ripped apart the country.
It suprises most to here of the wide presence of anicent roman ruins in northern Africa, and that one of Ancient Rome’s most famous sites in fact lies in Tunisia.
The Library of Alexandria
Grasping the truth behind the ‘who, where, when and how’ of this historical mystery is one of the appeals for writers and historians collecting evidence and theories about this legendary mass burnings of books.
The Library of Alexandria was designed to be the greatest that had ever existed, with lecture halls, walking spaces, reading rooms and shelves stacked with papyrus scrolls containing the knowledge of the world. This revered building played study space to many of the great thinkers we still admire today, and the tragedy of its destruction is still considered symbolic as the damaging of public knowledge.
Who did it, and why, remains a mystery, yet there are three main red-handed culprits that we often find on the receiving end of the blame: Julius Caesar, Emperor Theodosius I, and the Muslim army of Amr ibn al `Aas.
A new library, named Biblioteca Alexandrina has been built at the site to commemorate this historically great building, though does not hold any of the glory of its predecessor – the largest library in ancient history.
The House Where Shakespeare Lived
Much attention is paid to the house in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK where the world’s most notable wordsmith was born.
Yet this was not the space Shakespeare inhabited during the prime of his career, nor as an old man.
In 1597, Shakespeare purchased a house known as New Place for the total sum of £60, lived there in his retirement from 1610, and eventually died there in 1616. Yet why is it this historical site is barely visited, whether in conversation or real life?
After the death of his wife, Anne, Shakespeare’s house passed into consecutive hands, before becoming the official property of Reverend Francis Gastrell. In 1759, after years of suffering at the hands of gawking tourists coming to see Shakespeare’s abode, Gastrell decided to end his torment by having the house completely destroyed. Thus, the space where Shakespeare’s house once stood is now just that; a space of land owned by the Shakespeare Trust.
Unlike his Globe theatre which stands alongside the River Thames, no modern replica has been created of this building, nor is it known exactly how it would have looked during his lifetime. Those who travel to Stratford to visit the site are simply forced to use their “imagination” to attempt to mentally picture “the forms of things unknown”.
The Labyrinth of King Minos
Our childhoods are peppered with legend and folklore, and none perhaps as appealing as the stories from Ancient Greece. The tale of King Minos’ Minotaur, captive within the curving corridors of the labyrinth, is one we’re well familiarised with by adulthood, and those visiting Greece may wonder – was it real? Did it ever exist?
Evidence for this mythical maze is yet to be found, but archaeologists excavating the Palace of Knossos, the home of King Minos, have an interesting theory. Due to the sheer size and scale of the palace, which has room and hallways tumbling into one another in a very haphazard manner, it’s believed that perhaps the palace itself was the famed labyrinth of the tales.
The first palace was destroyed (whether by fire or natural disaster, nobody knows) and rebuilt on a slightly smaller, although infinitely more grand, scale in 1700 BCE.
Nowadays, visitors can explore the ins and outs of the palace ruins in its restored glory, though this area of Crete is much more popular for its tourist-attracting resorts, like Malia, than as the home of one of its most renowned historical kings and beasts.
Dresden – Sophienkirche
Few cities have been attacked to the same extent as Dresden, the German city which suffered the hit of thousands of bombs in early 1945. Unfortunately, brick and mortar were the least of the worries for citizens, and the beautiful baroque architecture was blasted into oblivion.
One building in particular amongst those harmed stands out, however; the sole gothic church, Sophienkirche. The twin neo-gothic spires of this church made it the admiration of the town, and though many assume the building was struck down along with others in the war, it wasn’t actually destroyed until much later, in 1642.
The church’s fate, instead of falling prey to bombs and blasts, suffered instead at the hands of city politicians, who declared ‘a socialist city does not need gothic churches’. And so it was demolished.
In the Postplatz area, where the Sophienkirche once stood, is now a very disappointing, 1990s-style office building – definitely not worth the visit.
The World Trade Centre
The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, USA is still so fresh, and so unfinished, that it need no explanation about how its destruction came about. The internet is brimming with conspiracy theories, news both true and false, and heavy emotions which make the subject a sensitive one to discuss. Whilst musings of motives involves splashing around in muddy water – one of the more interesting things about this lost piece of architecture is what happened next.
The flocking of thousands to see the site where the twin towers rested is what’s referred to as ‘dark tourism’; as people seek to see for themselves the damage that has been done, and to make material those images seen on TV. Whilst this may seem odd, in reality it is no different from any other site of interest where we go to learn; whether that be a museum or an archaeological phenomenon such as Stonehenge. Nowadays, Ground Zero is a spectacle in itself. Guides offering walking tours, a museum, and exhibitions are dedicated to the remembrance of what was once in its place, and it has proved a far more visited tourist spot than the unfortunate buildings which preceded it.
I’m a travel blogger currently trying to evade death by crushing each morning on London’s monstrous tube system.