15 May 2015

Fretting for Palmyra

Even as I write this I hear of ISIS within 2 km of Palmyra and remember their bombing and bulldozing of Nimrud and more for their concern over religious idolatry. Not that the Europeans and presumably most other cultures haven't destroyed their own artefacts in various wars. The Romans built on their own remains, Bernini's Baldaccino is from melted tiles of the Pantheon and the Colosseum was being demolished for St Peter's. On the preservation side, I always wondered that national libraries, under IFLA, attempt to retain a copy of every publication. It's a noble aim if ultimately only achievable in the breach.

I'm not sure that this makes a folly or an urgency of this recent past-time of ours. We are auditing lectures in the history of architecture at University of Canberra. No tuts, no preparation or testing, but the lectures are fascinating and frequently like a trip down memory lane. First semester covers to ~1750. There's a good bit of art along the way; architecture relates to art and culture and society and religion. It's international (Stonehenge, Karnak, Borobodur, Kaaba) even if there's plenty of Western history, from Ancient world through Rome to Baroque and Renaissance. There's a smattering of modern and contemporary as influenced by the past (Merzbau, Le Corbusier, Dantaeum). We are mostly aware of the historical sites and have visited quite a few of them, but there are plenty of others that are new or obscure for us. The Second Semester takes the survey to current times. Seeing the story of historical destruction and climate change and the rest could make one fret for end-of-times. Conspiracy theories are just another indicator (viz. Maurice Newman and my pic of a note on a wall at UCan). After all, human civilisation is just ~10,000 years of the 4.5 billion year history of earth (ie, ~0.0002%). Whatever, for what's left or for what is remembered, this is a fascinating outing. Just the slightest of introduction to the wonders of just one aspect of the majestic and often tragic story of human civilisation.

Stephen Frith lectures the history of architecture at University of Canberra.

  • Thanks to WikiCommons and Bernard Gagnon for "Palmyra - Monumental Arch" by Bernard Gagnon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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