A personal perspective on the reason for preserving art and historically significant locations throughout the globe.
Egyptian Temples: moved, gifted and destroyed
I was always fascinated to hear my uncle recount his epic adventure drive up Africa, around Europe and on to Moscow, in the 60’s. How he struggled with wild animals, no roads or accurate maps, warring nations and a shortage of supplies for there were no corner cafe’s to plunder with what cash he had. Of particular interest were the grainy projected images flickering on the bed sheet hung against the basement garage wall, of Egypt’s temple marvels. I drowned in unspeakable sadness when he shared what would no doubt be their flooded fate once the Aswan High Dam was filled to capacity. Though interested, the rest of the group in attendance did not appear to share my appalled horror at their loss and that had always mystified me.
So imagine my joy at finding out that others had felt the same way and had actually saved many of them. These angels of history had gone to considerable time, effort and expense to delicately and dangerously dismantle the tons of beauty, saving them.
Twenty Two Nubian monuments, including the approximately 100 foot tall Abu Simbel Temples (right image: 1244 BC) were physically relocated to higher ground on the shores of Lake Nasser. Despite that, some like the Buhen Fort could still not be saved. A small number were even gifted to contributing nations, such as the Debod Temple in Madrid and another went to New York, which though not ideal and without a doubt highly controversial, at least assisted in their preservation.
Today the relocated temples (built by King Ramses II) are a major Egyptian tourist attraction, second only to the pyramids at Giza (4,575 years old), and have themselves repaid the costs of their recovery in the wonder of thousands of tourist dollars.
Udaipur sunken temple
Having long since buried my teenaged distress over the temples, it was a surprise when the emotions resurfaced after visiting the ‘Daughter and Mother in law’ temple (11th Century) located just outside Udaipur, in the north west of India. On the way there I was exhausted, from days of traffic and traveling to get to the six cities I’d visited in just two weeks. Leaving the driver behind, I walked tiredly down the hill noting a sign on the way, which revived me to an extent, for it resonated so strongly with me: ‘Sustain your heritage and feel glorious’. At a distance though it was obvious that despite being sustained, a number of the steeply carved, stone roofs had been unfortunately lost to the ages.
Walking around I first admired the amazing craftsmanship of their creators, etched onto every inch of their exteriors. The small (barely two meter wide) interiors did not disappoint either. I imagined I could actually feel the presence of the crafters living on through their creations. Looking up at the intricately carved ceilings made me a little nervous of entering some, for fear they may collapse due to their state of disrepair. But, that did not prevent my risking life and limb, as their intricate beauty drew me irresistibly in. Eventually having absorbed every corner and flattening my camera’s memory in the process, I’d seen them all. Unwilling to just leave, I walked down to the lower edge of the complex to gaze out over the lake. Standing beneath the beautifully carved stone archways, I took in the cleanliness and good repair of the grounds, and though sad that the monuments were showing their age, I appreciated the care that was obviously still taken of them.
Finally, dragging myself away I continued on my journey to a larger temple complex not far from there. Barely half a kilometer down the road, whilst passing a lake, something caught my eye resulting in a double take. The remains of a temple projected above the water to which it had obviously been sacrificed. Begging the driver to pull over I quickly took the lead photograph of this blog. I suddenly, and uncharacteristically, lost all desire to explore further that day, as I once more experienced the near pain of its destruction. Being so near the ‘Daughter and Mother in law’ temple, was a good indication that the art of the sacrificed temple was similarly glorious, and possibly originated from the same local craftsmen. But now…its Art and beauty were basically lost forever to the fish of the lake.
It had all been…about the Art!
The agony of it, which only fellow artists truly understand: The decades of thankless up-skilling; the many hours planning for perfection; the agony of self-doubt fearing your own shortcomings to execute that perfection; the physical pain, injury and suffering sacrificed to every craft (the often literal blood, sweat and tears); and the time forever lost to its creation. Finally, stepping back to really see and feel your contribution towards beautifying the ages, hoping it is enough to inspire others to experience it for themselves.
“I did not have to speak the language of the artist craftsman or even know their story to appreciate it…to feel it. Art is the ultimate divinity of expression…and destroying it was tantamount to sacrilege.”
The examples above could possibly be considered excusable, as they were lost in the hope of a better future. An entirely different matter is the willful destruction, and, or neglect of art and ancient sites of historical significance. It doesn’t matter if it is for reasons of: rebellion; or the enforcement of a different ideology; or war; or for a lack of focus on preservation – the result is the same…an inexcusable loss of something precious.
Artistic beauty is the expression of joy, a celebration, and desire for peace, for to create it requires turning the mind away from negativity towards hope.
Birthplace of the Sun
Taking that all back home to South Africa meant that there could be only one location for my novel (‘Birthplace of the sun‘) and that was the Adams calendar site, in Mpumalanga (Views on the age of the calendar include: the oldest man made structure on earth, and 250 000 years old. Stonehenge, in the UK, by comparison is 5,115 years old). It is hoped that increased awareness will ensure greater focus on its preservation, so that it may not one day be lost beneath a road, a development or another ploughed field. Though the calendar has been left mostly untouched thus far, the many thousands of stone circles in the area have not been as lucky, for many have been flattened and lost to progress. Those that remain have done so either by luck (due to their location not being easily accessible), or due to local farmer and landowner efforts to leave those on their lands undisturbed.
Think on the time it must have taken to determine the exact alignment of the stones to the solstices. Imagine the effort it took to locate and transport the large stones, to then work them into shapes and stand them upright. Wonder at the dangers its craftsmen faced, as they lived in a land that was still freely roamed by big 5 game, endangering their very lives. How important this must have been to them to take the time and focus out of their daily survival requirements just to create it. Sympathize with their artistic wounds that did not have a doctor or hospital to heal them and with no modern miracle medicines to prevent their infection. Feel the pained hands working such hard rock with only the most basic and primitive of tools, and yet they persisted. One has to admire the dedication required to create such a place and you have to feel it uplift your spirit in return.
We should all take action, in such struggles for retaining humanities artistic soul. It is an unspoken duty to history and to those who walked these lands before us – an honouring of a sort. An honouring of them, their efforts and hopes, as well as an honouring of our future generations need to still look upon and feel them for themselves.
If you agree with and / or have an opinion on this important issue please share this and comment here. Thank you.
References not linked within the content above: