An inviting, fascinating compendium of twenty-one of history's most famous lost places, from the Tower of Babel to the Twin Towers
Buildings are more like us than we realize. They can be born into wealth or poverty, enjoying every privilege or struggling to make ends meet. They have parents—gods, kings and emperors, governments, visionaries and madmen—as well as friends and enemies. They have duties and responsibilities. They can endure crises of faith and purpose. They can succeed or fail. They can live. And, sooner or later, they die.
In Fallen Glory, James Crawford uncovers the biographies of some of the world’s most fascinating lost and ruined buildings, from the dawn of civilization to the cyber era. The lives of these iconic structures are packed with drama and intrigue. Soap operas on the grandest scale, they feature war and religion, politics and art, love and betrayal, catastrophe and hope. Frequently their afterlives have been no less dramatic—their memories used and abused down the millennia for purposes both sacred and profane. They provide the stage for a startling array of characters, including Gilgamesh, the Cretan Minotaur, Agamemnon, Nefertiti, Genghis Khan, Henry VIII, Catherine the Great, Adolf Hitler, and even Bruce Springsteen.
The twenty-one structures Crawford focuses on include The Tower of Babel, The Temple of Jerusalem, The Library of Alexandria, The Bastille, Kowloon Walled City, the Berlin Wall, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Ranging from the deserts of Iraq, the banks of the Nile and the cloud forests of Peru, to the great cities of Jerusalem, Istanbul, Paris, Rome, London and New York, Fallen Glory is a unique guide to a world of vanished architecture. And, by picking through the fragments of our past, it asks what history’s scattered ruins can tell us about our own future.
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About the Author
JAMES CRAWFORD works for Scotland’s National Collection of architecture and archaeology. Born in the Shetlands in 1978, he studied History and Philosophy of Law at the University of Edinburgh, winning the Lord President Cooper Memorial Prize. He has written a number of photographic books, including Above Scotland: The National Collection of Aerial Photography, Victorian Scotland, Scotland's Landscapes, and Aerofilms: A History of Britain from Above. In 2013, he wrote and acted as design consultant on Telling Scotland's Story, a graphic novel guide to Scottish Archaeology. He lives in Edinburgh.
Read an Excerpt
The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings
By James Crawford
PicadorCopyright © 2015 James Crawford
All rights reserved.
Make A Name for Yourself!
The Tower of Babel, Iraq (Born 5,000 BC – Died 323 BC)
'And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth'.
Genesis 11: 1-51
In southern Iraq, halfway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, and twenty kilometres to the west of the city of Nasiriyah, a massive, blocky structure rises above the sand flats. It is approached by a dusty tarmac road lined by rusting lamp-posts, slanting electricity poles and roll after roll of barbed wire. A few hundred metres to the south is Tallil Air Base, a vast military complex covering an area of over thirty square kilometres and surrounded by twenty-two kilometres of security perimeter. Once the home of Iraq's Soviet-built, MiG fighter squadrons, Tallil was seized by U.S. forces in March 2003, and held until December 2011. The huge building is visible from almost every corner of the base. Over the years, American soldiers were taken on guided tours – a rare chance to leave behind the Pizza Huts, Burger Kings and Taco Bells that had sprung up around their living quarters, and to experience the culture and history of the country they were occupying.
The structure on the edge of the airbase is made from baked mud-bricks held together by bitumen – the semi-solid form of petroleum that occurs naturally throughout Iraq, a residue from the country's vast oil deposits. At first sight it most resembles a giant sandcastle. Three staircases, each of a hundred steps, converge at a single point below the top of the building – the façade for an even larger block of bricks behind, rising inwards to a wide, flat roof. In the original design this was merely the first and largest layer of a building that continued skywards in a series of stepped terraces decreasing in size towards the summit. Today, only this base remains. In the shadow of the walls a ramshackle hut once sold souvenirs to the U.S. soldiers. From the top, you can see for miles across a flat and near-empty desert plain: the dry wastes between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates. This place was once known as Mesopotamia, from the Greek meaning 'land between the rivers'.
What did those American troops think about when they were up there? Their guides may have told them that they were standing on the remains of one of the world's first skyscrapers, a temple at the heart of what was one of the largest cities on earth; indeed, that they were standing on the building that may have inspired the legend of the Tower of Babel. And the reason those soldiers were there – to put it in the crudest terms – was because, in America, in what is currently one of the greatest cities on earth, two colossal towers had been destroyed by an act of deliberate and catastrophic violence. From their high vantage point the soldiers would have been able to see, had they known what they were looking for, the place where it all began. Twelve miles to the south, in the heart of the Iraqi desert, is a jumble of sand mounds concealing the world's urban Eden: the first ever city.
That prototype city, and the cities that followed, brought people together as never before. They made them live in complex, cooperative societies, which needed new ideas to keep the people in order: government, law, organised religion, writing, art, and architecture. Cities gave birth to civilisation. But as they accumulated wealth and increased in size, they had to be defended and fought for. Rulers soon learned that they could increase their power by taking other cities by force, then subordinating them to the will of the greatest one: the 'capital'. From the start, cities – and the architecture they created – went hand in hand with war.
* * *
Just after 11am on the morning of 8 April 2003, the last remaining antiquities staff evacuated the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. For almost three weeks the city had endured an incessant aerial bombardment from the coalition forces of Operation Iraqi Freedom – the now infamous 'shock and awe' treatment. Cruise missiles sought out strategic targets, in particular the palaces and administrative offices of Saddam Hussein and his Special Republican Guard. Above the city, smoke and dust cast up from the air-strike ruins mingled with thick black clouds from a ring of trench pits of burning oil around the central districts – an attempt to disorientate missile guidance systems.
By the early days of April, soldiers and militia from the ruling Ba'ath Party and the 'Fedayeen of Saddam' were preparing for the imminent ground invasion, sandbagging buildings, bridges and traffic intersections to create thousands of defensive positions. The National Museum complex covers over eleven acres in the Karkh district at the heart of Baghdad. Its main entrance lies on the road running from the central train station across the al-Ahrar Bridge to the market and financial centre on the east bank of the Tigris: a key strategic location in any battle for control of the city.
The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of cultural sites for military purposes, but its protocols were ignored and the entire museum was turned into a stronghold. Firing positions were dug into the gardens and courtyard in front of the main entrance, a second-floor storeroom was co-opted as a sniper's nest, and the roofs of the library and the Children's Museum were adapted to conceal troops armed with rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). One building was even converted into a command post, stocked with a series of military situation maps to allow for live, strategic tracking of the fighting across the city.
Inside the museum, preparations were equally advanced. Here, however, staff worked to protect one of the finest and most extensive collections of antiquities in the world. For months they had been moving precious artefacts to secure storerooms. By the start of the conflict only the largest objects – heavy sculptures and massive wall friezes – remained in the public galleries. Sandbags surrounded these exhibits, and the ancient statues were trussed up in slabs of foam padding.
Dr Donny George Youkhanna, the museum's Director-General of Research, and Dr Jabber Khalil Ibrahim, president of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, had planned to stay in the basement for the duration of the battle, and had stockpiled food and water to last for two weeks. At the final moment, however, the two men's nerve failed. When Dr Jabber saw RPG-carrying Iraqi soldiers take up positions in the front garden, he decided that the situation was too dangerous, and evacuated the remaining staff. George and Jabber were last to leave. They passed through the museum, ensuring that all storage rooms and main doors were locked, exited through the back door of the compound, and crossed to the east side of the Tigris to another building belonging to the Board of Antiquities. Their intention was to return a few hours later, when, they hoped, the fighting would be over. But the advancing U.S. troops closed all bridges in the city, and for five days, no one was allowed to cross. The National Museum was on its own – exposed, unprotected and about to become a battlefield.
* * *
On 9 April, a tank company from the U.S. Third Infantry Division advanced to an intersection 500 metres to the west of the museum. Their orders were to keep the intersection open as a support route for troops fighting in the northern districts of the city. Within seconds they were taking fire from the museum buildings. The unit's commander estimated that there were between 100 and 150 Special Republican Guard and civilians armed with RPGs and AK-47s in and around the compound. For the next two days the fighting was so intense that the U.S. soldiers did not leave the insides of their tanks.
On the evening of 10 April, as the battle continued out on the streets, a group made their way unnoticed into the rear of the museum. Breaking though a bricked-up window, they navigated the empty hallways to find a passage leading down to the underground storerooms. After opening a secure metal door, they were confronted by an entryway sealed shut by cinder blocks. They demolished a section of the wall, and, using lit plastic packaging and foam padding as makeshift torches, passed through two pitch-dark storerooms to reach a back wall lined with metal safes and locked cabinets. Inside the cabinets were tens of thousands of ancient Greek, Roman, Arabic and Islamic gold and silver coins, and a substantial portion of the world's most precious collection of 'cylinder seals'. These tiny objects – not much more than an inch tall and often no bigger than a human thumb – were first made in Mesopotamia 5,500 years ago, out of materials ranging from clay and limestone to semi-precious stones like agate, carnelian and lapis lazuli. Each one is unique, bearing intricate carved symbols that would once have been pressed and rolled into damp clay as a personal signature or 'seal'. The most exquisite items sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds on the international antiquities market. The right handful could be worth millions.
The thieves had acquired a set of keys to the safes and cabinets – a fact later held up as evidence that they had received help from a member, or members, of museum staff – yet at the crucial moment they dropped them. As the unventilated basement filled with fumes from the burning packaging, they mounted a furious and ultimately fruitless search. The keys were later found hidden under one of the hundreds of empty plastic boxes that lay scattered across the floor. A catastrophic loss was averted only by this simple mistake. The thieves did not, however, leave empty-handed. The plastic boxes had contained precious jewellery and cylinder seals: 5,542 pieces of jewellery and 5,144 seals were taken – a third of the museum's entire collection of cylinder seals. If the contents of the safes and cabinets had also been removed, it might have ranked as the greatest museum theft in modern history. Nevertheless, the robbers were able to make their escape with a staggering number of rare antiquities, none of them too large to carry away in an average-sized rucksack.
Early in the morning of 11 April, another group of thieves entered the museum. Their interest was in the show-piece items from the public galleries. Over the course of a few hours, some of the world's greatest cultural treasures – objects dating back to the very birth of civilisation – were stolen. The exquisite 5,000-year old Mask of Warka, the earliest known naturalistic sculpture of a human face, was removed from a restoration room, along with the Golden Harp of Ur, a beautifully decorated wooden instrument dating from 2,600 BC, topped by the solid gold head of a bull. The world's oldest carved stone vessel, the 5,500-year-old Sacred Vase of Warka, was toppled out of its glass display case and hacked away from its base. And the Bassetki Statute, an incomplete figure cast in pure copper some 4,000 years ago, was dragged from the upper storey of a public gallery, shattering every step of the mezzanine's marble staircase on its way down to the ground floor.
Rumours of unrest at the museum quickly circulated among the international press in Baghdad. The first camera crews to arrive at the complex captured a perfect scene of cultural devastation – a mob of looters running through the shattered hallways of the public galleries. This third wave was made up of residents from the local neighbourhood, opportunists taking advantage of the fall of the city to steal what remained. By this point it was largely stationery and office supplies from the museum's administrative buildings.
The media had one of their first great scoops of the war. 'Museum treasures now war booty' reported the Associated Press. Reuters led with 'Plunder of past in new Iraq'; the BBC with 'Iraqi art "stolen to order"'. The New York Times reported that it had taken 'only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed', and according to the Independent 'not a single pot or display case remained intact'. Expert academics were on hand to provide context. With an impressive eye for specificity, Eleanor Robson, Oxford professor and council member of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, explained: 'You'd have to go back centuries to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258 to find looting on this scale'.
She continued by comparing what had happened to 'blowing up Stonehenge or ransacking the Bodleian Library'. Piotr Michalowski, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilisations at the University of Michigan, went even further, calling the pillaging of the Baghdad Museum 'a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington D.C. had been wiped out in one fell swoop'.
Not everyone in the coalition hierarchy saw this as such a catastrophe. At a news briefing on 11 April, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared to blame television news programmes for exaggerating the scale of the thefts: 'The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over. And it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase. And you see it twenty times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'
The answer to Rumsfeld's question is yes, it is possible that there are that many vases. Or there were. As Abdul Zahra al-Talagani, the media director for Iraq's Ministry of State for Tourism and Archaeology, put it, 'Iraq floats over two seas; one is oil, and the other is antiquities'. The National Museum is like one great archaeological oil well, but the many thousands of precious objects held within its collections are a fraction of what is still waiting, undiscovered, out in the deserts. There are sites where excavators have scarcely been able to move without stepping on 4,000-year-old potsherds, or where archaeologists have found so many ancient artefacts that they have reburied them at the end of a dig season.
The thefts at the museum did not occur in isolation. They were feeding an international black market trade in Iraqi antiquities – a trade which dates back hundreds of years, but which had been growing again at a steady rate since the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam's regime imposed the death penalty for stealing an antiquity – substantially curtailing, for a time, the looting of archaeological sites. But the dealers remained patient, and their opportunity came with the 2003 conflict. As law and order broke down, Iraq's archaeology was opened up to organised crime.
Ancient sites came under the control of the looters and antiquities dealers. Armed gangs – frequently linked to paramilitary groups – provided 'security' for their workforces. Many of the labourers were farmers who had left their families and jobs behind to live on the sites and search for antiquities. Work began before sunrise and halted during the searing heat of the day. Second shifts started in the late afternoon or evening, often running throughout the night, with the excavations lit by lamps powered by car batteries. This was not the painstaking archaeology of the brush and the trowel – the diggers took to their tasks with heavy shovels and hammers, often destroying as much as they recovered. Finding a cylinder seal or a carved tablet could net a looter $50. The potential rewards for the dealers were, of course, much greater. On 5 December 2007, an 8cm-high limestone carving of a lioness was put up for auction at Sotheby's in New York. Described by the auctioneers as 'one of the last known master-works from the dawn of civilisation', the 5,000-year-old 'Guennol Lioness' sold for $57 million to a private collector, making it, at that time, the most expensive sculpture in history. It did not take long for this news to reach Iraq.
Although the exact provenance of the Guennol Lioness remains unknown – some suggest it is Iranian in origin – it was reported as having been found near Baghdad. In the weeks after the sale, newspaper articles quoted dealers in New York recommending antiquities as the new growth area of investment. In 2008, Fortune magazine ran an article titled 'Really Old Money', explaining that 'the new darlings of the art market are ancient artefacts. It's a wild, high-stakes game with a shady past. Playing it could make you rich – or get you arrested'. The appetite for antiquities has rarely been greater, and it continues to be fed today. Poor, ordinary Iraqis work day and night to unearth fragment after fragment of their ancient ancestry. More and more are doing so on behalf of the militant religious army, Islamic State. The propaganda films of millennia-old objects and buildings being smashed to pieces with drills and bulldozers to illustrate the fate of all 'heretical' cultures are only half the story. As it advances through Iraq, Islamic State is simultaneously gathering up artefacts and selling them to the highest black market bidders. A new term has emerged to describe this trade – 'blood antiquities'. Such is the sad fate of the world's first civilisation.
Excerpted from Fallen Glory by James Crawford. Copyright © 2015 James Crawford. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Gods, Heroes And Monsters,
1 Make A Name for Yourself!,
2 Modernism's Labyrinth,
3 The First War Memorial,
4 The Sun City Also Rises,
5 Jerusalem Syndrome,
Part Two: On the Unhappiness of Empires,
6 The Rise, Decline and Fall of the Cow Pasture,
7 The Library of Babel,
8 Anarchy's Theatre,
9 The Carpet of the World,
Part Three: The King is Dead, Long Live the King,
10 London Was, But Is No More,
11 Journey to the Tent at the Centre of the World,
12 The House of Diamonds,
13 Liberté for Sale,
14 Virtual City,
Part Four: You Say Utopia, I Say Dystopia,
15 Little Brother's Big Brother House,
16 No-Man's City,
17 The Day the Architecture Died,
18 The Mirrorwall,
19 No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time,
20 The Deleted City,
21 Let The Past Meet the Future,
About the Author,