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Paul 🌹📚 Cooper @PaulMMCooper
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One of the strangest stories of a ruined site I’ve ever come across is the one behind the Roman Temple of Augustus in Windsor, England.

That’s because if you came here at the beginning of the 1800's, it wouldn't be there at all.
In fact, these ruins originated 2,000 miles away, in Libya.

The story of how they ended up in Windsor takes us back to the heyday of the British Empire & to the ancient world of Roman Libya. It shows how the imperial mind imagined ruins of the past & plundered its dominions.
The story began on the coast of Libya in 1816. A British officer, Colonel Hanmer Warrington, visited the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna with artist Augustus Earle.

The sight struck them both. Earle even painted this watercolour, showing the sand dunes rolling over the stones.
In ancient times, the city of Leptis was a producer of olive oil, but achieved its greatest prominence after 193 CE.

Emperor Septimius Severus was born there, & lavished it with wealth. He turned it into the 3rd-most important city in Africa, to rival Carthage & Alexandria.
However, the city slowly declined after his reign, & this was compounded by a series of destructions.

A great tsunami in 365 devastated it, then the invasion of the Vandals in the 5th century & Muslim armies in the 7th finally left the city in ruins.
Since its abandonment, Leptis had been used as a quarry by local people, & was also a site of colonial plunder.

In the C17th, 600 columns from Leptis were taken by Louis XIV for use in his palaces at Versailles & Paris. Its columns can also be found in Rouen Cathedral.
By 1816, when Warrington arrived in Leptis, Britain had superseded France to become the world's only superpower.

Captivated by the columns of Leptis, Warrington persuaded the local Governor that, on behalf of the British crown, he should be able to “help himself” to the ruins.
Warrington was acting on his own, with no direction from the British government or crown to collect these antiquities.

However, he became convinced that his gifts would be received gladly, & arranged for them to be transported on his ship, The Weymouth.
Local people were outraged by the decision. Like most ruin sites, Leptis had been a source of cut stone for local building projects, & the round columns were useful as mill stones.

The idea of foreigners taking these stones for themselves caused a great uproar.
Local people obstructed efforts to remove the stones, even destroying some statues & columns as they waited to be loaded onto ships.

As a consequence, Warrington collected fewer than planned. Today, 3 large columns he abandoned still lie on the beach.
Despite this resistance, by 1817, 22 granite columns, 15 marble columns, 10 capitals, 25 pedestals, 7 loose slabs, 10 pieces of cornice, 5 inscribed slabs & various fragments of figure sculpture had all been shipped to the UK.
The artefacts all come from several different buildings, mostly “the principal basilica, an arcade & several minor palaces”.
However, when Warrington returned home with the stones, he found he had slightly misjudged the reaction of the British government.

Experts in the British Museum, he recounted, were not “at all impressed or convinced of the value, either aesthetic or intrinsic, of the cargo.”
The Leptis stones stayed in the forecourt of the British Museum for 8 years, during which no one seemed to know what to do with them.
Finally, in 1826, it was decided that the stones would be given to Jeffry Wyatville, King George IV's architect, who determined to use them to create a folly in the royal estate of the grounds of Windsor Castle.
A folly is a building constructed for purely ornamental purposes, but designed to look as though it has some other purpose. They often took the form of ruins.

For instance, these ruins at Hagley Castle, Wimpole’s Folly & Schönbrunn, Austria were all built in their current state.
To construct the Windsor folly, the royal architect Wyatville ordered all the columns & stones from Leptis to be transported to the royal estate on the backs of gun carriages.
Wyatville had aristocratic pretensions. He had changed his name from the common "Wyatt" when given the commission to redesign the Windsor gardens.

No designs or sketches have survived of how Wyatville wanted the ruins to look, & it seems he relied quite heavily on improvisation.
In order to complete the false monument, Wyatville also used stones taken from a recently demolished country house to construct walls, & roughly carved them to imitate Roman capitals.

He added a chipped cornice to a nearby road bridge so it looked like an arch in a city wall.
One commentator remarked that “The work must have cost the architect, Sir Jeffry as much intellect and labour as a finished building of similar proportions.”
Deception was a key goal of the folly.

One architect commented on the difficulty of creating authenticity: “if the mosses and lychens grow unkindly on your walls…if the ivy refuses to mantle over your buttress…you may as well write over the gate, Built in the year 1772.”
In Windsor, Wyatville created a strange Frankenstein’s monster of a ruin, made from real ruined materials from various sites.

His creation, named fancifully “The Temple of Augustus”, was designed to evoke “ruin-ness”, but it was an illusion.
As if emblematic of the confusion & strangeness of the whole endeavour, a local newspaper even erroneously claimed that the stones used were a part of the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles.
The use of Roman ruins in British follies was in part to do with English notions of the picturesque that had evolved over centuries, but it also sought to place Imperial Britain as the inheritors of Roman greatness.
After its final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Britain inherited French colonies & grew to become the largest empire in history.

During the 19th century, the “Imperial century”, Britain added around 400 million people & 10 million square miles to its control.
Knowledge of the classics was imbued in the aristocratic class, & like many empires throughout history, Britain saw its mission as an enlightened one.

“As the Romans purportedly settled and civilized Britannia, so Britain hoped to do for their own empire.” (Kacie M. Alaga)
The ruins at Virginia Water served to reinforce the association of Britain to ancient Rome & its supposed civilising mission, evoked by the popularity of the phrase “Pax Brittanica” at the time.
Naming the site “The Temple of Augustus” may even have been a reference to George IV’s full name: George Augustus Frederick.

In George IV’s official 1821 coronation portrait, you can even see classical columns in the background, marking him as the inheritor of an ancient right.
Like the ruins of Rome, the Virginia Water ruins also attracted artists, like Francis Vingoe (1879–1940).

They mostly focused on the picturesque arrangement of the ruins.
However, other artists like Darrell Robert Mitchell (1968) seem to evoke a kind of confusion in their use of paint, breaking up the solid, picturesque lines & confusing the eye.

In these paintings, the Virginia Water Ruins become a site of unsettlement & unease.
Some, like this from W. Gauci, even took an imaginary & embellished view of the ruin, taking it one step further into unreality.
Imaginary ruin scenes or capricci had been popular for over a century by this point, made famous by artists like Hubert Robert & Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

For Victorian architects, it seemed the next logical step was to build the imaginary ruins themselves.
But even in this demonstration of Imperial power, was there a recognition of Empire’s fragility?

Were the viewers of the false ruin supposed to wonder, as Gustave Doré did in 1872, whether London too might one day lie in ruins?
Any ruin creates a dialogue between an incomplete reality & the imagination of the viewer. That is, anyone who looks at a ruin has to fill in the gaps themselves.

Virginia Water raises the spectre of the ruin being used to create a false reality, a false past.
Some questions to ask:

What makes a ruin “real”?
Who owns a ruin?
Can a ruin be ruined?
For further reading on the subject, I really recommend Kacie M. Alaga’s thesis on interpretations of Roman spolia in Britain (PDF).…
That's all for now - thanks for listening! If you enjoyed this thread, I’ve put some more of my research into this thread-of-threads.
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