Will Wiles

Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of Twenty Lost Buildings from the Tower of Babel to the Twin Towers

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Among the myriad horrors perpetrated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, why does the destruction of ancient buildings provoke such special outrage? Every instinct tells us that old stones are as nothing against living human beings beheaded, mutilated or sold into slavery. Nevertheless, the dynamiting of places such as Palmyra stands out as uniquely appalling. While we value ancient buildings for their beauty and their historic, religious or cultural significance, perhaps the main reason we regard them as precious is the mere fact that they have survived, against what we know are near-impossible odds. They are tiny crumbs of endurance in an emptiness left by war, disaster, neglect and the clashing aspirations of different ages.

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