Paul Cooper Profile picture
Nov 23, 2017 17 tweets 6 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I fell down a bit of a ruins research rabbithole today, thought I'd share some of my weird journey.

It started with this incredible 1858 photo of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.
What drew me attention was this strange protuberance on top. It looked really strange & didn't fit with the rest of the building
It also didn't fit with reconstructions of how the building originally looked
I thought I found the answer when I found an exact copy of the photo, but with the protuberance missing.

All the people etc are in the same positions, but no weird lump on top
So I thought I'd found my answer: someone had edited the original photo, adding an odd bit of ruin on top to make it seem taller & more epic
That was until I saw this 1833 painting by Johann Michael Wittmer...
And when I saw this 1862 photo from another angle, it was obvious that the protuberance had been EDITED OUT of the other photo, not added to the first
It turns out that Christian ascetics known as stylites, or "pillar saints" are the explanation.

Stylites believed that living on top of tall pillars brought them closer to God & caused them holy bodily mortification at the same time, atoning for their sins
At some point since the ruination of the temple in the 3rd century & archaeologists examining it in the 19th, stylites had laboriously built a small stone hut on top of the ruined temple's pillars
In his 1922 article "the glory the was Greece", Alexander Wilbourne describes hearing locals tell of a long line of stylites who lived on top of the ruined temple & had food and water brought up to them with ropes & buckets
He even describes meeting an old Athenian who remembered taking offerings of loaves and fruit to send up to the Zeus temple stylites, who would send down a basket to receive them
After Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, efforts were made in the 19th century to strengthen the national identity by harking back to the greatness of the Hellenic past.

So in the eyes of the Greek authorities, this Christian addition had to go.
So the second photo I showed you is part of that effort to scrub the presence of the stylites from the record.

If you look closely, you can see the blanknesses where their hut has been cut out
So this is the original photo of the temple of Olympian Zeus, stylite hut and all
It's always interesting to see how ruins are used politically, & how they construct & reinforce ideas of identity.

When is a ruin "finished"?
Who does the ruin belong to?
Can a ruin be ruined?
Anyway, that's the story of how I didn't get any proper work done today. I'm going to climb up a pillar now to do my proper penance.

Thanks for listening!

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More from @PaulMMCooper

Oct 16, 2021
The low-relief carvings of the kings of Assyria, imagined in their original colourings. (700-645 BCE)
This was one of the most fun parts of creating the video accompaniment to Episode 13 of @Fall_of_Civ_Pod. Thank you to Jeramy Smith of @ProgenStudio for providing 20 of these brilliant colourings.
Episode 13 will be coming to YouTube soon, but you can already view it here for Patreon subscribers:
Read 4 tweets
May 4, 2020
One thing that has made Episode 5 of Fall of Civilizations TV so exciting to work on is the digital recreations of the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor, done by Thomas Chandler and his team at Sensilab, Monash University.
Virtual Angkor is a groundbreaking collaboration between Archaeologists, Historians and virtual reality specialists designed to bring the Cambodian metropolis of Angkor back to life in all its glory.
For more than 10 years, the Visualising Angkor Project has created 3D reconstructions of greater Angkor - from ecological reconstructions of villages outside the city, to animations of 13th Century eyewitness accounts of life at the Khmer capital.
Read 10 tweets
Jan 24, 2020
One of the strangest stories of the discovery of an ancient ruin is that of the Victorian explorer and circus performer William Leonard Hunt.

He claimed to have discovered a lost, ruined city in Southern Africa's Kalahari Desert. But no one else has ever been able to find it.
Born in New York to strict disciplinarian parents, Hunt moved to Canada in the year 1843, at the age of 5.

One day, he snuck away from home and saw a troupe of traveling performers passing through his town. This began a lifelong infatuation with the circus.
Hunt began secretly practicing to become a performer himself, and trained to be a tightrope walker and strongman, finally taking on the stage name "The Great Farini".

Hunt took part in a number of famous tightrope walks, including over the Niagara Falls in 1860.
Read 25 tweets
Jan 16, 2020
I'm really excited to reveal the cover for my upcoming second novel, All Our Broken Idols.

This is a story about art and loss, set in the 7th century BC during the final days of the Assyrian Empire, and in the Fall of Mosul in 2014.

Coming 28th May 2020, from @BloomsburyBooks.
The book has been five years in the writing, and has included multiple trips to Iraq as part of my PhD on the cultural significance of ruins.

I've spent weeks exploring the ancient ruined sites there like Babylon, Ur and Uruk. It has been a huge labour of love.
The book's story revolves around the Lion Hunt carvings of King Ashurbanipal, some of the most haunting and beautiful pieces of art ever to come out of the early ancient world.

Since the first time I saw them in 2014, I knew I wanted to write a book about them.
Read 7 tweets
Apr 21, 2019
Taking a walk up to the ruins of Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire.
Whitby Abbey was a 7th-century Christian monasterythat later became a Benedictine abbey.

The abbey church was situated overlooking the North Sea on Whitby's East Cliff.
The abbey and its possessions were confiscated by the crown under Henry VIII, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1545. It thereafter fell into ruins.
Read 8 tweets
Apr 7, 2019
Some of the world's most melancholy ruins are the concrete remains of the Maginot Line.

This border wall of concrete fortifications, traps and weapon installations was built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany, and today it forms a tragic monument to those days.
After the horror of the First World War, it was clear to many in Europe that the world had reached a new phase of armed conflict.

Much of the countryside of Eastern France was now a ruined and pockmarked wasteland.

(📷aerial view of Fort Vaux in ruins, 1916. Verdun.)
French decision-makers knew that the victory of 1918 had relied on the help of the British Empire & the United States.

With a return to isolationism in the UK & USA, France now had no guarantee of this kind of help in future wars. They knew that alone, France could be defeated.
Read 26 tweets

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