MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE Architectural Heritage and Historiography in the Distant Past
Spinhuis Publishers ISBN 9789055893034
9 789055 893034
Wim Denslagen (1946) is architectural historian and professor in the history and theory of conservation at the Utrecht University. Actually he is working for the ministry of Culture in the Netherlands on the history of landscape perceptions. He published among others Architectural Restoration in Western Europe: Controversy and Continuity (1994) and Architectural Imitations (in 2005 with Niels Gutschow). His book Romantisch modernisme (2004) will be published in English in May 2009.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
In the world of conservation it is widely believed that the concern with historical architecture, in Europe at least, emerged during the nineteenth century, even if there had been some earlier initiatives in the Renaissance. This book draws on a number of sources to show that this concern may actually be as old as European civilization itself. The same is also true of the destruction of architecture. But the destruction of historical architecture can produce traumatic experiences, which survive in the collective memory of people. One can demolish a building, but not its memory. But how was this memory passed on in the distant past? Nearly everything we know about the past is based on the research of nineteenth-century historians. Looking beyond that age to a more distant past, one finds a totally different world of learning. Before 1800 very little systematic research was done in the field of architectural history, which does not mean that humanity had no interest in historic architecture. Veneration for the great architectural legacy of the past is found in the oldest European historiography. Christian emperors made laws to protect Roman temple architecture. The great Gothic cathedrals were admired throughout the ages and this gave rise to a determination to perfect these buildings begun by previous generations. There is more continuity in the conservation of historical architecture than we realized. It might be instructive for modern conservationists to discover how citizens in the Middle Ages took pride in the beauty of their own city. Some of these cities are still there to be admired. What has been lost is kept alive in history books and in the arts.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
This book has been written under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture in the Netherlands.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE Architectural Heritage and Historiography in the Distant Past Wim Denslagen Translated by Donald Gardner
Spinhuis Publishers 2009
Memories of architecture Apeldoorn – Antwerpen Spinhuis 2009 ISBN 9789055893034 200 p. – 24 cm NUR 682-648-694 © Wim Denslagen & Spinhuis Publishers No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from both copyright owners. Omslagontwerp: Prezns, Marco Bolsenbroek Lay-out: Prezns, Marco Bolsenbroek Spinhuis Publishers Koninginnelaan 96, 7315 EB Apeldoorn, Netherlands Somersstraat 13-15, B-2018 Antwerpen, Belgium www.spinhuis.nl firstname.lastname@example.org
Archaeology of Architectural History Destruction and oblivion Appreciation and historiography The Temple and the Tax Office War memorials Pausanias, Plutarch and Plato The Theodosian Code Libanius The Serapeum in Alexandria Antiochikos Cassiodorus The Code of Justinian Patriographic texts on Constantinople Iconoclasm The Sack of Constantinople The Pyramids of Joseph Plato on Egyptian Art The Labyrinth The Pyramids in the Middle Ages The Eternal City The destruction of Rome The marvels of Rome Magistri Viarum Archeological Research De Varietate Fortunae Romam conservari cupiamus A Plea for Protection in 1519 The first Conservatore in Rome Modern regulations in 1726 and 1820 Against the Stream of Time Sense of the past Remains of Antiquity Historicism
1 4 8 10 11 17 18 19 21 23 24 28 29 32 33 36 40 42 45 46 49 50 53 56 57 59 62 63
The Silent Ages Charlemagne The Hagia Sofia Minute takers Visual curiosity Beauty as a problem Written memorials Destruction and memory in Utrecht De Trajecto Instaurata Loci Sancti The Harmonious City The Romantic Eye Disfiguring the townscape Tuscany Siena The Ornato in Siena The Supremacy of Classicism Universal Beauty Good Taste Contempt Conformità Westminster Abbey Anti-classicism Boredom Contempt Entbarockisierung Anti-Classicism and the Conservation Movement Neo-Classicism Vitruvian Historiography Leon Battista Alberti Jacques-François Blondel The Entwurff of 1721 Sir Christopher Wren John Wood Diligent Antiquarians William Dugdale Local Historians Michel Félibien Elias Frick Christian Ludwig Stieglitz Bibliography Index The Author Illustrations
69 70 73 74 76 79 81 83 84 87 88 89 90 91 95 98 101 103 106 108 111 112 116 117 120 122 123 127 132 134 135 138 140 141 144 164 168 169
ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
Destruction and oblivion Historians of architecture not only explore the remains of what has been built in the past, but also architecture of which no remains can be found but only written testimonies. The existing historical architecture is nothing more than a fraction of what once existed, and even that little has usually been so greatly encroached on by restorations and rebuilding that even that fraction ends up more as appearance than reality. Much has been written about the history of the destruction of architecture, for instance by Martin S. Briggs (Goths and Vandals, 1952) and Louis RĂŠau (Histoire du Vandalisme, 1959), and interest in the subject has made a welcome comeback today, as one can see from The Destruction of Art. Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution by Dario Gamboni (1997), The Destruction of Memory. Architecture at War by Robert Bevan (2006) and Rubble. Unearthing the History of Demolition by Jeff Byles (2005). The study of the history of architecture includes of course the history of architectural destruction and even the history of what has been designed, but never been built. Historians of architecture have done these things from time immemorial, but the systematic and scholarly approach as we know it today only started in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since that time historical architecture became the subject not only of research, but also of protection. We have as yet no clear picture of the explorations and investigations that were published before that time. And we know little of the way in which old architecture was appreciated before that time. Would former generations also have turned to something resembling architectural heritage for comfort or inspiration as we do today? And would they have admired historical architecture and wanted to preserve it from decay for the same reason? How old in fact is the desire to conserve historical edifices? Not out of considerations of thrift or pure usefulness, but simply because they are valued for their antiquity and because they recall a distant past? The question about how ancient the interest in old architecture is may well be a modern one. It presumably first occurred when historians started speculating on how their predecessors did the things they did. Here we must make a distinction between two things. It is the difference between the study of old buildings on the one hand and that of the history of this discipline on the other.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
Antiquarianism, once an eccentric form of leisure activity, laid the foundations for the movement for the conservation of historical buildings, and as a phenomenon the latter has never become entirely independent of the world of leisure activities. The explanation for this lies in the simple fact that ancient buildings have continued to remain tourist attractions. And tourists are dependent on the narrative of the historians. Historians are told that the past is a foreign country where other customs and traditions prevail. Does that also mean that the world in which we live today isn’t foreign and incomprehensible? Not at all, I would say. Perhaps there is not so much difference in principle between the past and the present as far as the interpretation of one’s subject matter is concerned. It is easy to imagine interpreting a work of architecture of the distant past being less exacting than the interpretation of a modern piece of architecture. It all depends on the kind of questions one wants to pose. And it may well be that our modern questions imply presuppositions that did not exist in the minds of historians of a distant past. They may have had totally different questions. These reflections would seem to lead one to conclude that all research begins with groping in the dark. And indeed that is how this book began. It started out as an attempt to find source material for the way that historical architecture was valued in former times. But how does one find texts on this matter, assuming that there may have been some kind of interest in the history of architecture in the past? For the history of the Middle Ages there is the voluminous Wegweiser durch die Geschichtswerke des Europäischen Mittelalters bis 1500 by August Potthast (1957). In the introduction he speaks of ‘the long and bitter labours, in which I was often seized by the fear that all my efforts had been in vain.’ His bibliography, learned as it is, does of course not provide indexes of the books, which means that there is no easy access to the subject matters to be found in all these publications of medieval sources. If August Potthast almost succumbed under the work of producing a bibliography, one can imagine how hard it is to find any answer in his totally exhaustive survey to the question of how historical architecture was evaluated in medieval times. A heroic attempt was made by Wolfgang Götz in his Beiträge zur Vorgeschichte der Denkmalpf lege (1999). His ‘contributions’ constitute a rich survey that gives many opportunities for further investigations. It may be that conservation as we know it today has older roots than is generally realized. The immediate lineage of modern conservation can be traced back to the Romantic Age and, in a broader European connection, to the Renaissance. Françoise Choay argued recently in her book L’Allégorie du Patrimoine (1992) that ‘on peut faire naître le monument historique à Rome vers l’an 1420’. With the date 1420 she was referring to the measures taken by Pope Martin V to restore the city of Rome, but she then proceeded to ask whether the appreciation of historical art and architecture wasn’t much older. Amongst other examples, she mentioned the excavations in Aegina in 210 BC ordered by Attalus I, King of Pergamon. Holding past architecture in high esteem then is an attitude that is demonstrably older than the fifteenth century. Attalus is known to have laid down a collection of famous sculpture from the past, and he had many artworks shipped to Pergamon from Aegina, the island he had bought in 210 BC.
ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
Among them was a bronze statue of Apollo made at the beginning of the fifth century by Onatas, the son of Micon.1 What about the rest of the world? Perhaps it seems reasonable to suppose that there would have been some form of appreciation for historical architecture outside Europe as well, especially in countries with a long architectural tradition. It is by no means self-evident however that this is the case. At a symposium held in 2004 at Columbia University in New York, with the title ‘The Persistence of Traditions: Monuments and Preservation in Late Imperial and Modern China’, the sinologist Robert Harrist explained to me that architecture, unlike poetry or drawing, was never one of the ‘higher’ arts in Chinese civilization. It has never had a higher status than that of a craft. Chinese literature is for instance tireless in its celebration of the landscape, but remains silent on architecture because that belonged to the realm of the everyday. It was not discussed, and there is therefore nothing to be found in the sources. Beginning with the fourth century AD a remarkable cult of the landscape emerged in China. It was viewed as a source of inspiration, and a means of understanding nature as a spiritual force. Landscape art was therefore highly prized, but urban scenes or lavishly decorated temples did not apparently put one in a mood for contemplating higher things.2 It seems hardly possible to find old texts about the way historical architecture was appreciated in China, although much has been written on building construction. But there seem to be many memories of destruction of architecture. It has even been suggested by the well-known sinologist Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys, the author of Ombres Chinoises) that the recurrent waves of collective artistic destruction are a feature of Chinese cultural history, as though demolishing one’s heritage had a purifying effect. Shaking off the material legacy of the past might be a way of creating space for those spiritual values that play an all-powerful role in Chinese culture.3 With its worn-out conventions, the past can be experienced as a brake on future possibilities. Making war on it might have some meaning in a society such as China where the pressure of traditions has always been considerable. Perhaps this phenomenon does not occur in the West in the same way, but we have seen something similar in the recent past. After the Second World War, the dominant culture in Germany was based on the wish to create a new world in order to forget the deplorable past. That is why some architecture became suspect, especially that of the Gründerzeit, which was seen as the expression of a condemnable culture, out of which the Third Reich could emerge. 4 Typical of the rebuilding of the cities of Germany, according to Niels Gutschow, was ‘how it discarded historic traditions’. The catastrophe of the Third Reich ended in a total rejection of the past because the latter offered no escape. The only conceivable option was a new future – ‘an invincible faith in a better future, as if a look back into history 1 2 3 4
Esther V. Hansen, The Attalids of Pergamon, 1971, 316. Richard E. Strassberg, Inscribed Landscapes, 1994, 27. Pierre Ryckmans, The Chinese Attitude towards the Past, 1989. Hartwig Beseler, Kriegsschicksale, 1988, XIV.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
would allow only a look into an unfathomable pit’, according to Niels Gutschow in one of his lucid contributions how people dealt with the legacy of the war in the field of urban renewal.5 Somehow or other the past continues to operate in the collective memory, and it was hardly surprising that the new generation refused to take on board the idea that the devastated Baroque architecture of Berlin or Dresden should never be rebuilt. After all, what did eighteenth-century Baroque or nineteenth-century Classicism have to do with the crimes of the Third Reich? There is no compelling reason why the Stadtschloss in Berlin and the Frauenkirche in Dresden should not be rebuilt, once one waives the objection that it means reversing the course of history. But the desire to recover the beautiful and moving urban decor of these cities is greater today than the objection of historians, who are primarily concerned with plotting a correct historical course of events. In these cities, as well as elsewhere, the past occupies a cherished place. It is revealed in the desire to restore, or actually recreate, the historical environment. Is this form of Vergangenheitsbewältigung typically modern or is it just a twentiethcentury variant on a phenomenon that also occurred in earlier and different cultures? More generally, there is the question of the differences or similarities between now and then in the field of the esteem in which historical architecture is held.
Appreciation and historiography Isaac Ware begins his A Complete Body of Architecture (1768) with the remark that ‘at this time’ anyone who publishes a book is obliged to explain what the point of it is. If he can’t do this, his book is not worth reading. While obviously convinced of the quality of his own book, he did condemn most other books on architecture because, so Ware said, they dealt more with the beauty of buildings than their usefulness. Most writers are too much ‘captivated by its pomp… leaving the more serviceable part neglected.’ They lose sight in other words of what really matters. Isaac Ware’s book, therefore, is a compendium of all the aspects of architecture that are ‘necessary’ and ‘useful’. The result was not much more than a sort of technical encyclopaedia. It may have been useful ‘in his time’, but it now seems somewhat boring. What he says about the usefulness of publications, however, is interesting because it shows that he felt himself morally responsible for his readership. He wanted to make sure that the reader didn’t waste his precious time on useless books such as those that spoke of ‘the magnificence of building’. 6 The inexorable first sentence of Isaac Ware’s manual about the usefulness of the book that an author wants to publish does, however, give one food for thought. After all, he is
Niels Gutschow, Hamburg, 1990, 114-130, 126. Isaac Ware, A Complete Body of Architecture, 1768.
ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
quite right. But it is extremely difficult to convince the adherents of utilitarianism like Ware of the fact that buildings can be admired or condemned for their aesthetic qualities. A building is an object in space, and one’s first impression is bound therefore to be a visual one – and hence an aesthetic one. It either fits into its surroundings or it doesn’t; it is either pleasing to look at or revoltingly ugly. On closer consideration, other aspects also have to be taken into account, such as the function of the building and the question of how far it complies with that function. Presumably people also looked at buildings in this way in former ages, even if they deployed other aesthetic norms as their criteria. It may of course be that people in former ages did not talk about architecture in terms of beauty or ugliness, but there isn’t any proof of this, at least not in the case of Europe. Nonetheless, Isaac Ware is convinced that his standpoint is the only correct one, namely that the exterior form of a work of architecture, which he dismisses with the denigratory word ‘pomp’, is of much less importance than its use. It apparently never occurred to him that anyone might disagree with him. Isaac Ware believes that real knowledge about architecture consists of a series of rules about construction. Sometimes he discusses elements, the usefulness of which he does not understand, in which case he gives us practical tips. When, for instance, he deals with enfilades, a series of connected rooms on a garden front, he says that this layout has an inherent disadvantage in that ‘one has to go through one room to get to another’. Ware tells us that, according to Sir Henry Wotton (the author of The Elements of Architecture of 1624), this layout is very common in Italy, but that this famous author condemned it on the grounds that it was only built for display. According to Ware this disadvantage can easily be done away with by giving separate entrances to the rooms on the rear façade. Although Ware calls the enfilade ‘elegant’ and ‘magnificent’, he feels no obligation to discuss its historical background or provide us with examples from the past. His main concern is usefulness. The history of architecture doesn’t interest him, nor does the way other authors have written about architecture in the past or in his own day. The Complete Body of 1768 can be called prototypical of a great deal of the literature on architecture. It is often about rules, orders and systems and rarely about one’s emotional response to architecture. All that matters to the hardened utilitarian is the usefulness of architecture, an approach adopted again in the twentieth century by the Functionalists. A concern with aesthetics is beyond the scope of someone who conceives of architecture as a science. Perhaps this attitude can partially be accounted for by the professionalizing of the domain of architecture, a development that began in the Renaissance period. Leading writers of that age, among them Leon Battista Alberti, wanted to persuade the world that their profession, architecture, was one of the sciences and that it was far superior to the work of craftsmen such as carpenters, ‘because a carpenter is only an instrument in the hands of an architect’, Alberti wrote in 1450 in his De Re Aedificatoria (fabri enim manus architecto pro instrumento est).7 7
Alberti, On the Art of Building, 1996, 3 and Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria, 1966, 2.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
As a necessary part of architecture, aesthetics was also subjected to scientific norms. For Alberti and his followers these norms were incontestable, because they originated in antiquity and therefore had universal validity. Like his colleague Isaac Ware, Alberti was only concerned with the architecture of antiquity as a model for his own days. The history of this ancient architecture was of less importance in his eyes. In this, moreover, he was following Vitruvius, who made use of his Greek sources and examples in order to show that this was the only proper way to build. Alberti’s De Re Aedificatoria is about building technique, a field where most of his information came from antiquity. His manual is a practical guide, not a piece of historical research. His aim in writing, Alberti says, is to rescue a domain that was on the verge of extinction. For this reason, he consulted a large number of ancient authors (something that proved so onerous an undertaking, that he almost considered abandoning the whole project), and he made scale drawings of all the major buildings of antiquity, ‘wherever they were to be found, to see what I could learn from them’. Here he is stating the essence of his project – his research is at the service of his profession. He wants to know what rules an architect is supposed to obey. Judging by the way he puts it here, but also by the whole purpose of his manual, Alberti was not concerned with compiling information about the history of classical architecture, but with the profession as such. This is typical of a large part of the texts on architecture in the age of Vitruvianism. What mattered was architectural etiquette – the question of what a building was supposed to be like. One can learn more from the ancient buildings that still remain, Alberti argues, than from any teacher whatsoever, but ‘I see – with much sorrow – that every day they are becoming more and more dilapidated (eadem non sine lachrymis videbam in dies deleri).8 Alberti mourns this loss, but says nothing more about its causes, nor does he suggest ways to halt this trend. Elsewhere in his book, he says how shocked he is by the great number of temples that were destroyed by fire in the past. He mentions various instances and goes on to sigh that ‘almost every temple has suffered a calamity like this’.9 The Roman author on architecture Vitruvius also requires the architect ‘to be wellversed in various disciplines’ (scientia pluribus disciplinis et variis eruditionibus) in the domain of both the arts and the sciences in order to ‘attain the heights of the holy soil of architecture’ (ad summum templum architecturae). He too saw study as being at the service of practice. Greek architecture was only important as a model, an example of how one should build. Chapter eight of the second book of Vitruvius is devoted to the subject of building walls. On broaching the subject of brick walls, he mentions the palace of the Persian satrap Mausollus in Halicarnassus, because the walls were still in perfect condition in his own day (first century BC) despite their age (fourth century BC). As a marginal comment on this example he says some things about the layout of Halicarnassus and the tomb of Mausollus, the Mausoleum, built in about 350 BC, which
Alberti, 1996, 154 and Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria, 1966, 441. Alberti, 1996, 221.
ARCHAEOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY
was later included in the list of the Seven Wonders – ‘ut in septem spectaculis nominetur’. After mentioning in passing that it was an outstanding piece of work (egregiis operibus), he goes on to discuss the struggle between Mausollus’s widow, Artemisia, and the city of Rhodes. Further description of the Mausoleum is noticeable by its absence while the tale of Artemisia is told at length. After Mausollus’s death, she conquered Rhodes and had a statue of herself erected. Later, however, the citizens of Rhodes wanted to get rid of the statue, but for reasons of religion they were not permitted to do so; instead they built a wall around it, calling the site ἀβατον (inaccessible). Strangely enough, we have to turn to the erudite Pliny for a description of the famous Mausoleum rather than to Vitruvius, the specialist in architecture. In book 6, chapter 30, of his Naturalis Historia (77 AD), Pliny lists the basic proportions of the Mausoleum that was enclosed by 36 columns, a form known as a pteron (pteron vocavere circumitum). The façades contained sculptures by Scopas, Bryaxis, Timotheus and Leochares. The colonnade was crowned by a pyramid of 24 steps, the same height as the supporting structure. On top was a marble four-horse chariot by Pythius. The total height of the Mausoleum, including this sculpture was 140 feet.10 Unlike Vitruvius, Pliny gives a useful description, and he even seems to be aware of the importance of the history of architecture. Apparently there were striking differences in how architecture was written about in antiquity. Vitruvianism, as this theoretician’s legacy was called, set the tone from Alberti’s times until well into the nineteenth century. In other words, Vitruvianism treated archaeological studies as almost entirely subordinate to the science of building. In the first instance, Vitruvianism was based on a study of the foundations of the architecture of ancient Greece and of the Roman world. A more general interest in the history of architecture might have resulted from this, because the art of antiquity must have shown some development of its own – at any rate for anyone who had an eye for it. But a somewhat more general interest in the specific historical context of Greek and Roman architecture, at least in the world of Vitruvianism, only emerged during the eighteenth century. It was that age that prepared the rise of classical archaeology with scholars like Bernard de Montfaucon, Johann Joachim Winckelmann and the architect Robert Adam, who in 1757 travelled to Spalato in order to study the remains of the palace of the emperor Diocletianus. In a certain sense Vitruvianism resembles the Modern Movement, because Modernists also displayed very little interest in the past. As is well-known, their influence on twentieth-century architectural culture was considerable, with the result that most architects were trained without receiving any education in the history of their profession, something that was – and often still is – regarded as a waste of time. Modern times were not meant to be compared with previous ages – that was and is the prevailing attitude. The study of the history of architecture thus remained a specialization, not within the study of architecture, but within the history of art. 10
Pliny, Naturalis Historia, XXXVI, 30.
MEMORIES OF ARCHITECTURE
THE TEMPLE AND THE TAX OFFICE
War memorials It seems that the notion of heritage is as old as history itself. That it already existed in ancient Greece is indicated by the fact that when Alexander the Great destroyed the city of Thebes in 335 BC he made an exception for the temples and the house of the poet Pindar. The total destruction of the city was the revenge of this King of Macedon for its resistance to his project of uniting Greece under his regime. ‘The house of Pindar’, the historian Flavius Arrianus wrote in his Anabasis of Alexander (second century AD), ‘and any of his descendants, Alexander saved – so it is related – from reverence for Pindar’. 11 While he may have spared the holy places of the gods out of religious awe, protecting the house of a famous poet presupposes a wish to show respect to a monument of the national culture. We know that Alexander was well educated in the history and culture of Greece and that he had been brought up to admire the art of Greece. Even after deciding to destroy the entire fabric of the city of Thebes, he could not bring himself to assail the reputation of the great poet, who lived from 518 till 438. The architecture of the temples of Thebes, which were also spared by Alexander must have been beautiful, but the house of the poet may well have been an ordinary house, without any claim to architectural merit. Its protection by one of the great kings of antiquity can only be interpreted as an expression of concern for the national heritage, albeit in a cruel context. The event must have made the house even more famous, and the Thebans may have continued to ensure that it remained in good repair after they had restored their city. They probably did so for a while, but, if we are to believe the testimony of the Roman traveller Pausanias, who visited the house in the second half of the second century AD, the house was then in a state of ruin: ‘across the Dirke are the ruins of Pindar’s house and a sanctuary of Mother Dindymene …’.12 And yet, despite its dilapidated condition after the passage of six centuries, the Thebans were still able to show Pausanias where the poet’s house was. On the whole Thebes took better care of the house of their poet than most European cities did in modern times with the houses of their poets.
Arrian, Anabasis, 1961, I, 45. Pausanias, Description of Greece, book 9, chapter 25.
THE TEMPLE AND THE TAX OFFICE
Pindar’s house was a monument of Greek culture, but the Greeks also had memorials of their wars, in particular the wars with the Persians, which began in 500 BC and ended in 479 BC. One of the great battles in the history of Greece took place near Plataeae in Attica. Here the Greeks, under the command of Themistocles, eventually defeated the armies of the Persian king Xerxes in 479. During earlier campaigns the Persians had destroyed much of Attica, including the city of Athens itself. To commemorate the barbaric depredations of the Persian invaders, the Greeks decided to preserve as war memorials some ruins of the temples that the Persians had set fire to. We owe this information to the Athenian statesman Lycurgus, who lived in the fourth-century BC. In his book Against Leocrates, Lycurgus relates how in 479 BC the Greeks resolved not to rebuild the ruined temples, but to conserve them as monuments to the sacrilege of the Persians (Και των ἱερων των ἐμπρησθεντων και καταβληθεντων ὑπο των βαρβαρων οὐδεν ἀνοικοδομησω πανταπασιν, ἀλλ’ ὑπομνημα τοις ἐπιγιγνομενοις ἐασω καταλειπεσθαι της των βαρβαρων ἀσεβειας). The Greeks made this sacred vow just before the battle of Plataeae.13 This story is also contained in the Description of Greece by Pausanias, written in the second half of the second century AD: ‘The Greeks who opposed the barbarians resolved not to rebuild the sanctuaries burnt down by them, but to leave them for all time as memorials of their hatred’ (του ἐχθους ὑπομνηματα). ‘This is why’, Pausanias adds, ‘the shrines at Haliartos, and in Athens Hera’s shrine on the Phaleron road, and Demeter’s at Phaleron, have stayed half-burnt to this day.’14 If we are to believe Pausanias’s account, the Greeks succeeded in preserving these war memorials for more than six centuries. Compared to the lifespan of war memorials in the history of modern Europe, this is an extremely long period, particularly considering how relatively underdeveloped governmental institutions were in those days. The fact that these memorials survived so long can only mean that the Greeks attached remarkable importance to the preservation of their collective memory. The temples were valued by the Greeks as the visual symbols of their culture. Therefore the destruction of these buildings must have been interpreted as an attack on their heritage, to use the modern expression. Temples were the houses of the gods and as such sacred. The ruined temples commemorated a black day in the history of Greek civilization, when an alien people tried to destroy an entire culture. The most revered buildings – in their new ruinous state – were the most eloquent symbols of the barbarous behaviour of the enemy.
Lycurge, Contre Léocrate, 1932, 58. Pausanias, book 10, chapter 35.