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In ruins

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What is it that makes a ruined building so photogenic? Why would a building that is no longer fit for the purpose for which it was constructed somehow look better, in an artistic sense, than it did when complete and fit for purpose? And yet, such is often the case.

The ruins in my photos here range in age from very ancient (the temples of Tikal and Lamanai) to pretty recent (Hiroshima). In some cases the destruction is due to the passing of time, in others it was down to a natural catastrophe or even a deliberate act of man. But all are picturesque in some way, at least to my eye.

Tikal

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View of Temples II and III from Temple IV

Tikal is considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient Mayan World. It contains the tallest pre-Columbian structure now standing in the Americas, Temple IV, and many others besides, all scattered across a wide area, and many still hidden by jungle growth and the accumulation of centuries of earth. Those that have been excavated, and (in some cases) restored, tower above the tree tops, giving rise to the nickname that was quoted to us several times by locals: the “New York of Guatemala”. Well, New York it isn’t, but it is all the more amazing for that. To reflect that these massive structures were built so long ago (between the late 7th and early 9th centuries), and without the use of technology, is truly awesome.

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Temple V

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Lost World pyramids
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Temple I, Grand Plaza and Ball Court

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Views of Temple III

Lamanai

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The Mask Temple, Lamanai

The Lamanai Maya ruins may be less extensive than those at sites elsewhere in Central America, but they are well worth a visit, whether or not you’ve been to some of the other sites. Lamanai means "submerged crocodile" in the Maya language. The site is notable for several reasons. It was occupied long after many other Maya sites had fallen into disuse and neglect (until at least 1650 AD) and unlike other sites, many of its temples were built in layers, each on top of a previous structure, rather than temples being torn down and built anew.

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Jaguar Temple

Hundreds of ruins are said to be still hidden in the undergrowth, and here and there you will get glimpses perhaps of a man-made hollow that was once a water reservoir, or a “hill” that almost certainly conceals the remains of a temple. But although on a much smaller scale than Tikal, there are still four notable temples which have been restored, three of which can be climbed.

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Stela Temple (the stela is a replica, with the original in the museum)

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The High Temple

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Jaguar Temple in the mist

And while we are in this part of the world ...

Antigua Guatemala

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Convento della Compagnia de Jesus, Antigua Guatemala

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Cloister of Convento de Santa Clara

Antigua, or Antigua Guatemala to give it its full name, was the country’s third capital. It was founded in 1543 when an eruption of the Vulcan Agua destroyed the second capital in the valley of Almononga. In 1566 the city received the name of “Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala” (Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Caballeros of Guatemala), or Santiago de Guatemala for short. Despite the ravages of several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the city was the capital and economic centre of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.). But in 1773 came the most destructive of all the earthquakes, the Santa Marta, and much of the city’s political and religious infrastructure was destroyed. And so the capital was moved yet again.

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Details of cathedral ruins

Left largely in ruins the city might perhaps have crumbled away completely, but enough fabric and people remained to keep it alive. Today’s Santiago de Guatemala, Antigua, is a National Monument and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. At its heart is an almost perfect grid of streets and avenues, each of them a gem, lined with picturesque houses (many single storey because of the constant threat from the forces of nature) and dotted with the skeletons of those ruined colonial churches.

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Iglesia el Carmen

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Santa Clara, and San Francisco

Of course my own continent of Europe has more than enough ruins to keep my camera busy!

Pompeii and Herculaneum

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The Basilica, Pompeii

These are possibly the most famous of European ruins, especially Pompeii. The temples and other buildings near its entrance command great views of Vesuvius beyond, making it easy to imagine your way back into history and the dreadful day in AD 79 when the city was engulfed by pumice and ash. There are grand villas and humble shops, extensive bath-house complexes, theatres and small restaurants – everything that the population would have needed for a comfortable existence in this busy town.

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The small theatre

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The Forum Baths

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In the House of the Tragic Poet

When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 Herculaneum was buried in volcanic mud rather than in the lava which engulfed it perhaps more famous neighbour, Pompeii. It lay hidden and nearly intact for more than 1600 years until it was accidentally discovered by some workers digging a well in 1709. This has resulted in a different type of preservation of its ruins, with the mud doing relatively little damage to the buildings, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up.

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Herculaneum - House of the Relief of Telephus & House with the Large Portal

Herculaneum was a smaller town with a wealthier population than Pompeii at the time of its destruction. You can easily imagine that the seaside villas would have been very desirable residences, and the lifestyle of those who occupied them would have been wonderful – sipping wine on the terraces overlooking the bay, with slaves catering to your every need, beautiful mosaics and friezes adorning the walls, a pleasant climate away from the hassles of the city. I loved wandering around envisaging all this – but then also contemplating the terror that must have descended on this peaceful spot when the inhabitants suddenly realised the enormity of what was happening to the mountain that looms over it.

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The House of Neptune & Amphitrite

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The Hall of the Augustals

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In the House of the Deers

Athens

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The Temple of Zeus

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On the Acropolis

Our only visit (to date) to Athens was a fleeting one, with the main aim being to take in a football match between our team, Newcastle United, and local team Panionios (not to be confused with the more famous Panathinaikos). But as always on our football trips we made sure to fit in some sightseeing and take in the ruins of the Acropolis and a few other places in the city.

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The Parthenon - details

Heidelberg

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Heidelberg Castle

Mark Twain said of Heidelberg:
“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.”

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Heidelberg detail

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Ottheinrichsbau, Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg claims on a leaflet we picked up there to be “the world’s most famous castle”, and while that is definitely debatable, it is certainly very imposing and packed with history. It was built over a period of more than three hundred years during the 14th to 16th centuries, and therefore combines mainly Gothic and Renaissance styles of architecture. In 1693 it was blown up by the troops of Louis XIV, and the town burned to the ground. A few years later the residents, who had fled, returned to rebuild their town, using many stones from the castle as they did so, and it remained in ruins until 1742 when Elector Karl Theodor began to rebuild it. In 1764 however a bolt of lightning destroyed several buildings. The work was discontinued and the castle remains partly in ruins to this day.

Some English ruins

Many of our explorations closer to home are in the north east, on our regular trips to see family in Newcastle, so I can’t omit some of the wonderful ruins in that region.

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Panorama of Lindisfarne village with the ruined priory

Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, is, in my view, one of the most magical places in England. A small “semi-island” (that is, an island only at high tide), it has been a centre of spirituality since St Aidan founded a monastery here in the seventh century AD. Situated in the heart of the small village, the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory define what Holy Island is all about. This rich monastery on an isolated island was a prime target for Viking raiders who pillaged this coast. In 875, as a result of their repeated attacks, the monks left. But in 1150 Benedictine monks from Durham returned and built a new priory here. This was to survive until Henry VIII closed it in 1537, destroying the buildings and using some of the stones to build the island’s castle.

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Priory ruins

Today only a skeleton of the formerly imposing church remains, its so-called “rainbow arch” an evocative remnant of a vault-rib of the now-vanished tower. Around it are the foundations of the monastic buildings – kitchen, refectory, chapter house, cloister etc. With a little imagination you can start to visualise what life would have been like for this remote religious community – devoting their lives to the worship of God in this magical, spiritual place.

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St Cuthbert statue and priory ruins

Where the River Tyne flows into the North Sea lies Tynemouth, with its ruined fortified priory on a headland just north of the river mouth.

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Tynemouth Priory from the Spanish Battery

This promontory has been a strategically important spot since the time of the Saxons, who named it Pen Bal (or Benebal) Crag and founded a priory here in the 7th century. In 651 King Oswin of Deira was murdered and his body brought to Tynemouth for burial, the first of three kings to be buried here. He was later canonised and his burial place became a shrine. But in 875 the Danes destroyed the priory, after repeated raids. By the 11th century it had long been abandoned and the burial place of St. Oswin forgotten. But when a young hermit, Edmund, reported seeing St. Oswin in a vision in which the saint showed him his tomb, that tomb was rediscovered and the monastery restored. The building of the Norman church began in 1090, and the whole monastery was substantially completed by the end of the 13th century. The priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 and the king took ownership of the neighbouring castle and strengthened the fortifications of this strategic site. The church also was left standing, possibly because of its importance as a landmark for shipping along this often treacherous coast.

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From the south, and from the east

This coast is also famous for its castles. A few, like Bamburgh, are still relatively intact (and therefore not included here) but others form rather dramatic ruins, none more so perhaps than Dunstanburgh which stands on a small headland north of the fishing village of Craster and is accessible from there only on foot.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Another favourite of mine is Warkworth which dominates the small village of the same name:

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Warkworth Castle

And of course we can’t talk about the ruins to be found in the north of England without mentioning the most extensive of them all – Hadrian’s Wall and the associated forts and mile castles. In the early years of the second century AD the northern limit of the Roman Empire lay in what is now the north of England. The Emperor Hadrian commanded a Wall to be built in order to keep "intact the empire", but probably also to assert the supremacy of Roman power. This wall had a series of forts at approximately five mile intervals, where soldiers guarding the frontier were stationed. Of those that still have some remains, Housesteads, or Vercovicium to give it its Roman name, is probably the best known and most visited:

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Views of Housesteads Fort

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Hadrian's Wall from Housesteads

Hiroshima

I will finish with a building whose ruins stand as testament to the horrors that man can inflict on man, the Genbaku Dōmu or Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

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Genbaku Dōmu: the Atomic Bomb Dome

When, at 8.15 am on August 6th 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, the city became in an instant one of the most famous in the world; but what city would ever have wanted that sort of fame?

The atomic bomb’s target was the Aioi Bridge but it missed this slightly and exploded almost directly above this building, which was at the time an exhibition hall known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Because the blast was felt from immediately above, hitting the structure vertically, a surprising amount remained intact even though, of course, everyone inside was killed instantly.

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For some years after the war the skeleton of the building remained as it was. There were some who felt it should be pulled down and the site redeveloped, while others argued for its restoration and yet others for its preservation as a ruin, to stand as a memorial to what had happened and to those who had lost their lives. The latter group won the day, and in 1966 the city council declared that it intended to preserve the building, undertaking only the minimal work necessary to ensuring its stability. In December 1996, the Atomic Bomb Dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its listing was based on its survival from a destructive force, the first use of nuclear weapons on human population, and importantly its representation as a symbol of peace.

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Posted by ToonSarah 01:22 Tagged churches castles greece england japan ruins fort germany cathedral guatemala belize hiroshima Comments (11)

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