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<   No. 3350   2014-09-21   >

Comic #3350

1 {photo of the Roman Forum}
1 Caption: Ruins

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Architectural ruins are another interesting thing to see when travelling. The leftover remnants of past construction hold a haunting quality; the echoes of people who once lived and worked where you are standing, but have since departed. One never quite feels the grasping spectre of history so strongly as when walking amidst the in situ remains of it. Not even a museum display captures quite the same feeling of being in an actual building, on the original site, standing exactly where the builders once stood.

King Arthur was here
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall.

Ruins give us a glimpse of how people lived, which resonates with everyone since we all have to live our own lives. They provide glimpses into the mundane, day to day lives of the past. Most historical accounts concentrate on the big events: battles and conquests and voyages of exploration. Ruins tell you if a people's floors were made of earth or stone, if they had windows or not, where they cooked their food, how close their neighbours were.

Highfield farm, Tasmania.

By "ruins" I encompass anything from barely there archaeological traces, such as the outline of a foundation left as a pit in the earth, to still extant buildings in reasonably good repair, but abandoned by the original occupants and perhaps now converted into a living historical site. Just the shape of a foundation can be evocative, as you stand on a hilltop and know that someone else, hundreds of years ago, stood on the same spot and scanned the same view as you. And larger ruins are more impressive still.

Grand view of Sacsayhuamán
Sacsayhuamán, Cusco.

Many ruins are charged with the blood and screams of the past. Soaking in the history as you walk between the walls, you can almost hear the echoes of the ghosts. Being there makes it easier to feel the terror of a sacrificial victim or the suffering of prisoners in a visceral way which cannot be achieved anywhere else.

Horror & Tranquility
Port Arthur penal colony, Tasmania.

The ruins of Pompeii are haunting when you remember that thousands met their doom on the same day as the buildings were preserved, shrieking in terror as burning ash and rock rained down from the sky.

Street of Pompeii

On the positive side, ruins can evoke a feeling of adventure. You can be Indiana Jones, exploring nooks and crannies to find fascinating insights into how people used to live. Wandering around, you can discover these things for yourself, rather than just read about them a book.

Roof support detail, Machu Picchu.

Carvings or drawings on walls show people in the past liked creating graffiti as much as contemporary urban scrawlers do. In Pompeii, you can see graffiti in Latin, as well as murals painted on the walls of people's homes. There are buildings with cooking benches facing the street, from where the owner dispensed ready cooked fast food to passers by. Nearby is an oven where someone once baked bread, and near that an oven where someone baked pottery. You can feel the wheel ruts in the cobblestone streets, worn by the passage of countless wagons.

Roman Fast Food
Roman fast food counter, Pompeii.

History isn't something that happened somewhere else. It happened right where you're standing. This is the feeling of visiting ruins. A connection to our past made tangible. A reminder that we, now and in the past, are all human beings, and that we're not so different after all.

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Last Modified: Sunday, 21 September 2014; 03:08:21 PST.
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